January 12, 2001

Linux is a Liberator for retailers

Author: JT Smith

- by Tina Gasperson -
On Sunday, Fujitsu will announce the March 2001 release of Liberator, its Red Hat Linux-based point-of-sale (POS) software for retailers. The system, which emulates older proprietary DOS-based set ups, was created to run on Fujitsu's TeamPOS 2000 terminal.
Don Paschal, the director of retail marketing for Fujitsu, says, "Liberator is a Linux operating system with the appropriate services that make it emulate the 4690 OS. You can take your IBM POS application and put it on the Liberator and it will run. So your host interfaces don't have to change."

This should make it easy for retailers to make the switch, he says. Of the millions of POS retailers out there, many are finding that their systems are increasingly behind-the-times, with the standard non-graphical user interfaces and fairly steep learning curves for new employees. With Liberator, companies can train new hires quickly because of the easy-to-use GUI and updated capabilities that include multimedia and touch-screen functionality.

Fujitsu had several reasons for going with Linux when they needed a base OS for the new terminal, says Paschal. "The licensing prices were attractive. And we wanted something you could do a remote program load with so you don't have to have a hard drive in the cash register. Plus, Linux is getting a lot of favorable publicity and buzz in the industry," causing retailers to perk up their ears and take notice of a new product based on the free operating system.

Liberator isn't the first POS software that runs on Linux, but it is the first time a major company has taken the initiative in designing an entire hardware and software solution based on Linus Torvalds' operating system. "We [want] to allow retailers who have IBM POS applications running today on 4690 OS an alternative in both hardware and operating systems," says Vic Scott, Fujitsu's director of platform support. "Liberator achieves this goal by enabling retailers to run their 4690 POS application on Fujitsu's POS hardware." Additionally, says Scott, the retailer benefits from the additional capabilities of a standard Red Hat Linux distribution.

When asked about the release of source code for modifications to the kernel, Scott said, "These changes will, of course, be made available under the GPL," but, he adds, Liberator was created specifically to run on Fujitsu's POS hardware. The bulk of the system is actually proprietary, much like TiVO's practically proprietary "replay TV" application, whose secrets are closely guarded.

Fujitsu's new system also makes use of the Java POS standard, developed by Sun and employed by major retailers like Home Depot and Sears. The Java POS, incidentally, runs on newer releases of the 4690 OS, providing a graphical user interface for non-Linux converts as well.

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