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Building Rich Interactive Kiosks

 

Microsoft Smarter Retailing

Mike Graber
Industry Technology Strategist
Microsoft Retail and Hospitality

May 2006

Applies to:
   Windows Vista
   SQL Server 2005
   Visual Studio 2005
   Microsoft Expressions

Summary: This paper provides an overview of the new technologies in Windows Vista that will be of benefit to developers in creating the next generation of rich interactive retail kiosks. (15 printed pages)

Contents

Introduction
Kiosks Defined
The Past, Present, and Future of Kiosks
Enabling Kiosks with New Microsoft Technology
Picking the Right Tool for the Right Job
Conclusion

Introduction

Kiosks seem to be everywhere these days. Whether you go to an airport and check in, get cash out of an ATM, or purchase groceries in an automated check-out line, kiosks are now an important part of everyday life. However, innovation with kiosks is far from over. With the release of Windows Vista, new technologies will be available to developers that will enable a new generation of retail kiosks. This paper will provide an overview of these new technologies and relate them to benefits that a developer will see for creating rich kiosk solutions. This paper will be the first of a series of papers to be released on kiosk development with Microsoft products and technologies. Future whitepapers and demonstration code will soon be available that will provide more detail on the concepts introduced in this document. This paper also deals primarily with the software development component of building kiosk solutions.

Kiosks Defined

Microsoft Encarta defines a kiosk as a "small roofed street booth" that sells merchandise (for example, a kiosk that sells fruit in a bazaar). But for the purposes of this paper, we will define a kiosk as an enclosed device made up of hardware and software that allows the user to interact with it through simple interfaces (for example, touchscreen, keypad, and so on). The internals of the kiosk are usually based on some sort of personal computer technology. Usage of the kiosk requires very little, or no, training.

This is different from digital signage, in that a digital sign can display rich content (video, graphics, text, and so on), but it doesn't allow a user to knowingly interact with the display. A digital sign is a monitor that displays advertising messages that a retailer wishes to convey. Although digital signs in the future will likely respond to RFID input from customer loyalty cards, they will still be passive display devices only, with no direct interaction with the consumer.

Kiosks come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the tasks they were designed to handle. They differ from regular personal computers in the following areas:

  • Input devices—Although some kiosks have keyboards or 10-key number pads, many rely on interaction with a user through menu-driven touchscreens. Also, many retail kiosks rely on payment input devices such as credit card swipe readers or cash acceptors.
  • Task-specific—Today, most kiosks are designed to handle a very specific task, and they are not typically general-purpose devices.

The Past, Present, and Future of Kiosks

History of Kiosks

Kiosks trace their history back to the first bank Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) in the early 1960s. According to Jerry Larson, who helped develop these early original TABS machines, these ATMs started life in New York's First National City Bank (today known as Citibank), as a machine in bank branch lobbies that allowed bank customers to pay utility bills and get receipts without seeing a teller. The first ATMs that dispensed cash appeared in 1967 at Barclay's Bank in London. Broad adoption of ATMs began in earnest in the mid to late 1970s and early 1980s*.

The history of the retail kiosk began in earnest in the late 1990's as Internet technology began to take off, and personal computer technology became standardized and commoditized. The first generation kiosks worked primarily in an off-line mode (not connected to any sort of network), and were updated manually by hand. With the advent of networking and Internet technology in the store, these devices are now connected, with rich content management systems that publish content from a central management console, and that connect to back end databases to retrieve information of value to the consumer.

*Source: Invention and Technology Magazine, Summer 2000, Volume 16, Issue 1

Kiosks in Use Today

Kiosks are already used extensively in retail stores. Kiosks are proliferating as retailers realize the value of servicing customers using automated machines. Kiosks provide the information that customers need in order to make a decision, so that they don't walk out of the store "empty handed." Kiosks can also be placed in retail scenarios where it would be too expensive to hire and train in-store employees to educate customers. For example, a sporting goods retailer may only be able to afford one "golf pro" for a store. By implementing kiosks, a sporting goods store could manage more customers with fewer people, by enabling the consumer to get answers to basic golf questions while the golf pro handles the more difficult consumer questions. Not only can kiosks be used to train customers, they are also useful for training employees. In the golf pro scenario discussed above, the golf pro could learn about newly introduced products from the kiosk, to help his or her golf customers understand the new features of a golf club that has just been released.

