We’ve been in the business of delivering digital experiences for almost 25 years, and in that time the industry has changed dramatically. When we started out in 1998, the PC was just about capable of driving moderately complex ‘multimedia’ computer TV channels, and ‘large format display’ meant a bulky and heavy widescreen TV using cathode ray tubes. Plasma screens were just starting to appear, and we were a long, LONG way from cloud computing, let alone fast and reliable internet connections.
Through the following decade, things moved swiftly on, although ‘enterprise-grade digital signage’ generally meant on-premise solutions, with servers and the associated complexities of corporate networks, server rooms and IT infrastructure. Web-based platforms were starting to develop into the space, and the capabilities of browsers and the associated technology was coming along, but the space was still dominated by a number of long-standing players, with closed eco-systems and pricing models to match.
In September, 2008, Google launched the Chrome browser and, from a standing start, it was the dominant browser by June 2012. The Chrome browser was unique as a cloud-first platform, and also because it featured Chromium OS, launched in 2009 as an open-source project which aimed to provide a fast, simple, and more secure computing experience.
This enabled early adopters in the industry to orientate completely around a cloud-based, web technology centric model for the delivery of content experiences, and in 2011, Google launched its own formally managed OS, Chrome OS.
Chrome OS was conceived as a fully curated software and hardware platform, with a single release profile and security baked in from the start with carefully validated hardware devices from the leading global technology providers delivering a Google-verified hardware platform for all manufacturers.
Today, this provides users with a completely reliable, cloud-based, highly secure and efficient technology stack for education, enterprise and personal use. Since its launch 11 years ago, there have been zero reported cases of viruses or ransomware on any Chrome OS device. Chrome OS also features a ‘verified boot’ process which compares various elements of the OS data structure on boot-up with a second copy, ensuring that no files have been compromised.
This is all complemented with an online management console, which fully manages apps, users, security, and myriad other settings to provide a completely managed structure for devices, user experience and secure data usage.
The Chrome OS environment delivers a seamless, efficient and comprehensive management suite. When used in conjunction with Google Workspace, it combines to provide seamless SSO, administration and app management controls which are embedded into the very fabric of the approach Google has taken with the OS.
Devices can be enrolled en masse, apps can be pre-configured, organizational structures can be defined with completely independent rules and settings, devices can be fully remotely managed, and administrators have complete control over all aspects of the operation of networks of 1,000’s of devices.
But, back to digital signage, and the early 2010’s.
It is fair to say that PC’s, and Windows, dominated the space and countless screen networks were deployed, and countless screen networks experienced the dreaded BSOD, Windows Update requests on-screen or numerous other ‘Workstation’ experiences which impacted the display of messages, due to the dominance of the workstation use-case for computing which dictated how digital signage could be deployed.
Regardless of how much we think digital signage matters, it remains a tiny proportion of the deployed computing devices globally. Let’s face it, Microsoft has never customized the experience for digital signage, and remains highly unlikely to do so. It’s been the domain of others to scaffold around the OS to deliver required functionality, often compensating for legacy thinking at Microsoft. We did see compromises from them such as long-term service settings for windows updates, but these could be over-ridden centrally by Microsoft, and often were.
Options like Android-driven networks were explored, and custom environments were built by companies in the space using Linux as a backbone, but they remained comparatively small operators in relation to the primary OS platforms in the space.
In 2015, Google launched a ‘kiosk’ version of the Chrome OS, which enabled network owners and integrators like TRISON to deploy Chrome hardware devices within their enterprise running just a single app, and never booting into an ‘explorer’ experience, or similar. This completely changed the landscape of how reliable, scalable and secure devices could be deployed, at low cost, within an enterprise environment. There was no ability to ever ‘break-in’ to the platform, nor compromise the experience displayed on screen.
Since 2015, Google has worked with numerous hardware and software partners, like TRISON, to build ever-more customized functionality into Chrome OS, specifically to support the digital signage use-case. This provides an extremely reliable environment for content playback – devices are appliance-like in their function, but fully manageable, as any device should be, within the network.
Multi-output and commercial-grade hardware options have also been built by Acer, AOPEN, ASUS and others, and these robust hardware platforms deliver consistent playback in challenging environments over many years.
We now have 1,000’s of Chrome OS devices running across corporate, hospitality, retail, government and numerous other sectors. We do have a small legacy network of PC’s running Windows, and this enables us to observe the significant delta in the number of support instances which are caused by Windows devices when compared to Chrome OS devices.
Chrome OS doesn’t do it all, yet. We still need to use Windows for 6-output devices, or similar edge use-cases, but, the recently launched Chrome OS Flex is now delivering a significant ability to enable these PC devices to run a fully verified Chrome OS environment, and migrate completely away from Windows. By installing Chrome OS Flex onto older PC or Mac devices, we are also able to extend the life of older networks significantly, and remove the additional overheads associated with Windows into the bargain.
This week’s announcement of the Chrome Enterprise Recommended track for Kiosk and Digital Signage signals the importance of our industry to Google, and recognizes the significant work which all the founding members of this program have delivered to make Chrome OS a real and growing solution for the delivery of digital experiences which work reliably at scale, are cost effective and fully secure, and with unrivalled manageability – no matter where your devices are in the world.
About The Writer
Peter Critchley has worked in the digital experience industry for 27 years and since founding what is now Trison UK (formally Beaver Group) in 1998, it has been organically and steadily developed into a carefully selected team of creative and technical specialists. Each member of the team is focused on delivering technically adept and creatively fresh solutions, and this dedication to un-compromised quality is the mark of the work Trison UK continues to develop and deliver.