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Open Source and Cloud Digital Signage

People looking at launching a digital signage network have an abundance of options to choose from.  When looking at software solutions, two main choices come to mind.  There are proprietary, and open-source solutions.  To pick the best candidate you must consider your business needs, risk tolerance, and financial situation.

There is one thing everyone can agree on… Open source does not necessarily mean “free” software.  There may not be any fees for acquiring and using the software, but at some point, you will hit a wall and you’ll need help.  You may need to purchase some add-on services or bring someone in with specific expertise to complete your project.

If you look long enough, you will find free proprietary software solutions. Unfortunately, these products are often crippled or seriously restricted, making them all but useless for anything but very basic projects.  They only exist to attract customers to a paid, and fully supported version.

The problems with community-based support

Many open-source digital signage software products can be traced back to college or university projects.  After all, you have a large pool of talent who has the time and resources required to build and test software.

The educational sector is a great test-bed for these types of solutions since they have needs only digital signage software can fulfill.  By creating their digital signage software in-house and releasing the product to the open-source community, colleges, and universities benefit from a very large base of users and developers.  After all, this is what open source is all about.

It’s important to note the strength of any open-source project lies in its user community.  The more active and engaged the community, the better developed and refined the software.  When you have a healthy open-source project, users receive frequent software patches and bug fixes so they end up with a more reliable product.  They can also contribute to the product’s development, which can be useful.

Products that aren’t developed with an active user community tend to stagnate

Bugs aren’t fixed as quickly, if at all.  New operating system versions and hardware components are no longer supported.  Soon, the few remaining users find the software is no longer reliable, or even desirable.  At some point, whoever is left realizes they’re on their own.  If something goes wrong, there’s no one there to help.

It’s not a huge problem when you’re dealing with a school or college project, but it’s an entirely different story if you’re running a business or a corporation.  All you need is a reliable digital signage solution, and a good support infrastructure.

Most proprietary software companies offer advanced end-user assistance with dedicated technical support resources, regular software updates, and end-user training (live, online, and on-demand).  Proprietary software publishers also offer user forums and support their communities to engage customers, and deliver better support.

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Looking under the hood

Open-source digital signage solutions mostly rely on web technologies, which is not surprising. In fact, developers rarely, if ever, write these products in native programming languages.

Here’s the reason why: Native software development requires a significant amount of time and resources. It involves more complexity compared to developing interpreted software based on web technologies.

Most open-source software publishers lack the necessary resources to develop native programming languages. They don’t always have access to a dedicated team of engineers, so they leverage web technologies to expedite the development process. It may be a quicker and cheaper alternative, but the resulting products cannot compete head-to-head with native software.

Native software is more reliable and efficient because it directly addresses the processor and other hardware components of the playback device. This direct approach reduces the tendency for memory leaks and generally ensures greater stability. It also explains why most native software is proprietary. Companies do not want to invest in products that will be given away or shared and developed publicly.

It makes sense that companies who invest massive amounts of capital in research and development deliver more innovative products and offer more features.

Other proprietary digital signage software advantages

Unlike generic solutions, proprietary software offers several advantages tailored to meet your specific needs. Firstly, it provides a high level of customization, allowing you to create unique and visually stunning content that aligns with your brand identity. With full control over design and layout, you can create engaging and dynamic displays that captivate your audience.

Secondly, proprietary software ensures enhanced security and reliability. By relying on a trusted provider, you can have peace of mind knowing that your digital signage system is built with robust security features and undergoes regular updates and maintenance. This minimizes the risk of cyber threats or system failures, keeping your displays up and running smoothly at all times.

Additionally, proprietary software often offers advanced analytics and reporting capabilities. By gathering data on viewer engagement, content performance, and audience demographics, you can gain valuable insights into the effectiveness of your signage campaigns. This information empowers you to make data-driven decisions, optimize your content strategy, and maximize the impact of your digital signage investment.

Lastly, proprietary digital signage software often comes with comprehensive customer support and dedicated technical assistance. With a knowledgeable team at your disposal, you can quickly address any issues or questions that may arise, ensuring a seamless and hassle-free experience.

Cloud Based Digital Signage

Open-source digital signage and the cloud

Assuming you are considering a well-supported product, open-source digital signage software can be used for a range of applications.  Before picking a solution, make sure you trust the product’s source and consider what will happen when you need to deal with technical issues.

Here are a few questions that can help you determine your tolerance level

  • Is reliability at the top of your list?
  • Do you require 24/7, year-round operation?
  • Are you technically savvy, or do you have access to resources that can help you resolve issues?
  • Are you familiar with Linux, MySQL, and other open-source software?
  • Is your business financially dependent on your digital signage displays?
    • You’ve installed digital menu boards in your restaurant. What happens if your displays go dark when you have customers to serve?  What kind of impact will this have on your bottom line?
    • Your company is customer-focused and recently installed digital signage displays in a showroom or retail location. How will your customers be impacted if your displays stop working?  Will sales drop?  How will this affect your brand?
    • You use digital signage in your hotel lobby and the content management system starts misbehaving. Players crash or content fails to update.  You use these displays to inform guests of hotel events, local destinations, weather forecasts, and airline departure times.  How will guests react?  How will your staff react?

These are just a few examples of what can happen when a problem causes your digital signage solution to fail.  People who invest in displays, standalone player hardware, and software expect a certain level of reliability and support.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother going through this process.

Remember it’s not all about the cost of the software.  There are installation costs, software training, and many other components that are part of every deployment.  It doesn’t matter if you’re installing a single screen or a hundred.  Nobody wants to deal with problems.

It’s worth taking the time to weigh all your options before choosing a digital signage platform for your business.

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