Suppliers have also discovered the value of kiosks. Suppliers now work in conjunction with retailers to place vendor-supplied kiosks in a store. These kiosks can be used to answer vendor-specific product questions, or to provide basic services such as refilling a printer ink cartridge. Vendor-supplied kiosks often reinforce a brand by displaying messages to consumers walking by when the kiosk is not in use.

Kiosk Proliferation

However, the popularity of kiosks has created a challenge of "kiosk proliferation." Vendor kiosks, in addition to retailer kiosks, create a situation where kiosks in a store look and behave differently. This can lead to customer confusion, and a devaluing of a retailer's brand by allowing messages, color schemes, kiosk advertising, and so on.

In the future, as single-task kiosks proliferate, there will be a desire to reduce acquisition, management, and floor space costs, by combining multiple tasks on a few strategically placed kiosks in a store. Many kiosks are owned and supported by suppliers in the store, and they often look and behave differently. Because stores will likely want to control the look and feel, and to reduce the numbers of kiosks in a store, it is likely that kiosks will become more general-purpose. Retailers will require that suppliers run their applications on existing store-owned and store-managed kiosk systems. Providing intuitive user interfaces will become more of a priority than ever, and this will require new technologies that make it easy to design, develop, and deploy easy-to-use kiosk software.

Mobile Versus Fixed Kiosks

Today, kiosks are almost exclusively fixed devices in a store (attached to a shelf or a free-standing box). Mobile devices are typically dismissed by retailers for a variety of reasons. Fixed kiosks have the following benefits over mobile devices:

  • Theft is not easy or even possible—Because fixed kiosks are "locked down" to the shelf or fixed box, they cannot easily be walked out of the store.
  • Lower-cost device—Mobile devices require their own battery power source, and must be smaller in size. The cost of engineering mobile devices typically exceeds the engineering costs required for fixed kiosks, making mobile kiosks unattractive from a cost perspective.
  • IT support costs—When comparing mobile versus fixed kiosk alternatives, many retailers are concerned about the cost of managing mobile devices. Supporting devices that break or don't connect to the store's 802.11 WIFI network, or simply managing the process of handing out devices to consumers, can be seen as a daunting problem. For these reasons, fixed kiosks are typically considered to be lower-cost from an IT management perspective.

However, mobile devices have a number of important benefits over fixed kiosks:

  • Travel with the consumer—Fixed kiosks require the consumer to pick up a product that they have interest in, and then carry it to the fixed kiosk in order to scan the product and look up more detailed product information. This creates an inconvenience for the consumer, and in some cases, it may be impossible to do, because the item may be large and difficult to pick up and carry. Allowing a consumer to take a wireless connected device to a product they have interest in makes it easier for the consumer to consider the device a "shopping companion."
  • Location services—Even with the most consumer-friendly planogram, stores can still be dauntingly complex for a consumer to find the products they are interested in. By making the kiosk device mobile, the device can use location services to help lead consumers to the items they wish to find. The consumer could even shop for products ahead-of-time on the Internet, and create a shopping list that could be downloaded to a mobile kiosk device. With the advent of RFID, and with the cost of mobile kiosk technology dropping, many retailers are considering fixing mobile kiosks to shopping carts. This "cart-attached kiosk" could be used to help a consumer find a product through location services, provide product information through proximity to an RFID tag, and provide check-out services from the cart by scanning the products in the cart.

