Digital Signage using Ubuntu aka screen displaying room bookings

A while back I read this post which intrigued me about how you could use such a small device like a Raspberry Pi with a variant of Linux to run a screen with the key information that you needed to display. Recently, our machine in CEDE that runs our screen which displays the room booking information had trouble booting up with long boot up times or freezing and requiring a restart. Speaking to Paul who is our resident IT expert, he checked with Ray who manages our IT Services locally about installing Ubuntu. We were given the green light and so this started my ‘techie’ project. For most people, Ubuntu would be the best place to start when looking for an alternative OS to Windows and Mac OSX.

I had a copy of Ubuntu 14.04.1 LTS (Long term support) on a USB stick that I used as a live version with other variants of Linux. I had created this sometime ago. Looking at the Ubuntu website, they had released 14.04.2 LTS. For purposes of security and stability I decided to download this and ‘install’ it onto my USB. At that time, it did not occur to me that the software I used – YUMI – was an older version that was the latest version at that time. When I used the latest version of YUMI now, that may have caused some issues as I could not get Ubuntu to work. Therefore I formatted the USB and reinstalled Ubuntu. This time it worked but was temperamental, being really slow. I investigated the speed of the USB using USBFlashSpeed. I thought this was the best USB I own. It was, however it was only good on USB 1.1 which was quite slow. After checking the other USBs I owned, I found one that was quite good on USB 2.0, with reasonable read and write speeds. I installed Ubuntu on there and proceeded to install Ubuntu. This worked a treat and I had a fresh installation of Ubuntu ready to go.

Or so I thought. The open source graphics driver was good when I used the main monitor, however when connecting an additional monitor (in this case a TV screen) it struggled to handle both of them. From previous experience, I knew that proprietary drivers were available from nVIDIA. Once they were installed I no longer had any graphics issues. I then followed the advice provided by this website to optimise Ubuntu for that system. Then I carried out some other tweaks which included turning off the screensaver and allowing the display to stay on.

Next was the browser. Mozilla Firefox was pre-installed with Ubuntu. I added the Tab Rotator add on to rotate through our main website and the room booking page every 30 seconds and installed the Tab Reload add on to reload the tabs every 5 minutes. I also changed the start up script so that Firefox would load upon PC bootup and that it was set to full screen automatically.

Hopefully Ubuntu will ensure that the PC lasts for a number of years since the demands of the OS are less compared to other OSes. This also depends on whether the machine is used for displaying content only as it is now or if its purpose changes in the future. We could have invested in a Raspberry Pi to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions, however the PC would most likely be recycled through the WEEE program. In general, this is a good idea rather than sending to landfill, however the end of life of the machine would still need to be considered which includes the possibility of being sent to another country and the CO2 emissions with that and the WEEE process amongst other things.

It was great to do a techie project after a long time and I quite enjoy doing things like that. Reminds me of the sorts of things I did in a ‘previous life’. I look forward to doing more IT projects in my spare time in the future…

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