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Linux The New Choice for the Hospitality POS

Aug 17, 2007
In the beginning, there was Unix. The original form of what we now call a computer operating system was originally a Unix machine, first running on a PDP 11/20 in 1970. But computer systems at this time were still inaccessible to the mainstream public, so "dumbed-down" systems were invented in steps. Gradually, the desktop computer industry unfolded into all of the various systems we have today.

But a translation of the original Unix ideal is Linux, and it has rapidly become the leader in business use. In a never-ending battle to ease costs, a system that is freely available to the public to use, redistribute, change, translate, and adapt is the ultimate in economical and secure computing.

Linux is a free Unix-like operating system originally created by Linus Torvalds. Developed under the GNU General Public License, the source code for Linux is freely available to everyone who knows what to do with it. According to IBM, Linux is currently the fastest-growing operating system. The beauty of Linux is that, because it is freely modifiable, it can be adapted to any computing purpose. Chances are good, your cell phone has Linux embedded. Linux is now the system of choice to run gaming consoles such as the Sony PlayStation. Yet Linux is just as at-home running a mainframe supercomputer at NASA.

Once your business has chosen your operating system, the next task is usually sourcing out a POS (point of sale) system. At the best of times, sourcing out a POS system for your business operation can be a confusing, time consuming task. Throw in the added obstacle of having to select point-of-sale software that can actually run on your operating system, and it's easy to see why business owners shy away from this difficult task.

Research has shown that the number of POS terminals running Linux in North America has increased by 180% since 2002, and is just becoming the majority operating system for POS software in 2007. The reason why is simple; Linux, as an operating system, is more cost effective, flexible, and allows for greater freedom of choice in software than other mainstream operating systems. Linux is also very cost effective in regards to licensing, installation, and support costs.

Linux can offer all of these features without sacrificing functionality. For retailers and restaurant/hospitality operators alike, cost and ease-of-use are top priorities, and reasons such as these can make the difference for a low-margin business.

Because Linux is so relatively new, POS software providers have only just begun to jump on the Linux bandwagon. Currently, there are a limited number of well-known or enterprise-wide POS software packages available for Linux. One company that has seen the opportunity in the market and has embraced it is Volante POS Systems, of Toronto, Canada and Hong Kong. Volante offers a POS solution that has been developed entirely in Java.

Java has been the lead star language for enterprise solutions for going on 20 years, but Sun Microsystems, the owners of Java, have only recently licensed Java under the same GNU license as Linux, enabling it to be ported. Linux plus Java is a formidable force in computing, far greater than the sum of their parts.

Not only does Java provide compatibility across platforms, but like Linux, using Java POS solutions can be cost effective as well. Java on Linux allows users the opportunity to have their own free environment from the ground up. Java's open standard architecture allows the entire system to be compatible with all third-party industrial applications. Users are free to choose their operating environment and are not bound to costly proprietary restrictions.

From a retail perspective, Linux is definitely catching on. Retail stores, warehouses, restaurants, and hotels have all switched to Linux-based POS systems. In fact, schools and government institutions are rolling out Linux systems as well. An even bigger factor in Linux adoption is its security and rock-solid stability. We are seeing the exiting beginning of a new computing revolution here, in which our computer systems are no longer held hostage by hackers wielding viruses, trojans, and spam, and where we are no longer plagued by software bugs and crashes caused by incompetent private programmers.

Everything in Linux is open to peer review. Anybody who has the training from any point around the world can apply a patch or fix to the software and upload their fix so the rest of the world can enjoy it. Thus, problems in the Linux world are quickly corrected. Because of this peer-review nature, Linux is being adopted even more rapidly in countries which have been underserved by the large technology corporations. Even more keenly, countries in Europe and Asia are fastening onto Linux as a way to compute freely within their own borders, instead of buying a commercial system only to see the money go overseas.

But those large corporations, after years of opposing Linux as a competitor, are starting to warm up to it. The leader of this trend is IBM, which has adopted their business model to being a support service for Linux users. Computer makers Dell and Hewlett-Packard have also expressed some interest in selling desktop machines with Linux pre-installed. And, inevitably, Microsoft itself has entered partnership with the Novell company, in an attempt to support customers who want Microsoft support for a Linux system.

Oddly enough, you use Linux all the time and don't recognize it. A Linux server is handling your HTTP requests every time you surf the Internet, and a Linux system is giving you your search results every time you use Google. Other derivatives and relatives of Linux and Unix-variants, such as BSD and Sun's own Open Solaris, have moved in to fill some of the gaps around Linux technology.

What really matters to the world is how the software is licensed. As technology has now moved into every aspect of our lives, consumers are expressing a desire to directly control what that technology does, instead of sitting helplessly waiting for a proprietary company to offer another expensive and half-way solution.
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