Cashing In on Linux

Retailers are turning to Linux to achieve savings in development costs and capital expenditures.

Retail businesses can operate in hundreds, even thousands, of dispersed geographic locations and be staffed by employees with little, if any, IT training. But slim profit margins force IT directors to keep costs as low as possible.

Some retail operations are turning to Linux, the open-source operating system that, unlike commercial operating systems, comes with no license fee.

In addition to the lower upfront cost, retailers such as Papa Johns International Inc. have found that Linux can give them control of development costs.

Papa Johns is rolling out Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Linux distribution on POS (point-of-sale) systems in its 2,900 restaurants, according to a report released last month by International Data Corp., of Framingham, Mass. Terry Foster, director of field systems development at Papa Johns, told IDC that he expects the Linux-based systems to recover faster from crashes. Foster said he plans to install the Red Hat operating system and new applications on existing equipment and thereby get more mileage from hardware.

By upgrading from its Unix-based systems, the company, based in Louisville, Ky., said it expects to see significant savings in capital expenditures and provide a platform that can be remotely upgraded to meet changes in operations and marketing.

Papa Johns has set up its POS devices so that they are extensible to personal digital assistants, touch-screens and other new technologies.

Papa Johns is not alone. IBM late last month announced it had signed up two new retail customers to Red Hat Linux: movie theater chain Regal Entertainment Group Inc. and Brazilian retailer Casas Bahia.

"The state of the economy means that retail firms are increasingly looking at cost as a vital component of their IT decisions. The costs are generally lower for Linux implementations than with any other environment, and the reliability and uptime is better," said John Sarsgard, IBMs vice president of Linux Solutions, in Somers, N.Y. "The total cost of a Linux implementation is, in my opinion, also significantly lower than for other competitive solutions."