Another question to consider when developing a mobile kiosk strategy is whether to leverage devices the consumer already has (traditional cell phones, Windows Smartphones, RIM Blackberries, and so on), or to provide consumers with a device they "check out" for use during their visit to the store. Using a consumer's device has the following benefits and drawbacks:

Benefits

  • No device or connectivity cost to the retailer—If a consumer has a device already, the store can leverage that existing investment in both the device, and the connectivity through the Internet, back to corporate headquarter datacenters.
  • Lower consumer training costs—Because these are personal devices of the consumers, they are already familiar with most operating functions of the device. The only training cost to the store is training the consumer on the shopping application provided.

Drawbacks

  • Lack of standard platform—By relying on a consumer-provided device, the retailer will be forced to either build a lowest-common-denominator application that will work on all devices (for example, WAP/WML), or to build separate applications for each device, prioritized by the popularity of devices entering the store.
  • Privacy—Consumers may also be concerned about giving up to a store private information they do not wish to share if the retailer installs software on the consumer's device.

Retailers will need to apply these principals to their specific environment, in order to determine how best to meet consumers needs with either mobile or fixed kiosks. Both mobile and fixed kiosk strategies have merit, and they must be evaluated against the potential revenues, costs, and risks associated with each approach.

Next-Generation Consumer

As the graphics capabilities of personal computer technology advance, new opportunities arise to harness this power in order to create new kiosk scenarios that can bring a significant return on investment (ROI). Consumers are becoming more technically savvy, and more willing to interact with machines for many tasks. This new generation of consumers has never known a world without the Internet, and they are comfortable with new technology. This generation has grown up playing XBOXes, and will want their retail kiosk experience to be similar. They will expect rich graphics, substantial product information available at their fingertips, and to be entertained.

With the advent of online Internet retailers, and with the ease with which consumers can shop from their PCs at home, many have wondered whether the brick-and-mortar stores are still relevant. Brick-and-mortar stores have significant benefits over their online counterparts, in that they allow consumers to "touch and feel" merchandise, as well as make "spontaneous purchases" (Internet retailers still require 24 hours to ship you a product, even with overnight priority shipping). Not only will brick-and-mortar stores continue to thrive, but these stores will begin to see the opposite effect happen…the Internet will begin to enter the store by means of kiosks.

New Scenarios

There are a variety of new retail business scenarios that will drive demand for more interactive kiosks. These include:

  • Rich product information—Retailers need to display rich information about products they carry in the store. Kiosks allow the consumer to see more detailed information, conduct product comparison, and determine fit for their needs. Product information could include rich graphics and video to illustrate these features. The customer could also use kiosk-based RFID tag readers or barcode scanners to learn more about products that they're holding. The goal is to intersect the consumer at the point of decision, conclude the transaction, and avoid situations where the consumer leaves the store empty-handed.
  • Extended catalog—Retailers can offer products through a kiosk that may not be carried in physical inventory. For example, a store may carry a line of shirts, but not all sizes. A sporting goods store may carry basketball goals, but not every basketball goal a supplier could provide. Enabling the store to conclude a transaction on inventory that is not in stock could significantly increase sales lift.
  • Agent-assisted sale—It is impossible today for most retailers to hire and train technical product specialists on every product in a store. Conversely, consumers using Internet-based research are more informed than ever. A significant opportunity for a traditional brick-and-mortar store is to provide a way for consumers to evaluate, test, and talk to experts about the products they wish to buy. Allowing a consumer to talk to an agent by means of a kiosk through VOIP (from a centralized contact center) provides an opportunity for a retailer to assist a consumer when evaluating products at the point of decision. Because this product expert (agent) could be leveraged across kiosks in multiple stores, the economic feasibility of providing this service is possible. The goal is to provide information to the consumers at the point of purchase, to help them complete the transaction in the store, and not leave empty-handed.
  • Advertising—Kiosks provide a new mechanism for retailers to explore advertising scenarios. Advertising would take place in the following two ways:
    • Offline—When the kiosk is not in use by a consumer, it becomes a digital sign. This sign could be used to highlight in-store offers, sell advertising space to suppliers, or deliver any message the store deems appropriate.
    • Online—While the consumer is using the kiosk, there is an opportunity to utilize advertising space on the screen through side ads, or other strategically placed messages. This is "prime digital real estate," because the kiosk presents an opportunity to influence the consumer at the point of decision.
  • Point of Service (POS)—Using a kiosk for POS has the benefit of reducing the need for employees performing this function, and offering new related products. A kiosk could be used for the following scenarios related to POS:
    • Complete purchase transaction—In addition to completing the transaction, the kiosk could also be used to cross-sell/up-sell the consumer on related products. For example, if a new TV is purchased, chances are that the consumer will require cables, and these could be suggested to him or her at the point of decision.
    • Returns—Kiosks could be used to automate the handling of merchandise returns. Today, kiosks could be used to scan barcodes or RFID-enabled items, and quickly process a return. In conjunction with an agent surfaced through the kiosk, or by utilizing an employee-assisted kiosk, the store could realize significant savings while increasing the service level to a consumer.

