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Boscov's Inches Into Linux - page 3

Moving to Linux, One App at a Time

  • September 4, 2003
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

Boscov's, though, plans to migrate its PeopleSoft financial app to Linux, along with BEA Systems' Tuxedo middleware. For the PeopleSoft software, Tuxedo is a systems requirement.

Also, somewhere down the road, Boscov's will probably replace its DOS-based cash register system with a Linux system, a rare move, up to now, in the department store space. Boscov's current POS system is from Cornell-Mayo.

"DOS registers, though, just don't have all the things we want," according to Poole. For one thing, Boscov's wants to capture customer information for service contracts during 'big ticket' cash register transactions.

"That'd make for a better customer experience," he pointed out. Right now, customer information for service contracts is still being filled in manually, in an area physically separate from the cash register.

One strong emerging alternative to DOS is Windows-based POS. Poole, though, is very concerned over Microsoft's licensing fees -- especially in light of the fact that Boscov's uses cash registers in each department of every store. Boscov's currently operates about 40 stores, all in the mid-Atlantic region, for a grand total of around 3,000 cash registers. Each store is outfitted with a pair of POS servers, too.

"Microsoft is trying to increase its revenues through licensing fees, at the expense of customers," concurred Linuxcare CEO Avery Lyford. "It was easy for Microsoft to grow faster than the GDP when Microsoft was a smaller company. It isn't so easy for Microsoft to do so now."

"Linux is actually the ideal OS for retail stores," he argued. "It's very easy to add new functionality to Linux."

Burlington Coat Factory is one widely cited example of a retail chain that is already deploying cash registers on Linux. Boscov's, on the other hand, hasn't yet found a Linux-based POS system that meets all its needs, according to Poole.

"Burlington Coat Factory's application might not be as sophisticated as ours," Poole conjectured. "We aren't using shrinkwrapped software. Systems compatibility is very important, too." Beyond its complex architectural underpinnings, Boscov's POS system also includes some rather unique bells and whistles in its feature set. One example is a game called Register Roulette.

"The game makes it more fun for people to buy," Poole contended. "Each time a customer gets to the register, the clerk presses a special code (for Register Roulette). You might win 10 or 15 percent 'off' on your purchase."

Boscov's plans to shift to a Linux-based POS system is no longer unique in this space. In one recent study, IHL Consulting Group, a specialist in the retail arena, reported a 185 percent increase in shipments of Linux POS retail terminals for 2002. Still, though, Linux shipments amounted to only 4 percent of all shipments, compared to 69 percent for Windows and 17 percent for the IBM 4690 OS.

Overall, the POS market rose only 2 percent in shipments over 2001. Many retailers preferred to spend last year's limited IT dollars on new technologies like scanning and self-checkout systems, instead of replacing aging DOS cash registers, according to the IHL analysts. Moreover, cash register replacement can be a very costly project.

Boscov's piecemeal approach to Linux migration, however, may be able to keep such costs low enough in other IT expenditures to make such a move more attactive.

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