Linux makes gains, sees challenges, in retail IT

* Linux has a bright future in retail

"You have a bright future in retail," isn't always the best compliment to give someone. But this is a positive statement regarding the Linux operating system.

And we're not talking about Linux software retail sales (although that has been on the rise recently). Linux as an IT platform inside retail organizations is growing quickly, analyst say. Many retailers such as Boscovs supermarkets, Burlington Coat Factory and Hannaford supermarkets have gone ahead with Linux implementations both in the data center and in the crucial point of sale (POS) area over the last few years.

Retailers who use Linux tout its flexibility and stability: the code can be stripped down and molded to run the specific tasks of a POS system; and it doesn't crash often, which keeps customers happy and lines moving. Linux has gained enough momentum in retail systems that it even garnered its own special track at the Retail Systems 2006 Conference & Exposition, going on in Chicago this week. The Linux in Retail Symposium segment of the show will feature experts who have overseen Linux retail rollouts - such as former Longs Drug Stores CIO Brian Kilcourse - and technical seminars on how to deploy Linux as POS platform in retail.

Linux still isn't storming the retail POS market the way it has moved into the enterprise server market. In retail POS, Linux's position is still only a little bit better than where it stands in desktop PCs. According to IHL Consulting Group, Linux systems accounted for around 9% of POS operating systems installed in 2005, while Windows-based systems had over 70% of the market. Still, Linux saw growth in POS last year, as its market share was almost double what it was in 2004.

The best thing Linux has going for it in retail is IBM; Big Blue's dominant presence as a POS vendor, and its zealous commitment to Linux, could lead to broader adoption of the open source operating system in cash register, self-service checkout and other retail systems in the near future.

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