These ideas represent just a few scenarios where kiosks could be used strategically within a store.

Enabling Kiosks with New Microsoft Technology

Microsoft has a number of technologies coming in the future that will enable new retail kiosk scenarios. Retailers should consider these products and technologies when considering how to build out next generation kiosks strategy.

Windows Vista

Windows Vista represents the next-generation Windows client due to be released by the end of CY2006. Vista introduces a new programming model called WinFX, which is a set of .NET libraries that are native to Vista, and it will be backward compatible with Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. WinFX is made up of the following capabilities:

Windows Presentation Framework (WPF)

The Microsoft Windows Presentation Foundation (formerly code-named "Avalon") provides the foundation for building applications and high fidelity experiences in Windows, blending together application UI, documents, and media content. WPF introduces a new XML forms engine call XAML (XML Application Markup Language, pronounced "zamel") for defining how an application UI should be displayed. XAML uses XML to define a form through XML tags, and allows the developer to set the properties of a tag with attributes. (For more information on how to develop WPF applications, please visit http://msdn.microsoft.com/winfx/reference/presentation/default.aspx.) WPF introduces the following abilities that are directly relevant to kiosk development:

  • Video—High-definition video (HD) or regular video (NTSC/PAL) can be hosted on a form, and manipulated from code. Effects such as inverting the video, dynamically sizing the video, rotating the video, and animating the video within the form are now all possible with WPF through a simple API. (See Figure 1.)

    Aa479073.brkiosks02(en-us,MSDN.10).gif

    Figure 1. Videos

    Note in Figure 1 how three North Face videos are playing on the screen at one time. Also note how two videos are playing in the background while the primary video is playing in the foreground. Clicking on a background video brings that video to the forefront, and clicking on the video in the front selects the video, and plays the video full-screen as a background image for selecting products. For more information on the North Face kiosk application, please visit http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/dnlong/html/fluid.asp.

    Benefits for kiosks—Product video can now be easily incorporated into kiosk applications, in order to display product information to an interested consumer. Video can be used to gain consumer interest, and it can then be responded to when a user "clicks" the video.

  • 3D vector graphics—Graphic files that use vectors instead of bitmaps to display an image can be used in forms. This enables the developer to resize these graphics without loss of resolution due to "pixelization" of the bitmap. (See Figure 2.)

    Aa479073.brkiosks03(en-us,MSDN.10).gif

    Figure 2. 3D vector graphics

    Note the three pop cans in Figure 2. These cans are 3D vector graphic images that can be displayed in variety of sizes, without the loss of any resolution. Each can was a copy of the original, and was resized to be small, medium, and large. Note how the can in the middle has superimposed green lines. The image has been selected in Graphic Designer, and the lines represent vectors that define the shape of the can. Simply dragging the small triangles at each corner resizes the image without any loss of resolution.

    Benefits for kiosks—A single product graphic can now be used in multiple scenarios in an application. For example, a single graphic could be used as a product thumbnail, and when selected, expand to a larger size that reveals more detail. Historically, two graphic files would be needed: one for the thumbnail, and another for the larger size. Graphics can be resized dynamically, according to the requirements of your application.

