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Linux Business

Linux At the Point of Sale 264

NegativeK writes "I work at a local comic and games shop, and I've been kicking around what it would take to implement a barcode scanner and more detailed inventory control. Currently, the setup is a low-tech register that tracks general areas of sales: new comics, ccgs, Games Workshop, rpgs, etc. Requirements include FOSS on Linux, the ability to use a cheap scanner, datamining, and output in a useful format (perhaps OpenOffice spreadsheet). The idea hasn't been pitched to the shop owner yet, so ease of use is probably more important than anything — but breaking out the programming books to work on parts isn't out of the question for me. Assuming the actual register stays, what resources are out there for a barcode/inventory implementation?"
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Linux At the Point of Sale

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  • Book on this topic (Score:5, Informative)

    by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Sunday February 24, 2008 @05:08PM (#22538222) Homepage
    John Locke's Open-Source Solutions for Small Business Problems [amazon.com] dedicates space to POS issues.
  • Try Sourceforge (Score:5, Informative)

    by drewmoney ( 1133487 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @05:12PM (#22538274)
    This one comes to mind: Openbravo [openbravo.com] Again, try sourceforge.
  • Lemon POS (Score:5, Informative)

    by martin-sandsmark ( 1148615 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @05:16PM (#22538336) Homepage
    I think Lemon POS fits the bill quite nicely:
    http://lemonpos.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]
    It runs on KDE 4 though, so it might not be completely production ready yet.
  • Librepos (Score:3, Informative)

    by UUDIBUUDI ( 1241572 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @05:28PM (#22538440)
    Librepos [sourceforge.net] may be of interest. At my company we just started to implement this, so I can't tell alot about it, but from what I've seen and from my coworkers' responses, it does seem up for the job (replace old cash registers, inventory for merchandise). The software was incorporated in OpenBravo not too long ago, it's probably quite decent. They call it OpenBravo POS now.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2008 @05:40PM (#22538564)
    Don't forget that PCI requirements will force any credit card support get certified. If you want to "home brew" you will have to forgo the credit card support and still use the cc machine next to the register. (unless you have $25k laying around to get certified)
  • Re:Jeff Albertson (Score:2, Informative)

    by crazed gremlin ( 978591 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @05:56PM (#22538718)
    Jeff Albertson, aka "Comic Book Guy" from the Simpsons
  • by Nikker ( 749551 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @05:57PM (#22538720)
    You don't need to be certified to process credit card charges. It really depends on the quantity of processing and how the data is handled. You can be investigated to see if all transactions and data are encrypted to standard. An easy way to get around this is to go with a company that allows access via HTTPS where you submit the holders info and they do all the processing. As long as you keep all data pertaining to credit card numbers and other special account numbers owned by banks encrypted and central to your own physical computer then there is a lot you don't have to do.

    As well unless you are processing millions of charges a year it will not take you 25k to have some one certify you. That is if you are big enough to deal directly with lets say visa or a bank directly is when you need that type of audit. Many companies exist (Eigen is one of them) that will take care of the communication to the bank its self while provided they only allow communications via a certified secure protocol (HTTPS/SSH/SFTP) you are good to go. You are required to sanitize the card numbers by removing the middle digits preserving just the first and last number of the card.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2008 @06:21PM (#22538954)

    Probably the most effective solution would be to pick up one of long-living Open Source ERP projects, such as ERP5 [erp5.org] and Compiere [compiere.com], because they have been proven to work in real business scenes for over 5 years, including both at SMEs and at large companies. The applications are very broad, like manufacturers, resellers, banks, hospitals, etc. So I don't think it would be difficult to apply such a solution to your target.

    As for barcode, some USB barcode readers are broadly available, and they function just like keyboards. They are recognized as usual HIDs under Linux, so it is pretty easy to read code numbers as if they were key inputs from a keyboard.

  • by FridayBob ( 619244 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @06:34PM (#22539076) Homepage
    To a PC, a barcode scanner is nothing strange: it looks and behaves exactly like a keyboard. The first barcode scanners I played around with even came with splitters so that you could attach them to the PS/2 port along with the keyboard. Those scanners also came with some templates (barcodes) so that you could set the barcode scanner to read the barcode type that you were using for your inventory. The rest is up to your Point-of-Sale software that only needs to support the principle. The cursor needs to start in a field where the barcode is filled in, it uses the barcode to look up the matching product in its database, it fills in the description and price and then jumps to the next product. In other words, if the scanner were to break down you could just as easily type in the human-readable codes on the barcode stickers and the software would work the same (except that it would take longer). I was relieved to see that there was nothing OS dependent about these devices: no drivers necessary. I'm not entirely sure anymore, but I believe the USB version of the same barcode scanner didn't come with a separate power supply as the PS/2 version did and simply looked like a second keyboard to the PC.
  • by dominux ( 731134 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @06:35PM (#22539084) Homepage
    a simple LCD scanner purchased on ebay for £10 including shipping from Hong Kong to the UK works just fine on Linux. It is just a USB human input device. In other words it is a keyboard. Point it at a bar code and it will type the code into the current cursor position. If you get a more expensive laser scanner then you can scan barcodes from a longer distance rather than touching the barcode as my one needs. If you get an even more expensive one then you can have it wireless so you will forget where you put it. Printing bar codes is similarly easy, google the free3of9 font and put a * at either end of the data you want in the bar code, e.g. *134567823* and print that in free3of9. For some reason Firefox doesn't like that font. Can't remember the detailed reasons but they seemed rather academic and pedantic about the correct unicode glyph positions for things that are not quite fonts. In terms of software, you don't seem to have a clue. Find someone who has. OpenBravo has a new companion called OpenPOS which might be of interest (probably too big for your needs though) GNUcash might be of some interest too.
  • Your lucky day (Score:5, Informative)

    by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @06:43PM (#22539160)
    LinuxDevices.com has a recent article on Linux POS. http://www.linuxdevices.com/news/NS8365122751.html [linuxdevices.com] .

    Linux is used a lot in the actual EFPOS terminals, particurly in Europe where the numbers are way higher than the corresponding US numbers.

  • Re:Why Open Source? (Score:3, Informative)

    by pbhj ( 607776 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @06:49PM (#22539236) Homepage Journal
    >>> "much more "out of the box" than any open product"

    You know "any" is a pretty all-encompassing aspersion against the whole open source POS industry.

    Check out the ones I know of (from a short review about 4 years ago):

    Lane POS - http://l-ane.net/ [l-ane.net]
    Banana POS - http://www.bananahead.com/pos/home.html [bananahead.com]
    easypos http://easypos.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]

    Can't remember any others. The point is these are all tried and tested with details of hardware on which they're implemented. I think Lane is in Canada(?) and sells the whole systems not just the FOSS but they standardise on Epson which you can get nearly anywhere.

    This is off the shelf for a small business. Tying it into an OSS accounting package shouldn't be hard either.

    You're totally right however that you need to look at hidden costs as well as ticket costs too.
  • by mdshaw89 ( 657957 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @06:59PM (#22539330)
    If you are interested, IBM does have a Linux POS software solution called IRES, based on Novell Linux. Check out http://www-03.ibm.com/products/retail/products/software/ires/ [ibm.com] for more information. Good luck!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2008 @07:09PM (#22539412)

    I had a similar idea as the poster a year ago with my father's retail shop. Previously they printed prices on products and typed these prices into the register (an old, gloried calculator mind you). Needless to say, with rising prices and 3000+ products, the menu costs [wikipedia.org] were very high!

    Having grown up on FOSS and thinking this would be a "fun" project, at first I seriously considered writing everything from scratch. I then realized how many moving pieces I had to deal with just from the register side: sales, discounts, sales tax, receipts, barcodes, prices, inventorying updating, holding receipts, canceling receipts, etc. Then consider all of the non-register functions: inventory management, ordering, vendor tracking, pricing, customer tracking, labeling, etc. Then consider all of the reports you want! If you're not careful, you'll end up writing your own SQL-like language to allow your boss a user-friendly way to figure out sales over given time periods or whatnot. Oh, don't forget financial integration: you'll want to have your costs and revenues automatically tracked, rolled into income taxes, and then nicely reported each fiscal year. I really could go on.

    Sure, each piece is "simple." It's just the complexity associated with so many moving pieces that have to support transactions, security, and some easy way to backup. When your software makes a mistake, real money is on the line. Oh yeah, you'll have to do this on your free time by yourself.

    It's not something you can do, I hate to say.

    If you're like me, your next step is FOSS. I recall looking at SF last year and was very disappointed by what I saw. No system (not sure which ones) felt stable enough to bet my father's business on. It's ok when firefox crashes (and it does), but it's not ok when my dad can't take credit cards (did you plan that integration?) for even 15 minutes. Maybe things have changed in a year or I overlooked some amazing project. That's one of the great benefits of this community -- it will come out in the comments.

    So, after all was said and done, I decided to just buy QuickBooks POS for dad. We bought Small Business Server for the server machine and run XP Pro on the register computer. The system came pre-configured with the hardware we needed -- the barcode scanner, label printer, receipt printer, and a nifty pole for customers. You can see the features on their website and decide if they fit for you. Dad uses their financial and tax software as well, and he seems to like how things "just work." Did it "cost" more than FOSS? Sure, we outlayed more cash up front. But I saved myself a bunch of time and headache, not to mention dad has an 800 number to call first (there is value to this!).

    My advice, having implemented a POS system for a single-site small business: buy a pre-packaged solution. FOSS is great in some situations, but not yet for mine. It's cheaper than you think if you really need POS.

    I don't work for Intuit, and I'm posting as AC for fear of blaspheming the TCO of FOSS on slashdot.

  • by einhverfr ( 238914 ) <chris@travers.gmail@com> on Sunday February 24, 2008 @07:22PM (#22539522) Homepage Journal
    Correct, but you still need to be PCI-DSS compliant. Compliance and certification are different issues. If you have a problem and are not compliant, then you have substantial liability to Visa/Mastercard.
  • Infoshopkeeper (Score:2, Informative)

    by squidliberty ( 1245440 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @08:00PM (#22539878)
    You might take a look at Infoshopkeeper [codecoop.org] "a free software solution for tying together an databased backed inventory to point of sale terminals, with an emphasis on dealing with books." It was developed by an anarchist bookstore in Baltimore [redemmas.org].
  • nolapro (Score:2, Informative)

    by maryjanecapri ( 597594 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @09:04PM (#22540386) Homepage Journal
    I work at a salon (as hairstylist and sole IT person) and just implemented Nolapro [nolapro.com]. it's a pretty darned good solution that works with Linux. it's not open source but it's still free (as in cost) and is, so far, an outstanding solution.
  • by The Snowman ( 116231 ) * on Sunday February 24, 2008 @09:44PM (#22540672)

    My company develops and supports retail point of sale software for a large number of retail chains. In the interest of ensuring my job security I will not identify my employer, but I can offer some insight.

    The first thing to do is check out JPOS [javapos.com], an open source mini-framework for controlling POS peripherals such as MICRs, sigcaps, pole displays, barcode scanners, MSRs, receipt printers, etc. This will only help if you are using Java, but there may be similar libraries for other languages. Regardless, playing around with JPOS may help you understand the hardware and how all the pieces fit together.

    Please realize that even a small inventory application is a major undertaking. The software I work on has an inventory module, and it is insanely complex to meet the requirements of retail inventory. Hardware abstraction can be a pain too, as you need to code at a high level in your application but deal with low level crap that most devices throw at you. For example, scanning a barcode sounds simple and may be relatively easy for UPCs, but what about SKU or inventory tags that are nonstandard? You can program the scanners to pad zeros, truncate to a specific length, strip or retain check digits, etc. and there are so many pieces of hardware out there that behave slightly differently it will give you a headache.

    If you decide to add credit card processing, my advice: don't. If you have to ask this question to Slashdot, you are not prepared to deal with PCI-DSS [pcisecuritystandards.org] compliance. It costs a lot of time and money to process cards securely and to prove to the payment processors that you can do it securely.

  • Re:Jeff Albertson (Score:4, Informative)

    by vhogemann ( 797994 ) <victor@hogemanBALDWINn.com minus author> on Sunday February 24, 2008 @10:09PM (#22540804) Homepage
    Here at Brazil Carrefour also use Linux, or used at some point. I recall reading something like "Calypso Linux" at the LCD on top of the numeric pad you use to input your card password.

    Just by googling a bit I've fount this page http://www.unisys.com.br/news/imprensa/release205.htm [unisys.com.br] (portuguese). Calypso Linux is a Linux based POS developed by UNISYS. It's used both by Carrefour and "Pão de Açúcar", two of the largests supermarket chains here at Brazil.
  • Re:Jeff Albertson (Score:3, Informative)

    by Daniel Phillips ( 238627 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @10:48PM (#22541072)

    POS on linux is not at all new
    Indeed, Linux grew 32 percent year-over-year, according to figures released by IHL Group. The research firm reckons Linux accounted for $475 million of the $5.56 billion market, putting it third overall with an 8.5 percent market share. [linuxdevices.com]

    32 percent is actually low growth in that sector for Linux. Linux would have a much larger share of POS today if Microsoft had not pulled out all the stops a few years back when Linux threatened to make major gains.

    "We began the year projecting 300-400% growth for Linux," says Greg Buzek, President of IHL Consulting Group. "But two large retail defections from planned rollouts of POS units greatly hampered the growth of the operating system. Musicland was just about ready to roll with Linux when they were purchased by Best Buy, a Windows NT shop. Best Buy changed those Linux plans. And Home Depot also was looking to roll with Linux at the POS, but those plans were nixed when the company made several management changes." [about.com]

    So Microsoft succeeded in slowing Linux in the retail sector by that and other means. But by no means stopping it. Linux's success in the cell phone, umpc and embedded applications of all description plus IBM's support [ibm.com] will no doubt contribute to a resurgence of Linux growth in that sector.
  • Much Thanks (Score:2, Informative)

    by NegativeK ( 547688 ) <tekarien@hotm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Sunday February 24, 2008 @11:48PM (#22541466) Homepage
    First off, I should've clarified: this isn't actually a POS concept - it's really a inventory tracking addon. The current register (which is, really, just a calculator with department codes and basic gross sales tracking) isn't going anywhere. My idea was a standing barcode scanner attached to the computer, and the computer attached to the serial port on the register, acting as the register's barcode scanner. No worries about credit card fiddliness. The stand alone unit isn't going anywhere. The hardest POS interface issues would be entering quantity and discount percentage.

    Secondly, thank you for the constructive criticisms.. In response to the "just buy something," that, unfortunately, isn't an option. The budget simply wouldn't allow it, or else the shop would already have it. As for employee training, there are only two: myself and the owner. It's really one of the reasons I want a man-in-the-middle solution (scanner to inventory tracking Linux system, Linux system to register): if the system has issues and no one can support it (you'd be amazed at the number of older computer nerds at a college town comic/games store. Or.. Not.), just pull it out and revert to the current glorified calculator. The invested work, though, is a recognizable problem. As for excess complexity, I'm really not looking to manage the entire POS experience. Most of that is in the owner's head. This is simply an inventory tracking solution, which may make it less useful, but keep it from becoming intractable. But the idea that the owner might reject it is thoroughly acceptable, for the reasons mentioned.

    And as for the Jeff Albertson remarks, I'd be a fool to not get paid to do something I enjoy. I play games in the back room, make sure people don't steal, and defer all comic questions to the owner - who's in the five days I'm not. Which, naturally, is exactly what was in the verbal job description. ;)
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @11:58PM (#22541534) Homepage

    Not only is a one-off do-it-yourself system a headache, what you're proposing slows things down at checkout.

    You're proposing an inventory system that doesn't talk to the cash register. That's where things were in low-end retail systems about 10-15 years ago, and it was awful. You'd see a cash register, an inventory terminal, and a credit card terminal at the checkout, not talking to each other. Way too much duplicate data entry. Today, it's expected that a POS system will talk to the credit card system, the inventory system, the scanner, and the cash drawer.

    You can buy all the components and the software to run them for well under $2000 from many vendors. A low-end system, Cash Register Express [semicron.com], has a downloadable demo version (200 transactions max). Try something like that to get a sense of what the existing products do. I'm not particularly recommending this one; it just happens to be something with a demo available.

  • by einhverfr ( 238914 ) <chris@travers.gmail@com> on Monday February 25, 2008 @12:07AM (#22541580) Homepage Journal
    No, you are missing my point. Being compliant means having your network and systems up to PCI-DSS standards. Certification (or self-certification) is an entirely different issue.

    For a small vendor like this, the question is not the certification, it is what happens if something goes wrong, and you have an employee who, say, steals credit card numbers. At this point a few things are going to happen:
    1) Compliance will be assessed by Visa/Mastercard.
    2) You will be bumped up to the top tier in compliance certification requirements.
    3) If you are not compliant, you will be charged an additional "fine" by Visa/MC up to half a million dollars.

    For a small vendor, this means that you really need to read, understand, and implement the standards. That is a substantial amount of work and a substantial price if you screw up.

    The vendors *need* to take the PCI-DSS compliance issue very seriously regardless of whether self-certification is acceptable.
  • Re:CueCat! (Score:5, Informative)

    by merreborn ( 853723 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @02:48AM (#22542828) Journal
    In all seriousness, I wrote a custom linux/mysql-based POS system for a client over the course of a year, and had to spend some time with cuecats.

    If you do any sort of volume at all, do yourself a favor and spring for a real scanner. They start at $60, but you'll make the difference back in increased employee efficiency in no time.

    CueCats are great if you want to scan a half dozen things for kicks. If you need to scan hundreds of items a day, a point-and-shoot scanner is a necessity.
  • Re:Jeff Albertson (Score:3, Informative)

    by lintux ( 125434 ) <slashdot&wilmer,gaast,net> on Monday February 25, 2008 @05:18AM (#22543522) Homepage
    Yes, and the people who teamed up with Microsoft and ran an anti-Unix [google.com] campaign. Not sure how anti-Linux it was though..
  • Re:Jeff Albertson (Score:3, