Xibo: open source signage

Xibo is a free software signage system. I asked its lead developers, Alex Harrington and Dan Garner, about the project.

Matthew: So, does Xibo power the sorts of display we see in train stations and airports?

Alex and Dan: Yes, and in shops, post offices, schools, universities, colleges, churches or hotels. Anywhere there is a need to display information to the public or employees via a screen or projector. There’s over 150 Xibo installs worldwide that we know of, running 250 screens — however the Launchpad download stats suggest the actual install base is much larger.

Xibo allows organisations to build up collections of images, videos, RSS feeds, Flash, Embedded or External HTML and Microsoft Powerpoint presentations and combine them together into presentations which can then, in turn, be scheduled on to one or more of the displays attached to the Xibo system.

Matthew: We’re pretty used to seeing the Windows blue screen of death on public displays. In building Xibo, what have you done to ensure high uptime and to avoid rather public, embarrassing, error screens?

Alex and Dan: The current stable release of Xibo (1.0.3 at the time of writing) comprises a server application written in PHP and a client application written in C#. The client is written with resilience in mind, and is capable of operating over poor quality internet connections or running offline for periods of time.

The classic BSOD FAIL images from digital signs are often the underlying operating system crashing rather than the signage application itself. To that end, the client attempts to be as light as possible on system resources to keep the workload on the OS manageable – We have a production client running on a Via EPIA Fanless Mini-ITX system.

Looking forward, we have a new cross-platform (Linux/Win/Mac) client coming written in Python using the libavg engine which is guaranteed BSOD free! It uses OpenGL to do a lot of the screen rendering which opens up a lot of possibilities for cool-new-shiney-bits later on.

Matthew: What’s the competition for Xibo?

Alex and Dan: There’s huge competition in the digital signage market place, however we’re frequently told that our offering is better than a lot of the commercial signage applications people have used before. In terms of Open Source competition, there is the Concerto Signage Project who are based at the Rensselaer Polytehnic Institute and released under the GPL v2.

What we’re hoping to bring to the DS market place is a Free solution translated in to many languages with a thriving community of contributors working together to make Xibo the best it can be. An example is the new Xibo Layout Exchange. Here you can download contributed artwork for use in the Xibo system but eventually we plan to allow people to share whole bundles of content.

Matthew: Are you building a business around Xibo?

Alex and Dan: The Xibo application is Free and we have no plans to change that. There are many options available to monetize Xibo (content creation, hosting, support, custom development etc) but there’s nothing in the pipeline at the moment.

Matthew: Why did you select the AGPL 3 as Xibo’s licence?

Alex and Dan: Xibo is written with SaaS (Software as a Service) in mind. We’re very happy for businesses to take Xibo, rebrand it and sell it as a service to their customers, but the freedom needs to be two-way. We wanted a license that ensured that modifications these companies made would be accessible to the end user, for the greater good of the project. AGPLv3 offers us those things, while being compatible with a lot of existing library code.

Matthew: Is there a community of people interested in developing an open source signage system?

Alex and Dan: Xibo currently has two main developers. We’ve had code contributions from a few other people to date, but there’s a fair learning curve which presents a hurdle for prospective developers. We’re working towards a more modular architecture which will allow people to develop plugins to the server and client to extend it’s functionallity, which should lower the barrier to entry significantly.

There’s an active support community already in the Forum and in Launchpad Answers. We’re also taking art submissions for the Layout Exchange, and there is already a huge list of blueprints in Launchpad for future development, contributed by many people.

At least one of the developers is planning to be at LugRadio Live 2009 and Oggcamp in Wolverhampton later this year — just as a visitor, we aren’t exhibiting, but they’ll be suitably dressed so come over and say hello!

Matthew: Heh, see you there. So, why did you choose Launchpad?

Alex and Dan: We have used Sourceforge and Subversion before, but we wanted to use Bazaar for the RCS and Launchpad gave us Bazaar hosting and a good bug tracker. The translations support has been a huge bonus as has Blueprints and Answers. It rolls almost everything we needed in to one convenient package. It also acts as an OpenID provider so we can give the community secure access to edit the wiki and authenticate with the forum.

Matthew: What have you found particularly useful in Launchpad?

Alex and Dan: I think possibly the single most useful feature is merge request tracking – allowing us to fix bugs in individual branches and then queue the fixes up for merging later on. Answers has been great for doing user support – especially where there’s four or five of us helping someone it gives a good overview of which issues are outstanding, and a clear progression to a bug if needed. The bugtracker integration with bzr is great too for keeping track of where fixes went.

Matthew: What would you like to see added to Launchpad?

Alex and Dan: In the early days it would have helped us a lot if Launchpad had provided a wiki too. Now we’ve got our own system in place migrating over makes less sense though. I’d love to see a “Convert to Blueprint” button in Answers, as we get a lot of people making feature requests there.

Matthew: Thanks both!

2 Responses to “Xibo: open source signage”

  1. Omar Díaz Says:

    What is the name of the image file for the background for the TEXT and RSS regions? I prefer a invisible background for those items based on I manage the background with the Layouts. Could you tell me how I can remove that? What is the name of the image?



  2. Marc Witteveen Says:

    How can I create a license for a client?

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