  • Resolution agnostic—It's common for rich applications to be designed for a specific resolution. The challenge to a developer comes when a rich application needs to run on multiple resolutions, or when future requirements dictate a resolution that was not anticipated in the original design. WPF applications are designed to "grow and shrink" dynamically, based on the needs of the application and the target display resolution. (See Figure 3.)

    Aa479073.brkiosks04(en-us,MSDN.10).gif

    Figure 3. Resolution-agnostic application

    Note the two images from the Frabrikam sample application in Figure 3. The first image represents the application after it first launches. The second image is a screen capture of the application after the form has been resized and enlarged. Notice how the application responds appropriately. The panels are resized, the text in the right details pane is reflowed, and the image of the headphones is resized, without any loss of resolution. Even the reflection below the details pane is resized correctly.

    Benefit for kiosks—Applications can be written with one codebase that can be deployed across a variety of kiosks that support a variety of screen resolutions.

  • Forms defined by "markup"—By defining forms using XAML, it is possible to use a variety of tools to generate the form, based on a targeted skill set. For example, a User Interface designer has different needs than a developer. By sharing a common forms markup language, different tools targeting different roles can be utilized on a single project. A designer can have a tool focused on creating a certain "look and feel," while a developer can connect the user interface to business and data tier logic.

    Figure 4 is a screenshot of Microsoft Expressions Interactive Designer in a design view. In this image, we have a canvas open showing a button in the center of the form we are building.

    Aa479073.brkiosks05(en-us,MSDN.10).gif

    Figure 4. Microsoft Expressions Interactive Designer in a design view

    Figure 5 is a screenshot of Microsoft Expressions Interactive Designer in the XAML code view.

    Aa479073.brkiosks06(en-us,MSDN.10).gif

    Figure 5. Microsoft Expressions Interactive Designer in the XAML code view

    In Figure 5, we are illustrating the XAML code that represents the form in Figure 3. Notice that the form is defined by XML markup. Also notice the highlighted code. This button tag (<Button/>) defines the size, location, name, and any other attributes of how the button should be displayed. Just like in HTML, the button is defined by "attributes" that set the properties of the button.

    Benefit for kiosks—Designers can use graphical design tools targeted to their needs. In addition, because the foundation of expressions is WPF, a designer can seamlessly share projects with developers using Visual Studio 2005. Any application that supports XAML-based forms can open and render the form, creating a platform for a variety of tools vendors to create solutions to solve specific technical requirements. For more information Expressions Interactive Designer, please refer to the "Microsoft Expressions" section later in this whitepaper.

  • "ClickOnce" deployment—Because WPF was designed from the ground up to be deployed through Internet technologies, a developer can post applications to a Web server, and clients that subscribe to this server can now be automatically updated, making the management and deployment of these applications much easier than older forms technologies.

    For more information on ClickOnce, please visit http://msdn.microsoft.com/smartclient/understanding/windowsforms/2.0/features/clickonce.aspx.

    Benefit for kiosks—Centralized development and management of rich kiosk applications is now available.

Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF)

WWF is a Windows Vista service that developers can leverage to create workflow scenarios. WWF includes a variety of APIs to execute business rules, and it offers a workflow engine that could enable rich kiosk solutions. For example, a user may have a question when using a kiosk, and require assistance. From the kiosk, the user could click a button called Request assistance, and a workflow would initiate actions to page a retail floor employee to the kiosk. If the employee did not respond within a specific timeframe, the workflow could escalate to a manager, who could take action to dispatch another employee.

For more information on Windows Workflow Foundation, please visit http://msdn.microsoft.com/winfx/reference/workflow/default.aspx.

Figure 6 is a screenshot of a workflow in Visual Studio 2005. This workflow is an example of the type of workflow that may be encountered when developing a kiosk application.

