Interactive installation OS??
Who knew that I’d have to think about what OS we’re using on our interactive installation in 2018? Who knew that there’d be OS drama? Windows 10 is the latest and greatest Windows version, but even as such, many professionals are still using Windows 7. We’ll get into the nitty gritty of it from a professional perspective. But let’s get 2 things out of the way. No one uses Windows 8. Ignore it. Forget it happened. As we’re specialists in TouchDesigner, we’re going to focus on Windows, because although there is a Mac version, it’s a lot harder to wield in professional situations and even harder to get properly spec’d systems. So let’s dive in!
Why use Windows 7 for an interactive installation?
Windows 7 introduced a new feature called Aero. It’s the thing that adds transparency and bubbly effects to Windows. An important trait of Aero is that it would avoid tearing whenever possible by dropping frames. This means that even in some situations where your screens would tear, Windows Aero would do its best to avoid tearing. On installations with very slow moving content this could help avoid extra installations headaches. On more sensitive installations where the dropped frames become noticeable you could turn of Aero and use the classic Windows compositor, which would basically always tear because Windows would just output frames as fast as possible. When you combined the fast frame spitting of Windows 7 without Aero and a Quadro using Premium Mosaic, you could ensure tear-free and stutter-free playback (as long as your displays/signal paths are identical).
The problem with Windows 10 is you now don’t have the option to turn off Aero. This amounts to losing options when you’re deploying your interactive installation. Anyone who has been in the hot seat can attest that having options and guaranteed setups are worth their weight in gold.
Windows 7 has the “amazing” ability to turn off automatic updates. This might seem like a trivial thing to think about but when you consider long-term or permanent installations, you absolutely do not want things on the computer changing. You may want to go in and perform security updates but even then, most installations aren’t directly exposed to the outside wall and are often times behind a separate firewall. So in these situations, anything changing the system could cause unnecessary down time and unwanted service calls. In Windows 10, the ability to stop automatic updates has been severly limited. Windows wants you to keep up with their latest features and updates, so you can pause updates, but not completely stop them.
10 years of legacy
Windows 7 has been around for a long time and has been stable for a long time. Because of its massive popularity, so many applications, utilities, and tools have been released for Windows 7 over the years. That wealth of available applications also extends to 10 years worth of compatible hardware, including weird niche controllers and interfaces. The combination creates a very stable operating system with more than 10 years of hardware and software development available and ready to roll. You can’t ignore this legacy. I don’t think we’ll ever see a similar kind of legacy as operating systems have much faster update cycles now. You need a piece of software or hardware? I bet you’ll find an option for Windows 7.
Why use Windows 10 for an interactive installation?
This is slowly becoming less and less of an issue because Kinect 2 was recently discontinued. Even as such, tons and tons of clients love talking about and using Kinect 2 which isn’t supported in Windows 7. This basically forces you into 2 camps. The first is the camp of using Windows 10 as the main OS of the interactive installation so that you can connect a Kinect 2 and use it. The second is the camp of people who will use Windows 7 as their main OS and then use cheap SFF (small form factor) computers with Windows 10. In that situation you would connect your Kinect 2 to the SFF Windows 10 machine, then send the data over the network to your main Windows 7 system. The second is not ideal as there are more computers to deal with and more networking than would be normally required, but it’s the best way to get Kinect 2 data to a Windows 7 machine.
When you’re working with Fortune 500 companies or companies with very sensitive information, you will hear from their IT department about network security. This is a concern since more and more interactive installations rely on network connections to APIs for data and many installations need to piggy-back off of the network infrastructure of the building to send data between different computers or displays or sensors. One of the benefits of using the latest and greatest OS is that it is still under development and receiving security updates for the near future. I’ve heard of folks who were forced to use Windows 10 because of the corporate IT team refused to have an out-of-date Windows 7 installation on their network.
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Carrying on with the theme of still being developed and updated, Windows 10 is here and now, ready to receive updates to support new hardware and software. Whether its new chipsets, GPUs, controllers, protocols, or applications, Windows 10 will come out with updates to make sure these new things work. The same can’t be said for Windows 7. Windows 7 has its legacy but may not receive support for new hardware (such as Kinect 2) or software.
The unfortunate reality is that I still heavily prefer to use Windows 7. I can’t blame Microsoft for their changes, as it does make for a better day-to-day OS. But there is hope!
LTSB: A New Hope
I just recently heard about Windows 10 LTSB which is the Long Term Support Build. It solves one of the big issues mentioned around Windows update. LTSB has few and far between Windows Updates, only pushing security updates to your system. The updates that include new features have to be manually installed by the administrator so you don’t need to be worried that your system will randomly reboot and install an update that could impact your system stability. It is a bit more difficult to get a copy of Windows 10 LTSB as it is not meant for general users. As I haven’t tried it yet, your mileage may vary!