Monday, April 04, 2005

Linux to the rescue

How's this for a Linux advocation? A school wanted to use their Intel QX3 computer microscope (which have a tendency at all schools to fester at the back of some cupboard, despite being a brilliant idea). They wanted a kiosk-style setup so that the computer could sit in the corridor (not networked), the screen showed the microscope view, the kids could play with objects under it but not break the computer in doing so. They also didn't want to have to pay for Windows licenses or buy a computer just for that job.

Pulled out an old 300MHz that they were going to scrap, bunged a bog-standard Knoppix CD in and booted off it. Ran xawtv... voila! Instant full-screen microscope view without having to load a single driver, or even touch the hard disk. It appears that the driver for the Intel QX3 is just an ordinary webcam driver (cpia) that Knoppix has bundled anyway. No configuration required to get the image on the screen apart from running a TV program (also built-in to Knoppix) and pressing F for fullscreen.

Next week, if they are happy with what they have, I'll install it to a permanent location on the hard disk (apparently a one-liner under knoppix), set up a simple script to turn the lights on the microscope on and off (echo toplight:on >/proc/cpia/video0 etc.), maybe even have that controlled by a joypad or similar simplistic setup, and automate the boot so that xawtv goes straight to a full-screen kiosk mode.

Cost: Nothing. Extras required: Knoppix ISO image + 1 CD-R. Time Required: About 20 minutes. Expertise required: A google for "Intel QX3 linux".

Now try that with Windows.

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