Industry Q&A: An Open Source POS?

Open source is as hot a buzz word as any in today's technology circles, but is it truly buzz-worthy? Most software today is not open source. The source code has been run through a compiler program and is translated into a form that the computer can understand. It is extremely difficult to modify these types of applications, and nearly impossible to see exactly how the developer created different parts of the program. What it does do, however, is protect the product's quality and features from being grabbed, and potential mishandled, by competing manufacturers.

On the flip side is open source software, whereby the source code is included with the compiled version and customization on the part of the purchaser is encouraged. Proponents say that it's not only affordable, but that it will ultimately lead to more customized systems that solve end-users' needs better.

What's the potential impact of open source in the hospitality POS space? Hospitality Technology talks with restaurant operators to find out whether or not they think open source software has the potential to grab a share of the restaurant point of sale market.

HT: What operating system is your point of sale running on and why?
Richard Thomson, VP of IT, Garden Fresh restaurant Corp.: OpenSuse. Note that Linux is open source, but open source is not restricted to Linux. We preferred one of the flavors of Linux, it did not particularly matter which one. Although we generally use one of the Red Hat or Fedora versions the vendor was comfortable with openSuse and that has worked out just fine.

Joel Sierra, IT director, World Wide Concessions: They [World Wide Concessions] are on Microsoft XP. At the time four years ago when we made the decision, open source was not viable and it didn't have the feature set we were looking for. We are extending and growing into the retail souvenir shop and we are reevaluating. As we look forward towards growth we are interested in non-Microsoft-based POS systems.

Thor Linnum, IT manager, Grandma's Restaurant Company: Our servers run Windows Server 2000, 2003, and 2008. The terminals run Windows 2k, XP Pro and WEPOS. Honestly I've been a Microsoft guy since I sold my Amiga 3000. I'm comfortable using it and I have not been sufficiently motivated to try something different.

HT: What are the challenges and/or benefits associated with these systems?
RT: In terms of the operating system itself, with Microsoft it's take it or leave it, and upgrade your hardware when dictated. With Linux you have the ability, and the associated responsibility, to get under the hood if needed or desired. With open source Linux there is no licensing cost, currently no requirement for antivirus, and the hardware requirements are generally significantly less. With hardware drivers, either there is one for Microsoft or you are out of luck. With open source there may well be additional options, particularly if the manufacturer supports open source.

JS: It is very difficult to argue against the reality that Microsoft makes it simple. Microsoft is really pervasive; I can hire a network administrator with years of experience. You can operate Microsoft Windows and support it at a relatively low cost. As far as support is concerned, there are a lot of tools that make the job of upgrading or deploying relatively easy. Microsoft is moving into the virtual cloud computing space. I am looking at it now and trying to retrofit or convert a system that works on a wheel computer.

On looking at open source, the ability to run the POS across multiple locations with multiple types of hardware and the ability to load it offsite to run it remotely [are benefits]. The primary challenge is having to have your own development team or person depending upon the size. With open source you have to go to the community. In the case of Microsoft, because it is widely accepted, the ability to solve a challenge or problems is less challenging.

At this point, Microsoft is an industry standard. I'm not interested in trying something that I might have problems finding solutions for. As an industry standard, solutions are usually on page one or two of a Google search.

HT: What overall industry trends do you see associated with Microsoft or open source? Are there any predictions that you can make for the years ahead?
RT: I expect both Linux and open source to gain ground in the years ahead, but whether it will ever significantly impact Microsoft's position in the market is questionable; maybe a decade or so in the future.

JS: I think that with the cloud computing or software as a service debate, people are going to talk about it more. If you are running it remotely, the cost savings could be dramatic. Looking at our own restaurants; with the ability to run on a thin client I don't have to worry about OS licensing and some of the security and viruses related to running on Microsoft.

TL: I see Microsoft fine-tuning a product to fit our needs (WEPOS).
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