WEPOS or Linux?
By David Dorf on Oct 29, 2008
Retailers that have a Java-based point-of-sale (POS) have the distinct advantage of running on almost any cash register hardware. That puts them in a better position to negotiate with both hardware and operating system vendors. Another advantage is that they are ready to use whatever new operating system is available in the future, assuming Java survives (and that's a pretty safe assumption). I like to refer to this as "future-proofing." With so much momentum over at Apple, maybe the cash register of the future will be an iPod. We just don't know.
A couple years back I did an informal assessment of our POS customers and discovered they were basically split evenly between Windows and Linux. And I found seemingly similar retailers made different decisions, so I didn't detect any clear pattern. The Linux camp claims they have the lowest TCO, and Microsoft claims their Windows Embedded for POS (WEPOS) offering is best. There doesn't seem to be clear advice from the analyst community either. An IHL Group press release earlier this year had the following two facts:
The installed base of WEPOS and Windows XP Embedded terminals increased over 400,000 units in the US and Canada in 2007. The installed base of Linux terminals increased over 32 percent year to year.
Both are making inroads, with Windows leading the pack, Linux in second, and 4690 OS bringing up the rear. No clear winner there.
What I've seen is that the decision must be based on the retailer's history and current situation. Many retailers have licensing agreements with Microsoft that make it advantageous to stick with Windows. Often mid-sized retailers leverage their desktop support group for store support, so again Windows may work best in that situation. Still others came from the Unix world and are very comfortable with Linux and its tools. And because Linux gets less focus, its has fewer malicious attacks and therefore fewer security patches. From my perspective, both operating systems work well with POS software.
I wonder if there are any retail-specific checklists that might help retailers make the right decision. The resources I've found on the internet focus on enterprise systems (where I believe Linux is a clear TCO winner). There's information from Novell, IBM, and Microsoft that's specific to POS, but it doesn't make a clear case either way. Heck, even IBM has hedged its bets by supporting both Linux and WEPOS on its POS hardware.
I guess the good thing that comes from this choice is competition that should keep prices low and innovation high. That's always good for the industry.