Aa479073.brkiosks07(en-us,MSDN.10).gif

Figure 6. Workflow in Visual Studio 2005

In this scenario, a customer requests employee assistance from a kiosk, and a WWF workflow is then initiated. This workflow would involve connecting to a store HR Web service to first look up an employee whose skills match that of the needs of a store customer. If the employee is currently scheduled to work, the employee is paged. If the employee is unavailable, the employee's manager is paged. The manager could then dispatch an alternative employee, or see to the customer's needs personally.

Windows Communication Foundation (WCF)

Almost any kiosk application will need to connect to a variety of systems in order to support the user scenario envisioned for the kiosk. These systems may be HR-related, to retrieve employee skills (as for the scenario above) or customer data from a customer loyalty system. This data may have a variety of interfaces that it is necessary to connect to. In some cases, the interface may be direct to a query or stored procedure in a database, or it may be to a messaging engine like Microsoft Message Queue or IBM MQ Series, or to an ERP systems native API. Windows Communication Foundation (formerly code named "Indigo") provides a single API that a kiosk software developer can use to "hook up" the kiosk functionality directly to a variety of back-end systems. Windows Communication Foundation also has many options for digitally signing and encrypting messages, including the following token support: Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML), Kerberos, X.509, and Username.

For more information on Windows Communication Foundation, please visit http://msdn.microsoft.com/webservices/indigo/default.aspx.

SQL Server 2005

It is very likely that any kiosk application will require a database to store data on the physical kiosk device. Whether it is application state, or the ability to run in a disconnected mode (network fails in the store), there are many reasons for storing data on the local machine. Microsoft offers the following SKUs that developers can choose from, based on their needs:

  • Express Edition—This version of SQL Server allows the developer to put a SQL Server database on the machine with a runtime royalty-free license (registration required). There are a few limitations (for example, it can use only one CPU, there is a 4GB database limit, and so on), but this is the most economical way for developers to place a database on a kiosk.
  • Workgroup Edition—This is the most affordable license of SQL Server, and it will enable many different kiosk solutions above and beyond the Express Edition. It removes many of the limitations of Express Edition (for example, there is no limit on database size, there can be 2 CPUs [this is especially helpful on new dual core processors coming on the market now], and so on). Please visit http://www.microsoft.com/sql/prodinfo/features/compare-features.mspx for more information comparing the features of the various SQL Server editions.

Depending on the needs of a kiosk application, Microsoft has affordable options that allow architects to select the license that best fits their needs.

Visual Studio 2005

Visual Studio 2005 is the development environment from Microsoft that allows the creation of rich kiosk applications. With extensions to Visual Studio 2005, it will support development on top of the Windows Vista technologies listed above. In addition to all of the great developer features that Visual Studio has to offer, developers can create and edit:

  • XAML forms—Visual Studio has the ability to natively open XAML forms, and to write code against events that happen on XAML forms.
  • Workflow—Visual Studio can visually edit workflows built on Windows Workflow Foundation in the Visual Studio designer.
  • SQL Server Reports—The developer can design and deploy reports from inside of Visual Studio that can be run on the kiosk device.

Visual Studio provides one environment that provides almost all of the functionality a developer needs in order to create rich kiosk applications based on SQL Server and Windows Vista technologies.

Microsoft Expressions

Microsoft announced Microsoft Expressions in September 2005 at the Professional Developers Conference. Microsoft Expressions is a family of products that leverages the power of Windows Vista to create powerful tools for the graphics designer, Web designer, and interactive designer. For more information on the Microsoft Expressions family of products, please visit http://www.microsoft.com/products/expression/en/default.mspx. The Microsoft Expressions family of products is made up of the following:

Aa479073.brkiosks08(en-us,MSDN.10).gifExpressions Graphic Designer (code named "Acrylic")—This product is a professional illustration, painting, and graphic design tool. This tool allows the creation of both bitmap and vector-based graphics (can resize images without getting blurry). This tool can output a variety of file formats, including, but not limited to, .jpg, .gif, .tif, .png.
Aa479073.brkiosks09(en-us,MSDN.10).gifExpressions Interactive Designer (code named "Sparkle")—This product will be the primary tool for creating "smart client" applications that target the Windows Presentation Framework (WPF) in Vista. Interactive Designer supports the generation of XML Application Markup Language (XAML) forms that support rich graphics and animation.
Aa479073.brkiosks10(en-us,MSDN.10).gifExpressions Web Designer (code named "Quartz")—This product designs and builds interactive Web pages. In addition to creating clean HTML and CSS code, Web Designer also provides the ability to create AJAX (rich client-side JavaScript) applications.

Picking the Right Tool for the Right Job

Selecting the right tool for developing a kiosk application requires an understanding of the following requirements:

  • Heterogeneous versus homogenous kiosks—Kiosk developers will find themselves in two different scenarios: supporting heterogeneous kiosk environments (various hardware and operating system platforms), or homogenous ones (similar hardware and operating system platforms).
    • Heterogeneous—If, as a developer, you support many different types of kiosks that vary dramatically in hardware specifications, you will most likely want to target an AJAX/Expressions Web Designer environment. In addition, to distribute WinFX applications, you must have the WinFX libraries installed on the kiosk. The WinFX runtime supports only Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003. Unless existing kiosks support these operating systems, you will want to use Expressions Web Designer.
    • Homogenous—If you support a very homogenous group of kiosks, and the hardware will support WPF across all machines, then you will likely want to choose WPF and Expressions Interactive Designer, because this will provide the richest development environment so that you can create the most graphically appealing applications.
  • Hardware capability—Because kiosks are customer-facing devices, hardware requirements are typically much greater than what is required for Point of Sale (POS) solutions. If you are working with older, existing kiosks that have limited hardware capability, you may find that using Expressions Web Designer is a more appropriate platform for developing applications against, because the only baseline requirement is a modern Web browser. However, if you are procuring new hardware for new environments, WPF and Expressions Interactive Designer will be the best way to go, because these tools will provide the best overall experience for the consumer, and the richest platform for bringing solutions to market fast.
  • Graphics—Expressions Graphic Designer is a great tool for creating graphics that will run on any hardware, or across any mix of hardware.
  • Developers—Visual Studio 2005 will support either Expressions Web Designer or Expressions Interactive Designer. Visual Studio 2005 will remain the best development environment for developers to create data and business-tier logic, and for wiring up this logic to the forms created in either Interactive Designer or Web Designer. Visual Studio also allows kiosk developers to create in their application the database functionality required in order to support the user interfaces created by the Expressions family of products. The version of Visual Studio will be dependent on the type of role a developer plays in the organization. For a list of these versions, please visit http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/products/compare/default.aspx.
  • Database—Depending on your database requirements, Microsoft has multiple versions of SQL Server available to build kiosk applications. Please see "SQL Server 2005" above.

Conclusion

The next-generation kiosk will require a new set of tools to enable new, compelling business scenarios in retail that weren't possible before. It is the goal of Microsoft to provide the following:

  • Comprehensive platform—The Windows Vista platform will provide a new core technology platform that enables rich applications to be quickly developed and easily deployed across a variety of kiosk hardware.
  • Integrated platform—Microsoft is delivering role-specific tools that enable the kiosk developer to share projects across roles. This is possible because all of these tools share the same underlying common architecture (WPF, XAML, WWF, and so on). In addition, the Visual Studio environment is leveraged across a variety of tools as a common development environment.
  • Role-specific tools—There is no such thing as a "one size fits all" toolset. Different tools are required for different people playing different roles in a project. Microsoft, through the Visual Studio and Expressions family of products, is providing the right tools for the right role.

Because of these new platforms and tools, new kiosk scenarios are enabled through rich graphics, video, workflow, reporting, and connectivity capabilities that are a part of the new Windows Vista platform. The solutions are easy to use and develop, and they are very cost-effective.

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