Show Sidebar Log in

Migration Stories

Nailing another Microsoft TCO tall tale

At Rouse’s Supermarkets in Louisiana, it was just another July day in 2004. Customers placed their summer grocery selections on the conveyor belts; cashiers scanned them and collected the amount due using their touch-screen terminals, just like always. But underneath the hustle and bustle at the checkout lanes, a silent revolution had taken place. Even though their PC-based cash registers seemed the same, the operating system that all the technology rested on had changed from SCO Unixware to Linux.

even though it was business as usual for the frontline employees, vice president Tommy Rouse knew things were very different.

Rouse’s Supermarkets has been a family owned and operated grocery chain since 1959, when Tommy Rouse’s father started with one small store. The younger Rouse grew up living next door to the store, and so naturally he feels "deeply involved" in everything that happens with the business, which today has expanded to 15 stores.

Rouse’s has been utilizing ACR Retail point-of-sale (POS) systems since 1991. ACR, based in Jacksonville, Fla., has been providing software and systems integrations for grocery and drug stores since 1975.

ACR ported its ACR 5000 POS software to Linux about three years ago; before that, the company had worked with Linux for two years in a testing environment. When it came time for Rouse’s to upgrade its POS systems, ACR president and CEO John Huffman suggested thin clients and a server running ACR 5000 on Linux.

Tommy Rouse wasn’t a stranger to Linux. His IT staff had been using it for back office operations for several years, coding custom applications for data storage and retrieval. That experience, coupled with the desire to upgrade clunky Microsoft-powered boxes at each register to easily maintainable thin c
lients, made it easy for Rouse’s to say "yes" to Huffman’s suggestion.

In June 2003, Rouse and Huffman launched a single test store to "feel their way around it," according to Rouse. By May 2004, they were ready to start rolling out the new system to the rest of the stores, and the switch was complete by July.

For Rouse, the top benefit Linux brings to the company is lower initial cost and lower overhead. Huffman agreed, citing the flexibility his customers have when choosing Linux as the base OS.

"[With Linux] we can supply the functionality from the server and leave the client utterly dumb," Huffman said. The thin client "evolution" has resulted in drastically lower component costs, making the terminals so economical as to become almost "disposable." Not only that, but stores like Rouse’s no longer need to hire highly paid technical people, since no special training is required to replace a thin client if something goes wrong. "Rouse’s keeps a couple of spare terminals in the back. If one breaks, all you have to do is plug it in — no software installation or configuration," Huffman said.

Another benefit to using Linux is the flexibility it allows when selecting server iron. Rouse was pleased that he and his staff were able to build their own servers for less than $500 each. Because of the low cost, Rouse was able to install a separate cold backup server in most of the stores. "If we lose a server we can back that one in remotely just by making a couple of quick software changes," he said.

Huffman is enthusiastic about the future of Linux in the POS space. The key, he said, is the ability to completely remove the operating system from the thin clients, something proprietary operating system providers do not allow, since that would cut deeply into their revenue. "Microsoft is trying to do thin clients, but they’ve got to keep their software in there," Huffman said. "They don’t want to give it up. They live on the desktop and if that’s eliminated, they l
ose their market. They’re very desperate to keep some intelligence in their terminals. With Linux, we can do thin clients for effectively no cost, and Microsoft can’t. I love it."

One Response to Migration Stories

  1. sean October 18, 2004 at 11:20 pm #

    Confessions of a recent Linux convert

    Ila Patniak – India Express

    Escaping viruses and costly programme updates is easier than you think

    Few organisations are able to upgrade all their equipment to keep up with new versions of Microsoft Windows. Certainly not cash-constrained think-tanks. We would initially run old versions of Windows and ignore the new ones. Soon, we were not able to read documents that came in from colleagues abroad. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.

    Running new versions of Windows on old machines was also a pain. Open a few windows on the web browser, or a large Word document, or even indulge in a simple cut-and-paste, and the end result was the same: the machine would hang. On some days, five times a day. Rebooting again and again was a test of patience. I found myself constantly complaining.

    One of my colleagues persuaded me to try Linux. He said it was costless to try. The software was free. And he would help me set it up, which was the difficult part. The first few days were not easy. The biggest problem was the tech-support guy — was he uncooperative! He did not like my asking him how to hook up to the Net or link up to the printer.

    In the end, I managed to find a nice, young college student belonging to the Delhi Linux group who set up things for me. A few days later, my machine was up and running. I called it Ayushka, after my little son Ayush.

    The nicest part of the day was now the morning coffee time. Every day, somebody would talk about a virus. I would simper, “Oh, but I am not affected. You see, I use Linux.”

    I now used Openoffice instead of MS Office, Mozilla instead of Internet Explorer and Mozilla Mail instead of Microsoft Outlook. None of these programs were hit by Windows viruses. I regularly got improved versions free from the Net. The new ve
    rsions have a steady stream of features, and get better over time, but don’t require that you buy new hardware.

    When I moved jobs, I was unhappy that I would have to go through the difficult part of setting up Linux again. The solution was a notebook from ACi that cost me Rs 30,000. I saved Rs 14,000 by not buying MS Windows and MS Office.

    Once it was up and running, the coffee breaks were like in the good old days. Not only do I get my software free, it is sturdier, there are fewer people in the world attacking it with viruses, and when there are, I escape unscathed. I just turn up my nose and say that I had not encountered a virus for 2 years.

    Was it difficult? Did it take time to learn? No, not at all; switching from Windows to Linux is easy because the programs (office, browser, email) are nearly identical. For individuals, the best source of help is the Linux user groups. They are full of enthusiastic and smart people who can help converts get going.

    The biggest savings from Linux are for companies. When the costs of hardware and Microsoft are multiplied by a large number of machines, it adds up to a lot of money. That’s some Linux for thought.