THIBODAUX, La. -- Rouse's Supermarkets here is close to completing a year-old deployment of a Linux-based point-of-sale system for 200 checkout lanes at its 15 stores, just the second such installation in U.S. food retailing.
Rouse's POS rollout is also notable for using thin-client "network-bootable appliances" (essentially dumb terminals without a hard drive or operating system) conveying all program intelligence and data from new back-room servers that run the POS application on a Linux platform.
Rouse's expects to save more than $30,000 per store in hardware, software and maintenance costs during the next five years compared with a traditional proprietary POS system, said Tommy Rouse, vice president for Rouse's, in a statement.
The only other U.S. food retailer known to be using a Linux-based POS system is Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine, though Hannaford is running its POS software, from Retalix, Dallas, on terminals at the lane. Hannaford has installed the system in 72 stores, according to Retalix. Bill Homa, Hannaford's chief information officer, told SN 88 stores would be installed by September, with the rest, about 45 stores, completed by early 2005.
Linux is the popular "freeware" operating system whose basic "kernel" is downloadable for free over the Internet, though businesses generally purchase it through third-party distributors who provide installation support. Rouse's Linux system is from Red Hat, Raleigh, N.C.
Among the issues raised over Linux, critics argue that Linux's freeware status makes it harder to support than the ubiquitous Microsoft operating systems, but Linux advocates argue that users can cut licensing costs dramatically.
In all retail channels, shipments of Linux operating systems in 2003 represented 3% of the total, according to IHL Consulting Group's "2004 North American Retail Point-of-Sale Terminals" report released in March. According to the report, Microsoft Windows operating systems (DOS, 9x, NT, 2000, XP and CE) accounted for 51% of shipments. IBM 4690 systems contributed the other 46%.
Retailers outside of food known to use Linux include Burlington Coat Factory, Burlington, N.J., and Mark's Work Warehouse, Calgary, Alberta. In Europe, food retailers Migros (Switzerland and Germany), Carrefour-Hyproma (Romania), and REWE and Coop (Germany) use Linux, according to www.linux-pos.org.
Rouse's installed its first Linux-based POS system in one store in late June of 2003, and began an aggressive rollout after the first of the year, said Rouse. "We had it at our first site for quite a while to get used to it," he told SN. He said the rollout was expected to be completed in early August.
"We like Linux," said Rouse. "We have it in other servers in our organization and are familiar with it." ACR will support the Linux system, he added.
Rouse's new system uses ACR 5000 POS software from ACR Retail Systems, Jacksonville, Fla., which runs on the Linux platform on a back-room PC server. Rouse's had previously used ACR software on a SCO Unixware operating system in the back room.
At the checkout lane, Rouse's is replacing Windows-based PCs with the network appliances, which are smaller, Java-based devices. The appliances make in-lane upgrades a matter of rebooting the system, as opposed to upgrading each PC.
"When we put software patches on the server, we just reboot the network appliances," said Rouse.
Rouse said he also appreciates not having to be concerned with computer viruses in the network appliances, as he did when PCs were used at the checkout.
Overall, Rouse likes the ease with which the network appliances can be upgraded and maintained. "We only have two people to maintain the equipment," he said. "So we want to have fewer problems with equipment." Cost of ownership has been reduced, he added. Rouse said he has noticed faster throughput at the lanes, which he attributed to the new back-room PCs (upgraded to 2 GHz).