This is a good question when it comes from people with no experience on embedded devices and a very bad one when you hear it coming from people that work on embedded devices.

“I’m using a PC inside my embedded device, so I can use Windows as I use it on my PC” this is usually a statement made by people who actually design bad embedded devices. And those devices are not bad because they use a PC-based hardware (using a PC may be a good solution for some kind of devices where developing a custom board is too expensive and does not provide any real advantage in terms of cost), not because they use Windows.

It’s because they use a Windows version designed for PCs, and so they behave like a PC and not like an embedded device!

A PC has always a user taking care of it (or calling for help when something goes wrong beyond his recovery capabilities!), an embedded device must run unattended. Users don’t want or even can’t interact with it. It must be able to solve its own issues and, at least, report errors by itself.

Usually airport are a good place to spot some PCs “hidden” inside embedded devices. And those PCs sometimes show their nature giving unnecessary information or asking for help to people that just want to receive some information from them (or that are the target for advertising campaigns running on those devices).

Let’s see two samples.

1. Malpensa Airport (Milano, Italy)

Installing updates is a good idea if your device is connected to a network, maybe doing that overnight is smart, so no-one will see the device restarting. But telling to everyone that your “embedded” PC installed its updates overnight doesn’t look like such a smart idea…



The message is in Italian, but I guess that any Windows 7 user can recognize it. “New updates have been installed”. This message will stay on top of the content (information about the security controls) until someone finds a mouse and a way to connect it to a terminal that is suspended 2.5 meters from the ground.

Sorry for the bad quality of the images but the mix of phone camera and horribly early morning hour impacted my photographic capabilities quite hard Smile

2. Paderborn Airport (Paderborn, Germany)

Here we have a nicely designed information totem that is supposed to show interesting contents or, maybe, just advertising.

Instead is showing a wizard from a set-up application (or something like that, my knowledge of German is close to zero…) that I suspect is not very interesting for most of the people passing in front of it and that can’t interact with the device because no mouse or keyboard is available.


You can also notice that the display is mounted in portrait mode but is configured in landscape. I don’t envy the developer that had to debug his application keeping is head turned 90° to the right to read the output Smile

Those two samples show that showing this kind of messages to end-user will make device unusable, lead to a waste of resource and even a waste of money (if someone was expecting to have their advertising shown on those nice big screens…).

And those issues are deadly easy to fix. Use the right version of Windows! With Windows Embedded Standard you can easily remove any notification message, message box and other OS output that is not related to the main task performed by your device. It’s easy to do that or to find someone that can configure the OS for you and avoid this kind of issues that could lead to unsatisfied customers (those that pay for the advertising) or to inconveniences to passengers that will not find the information they expect from those monitors or find it partly covered by error message that they already hate on their PCs.

During the next months I’ll try to document other “supposedly-embedded” devices behaving like PCs just because someone thought that learning how to use the right version of the OS (we are not talking about a completely different OS here!) was not worth the effort.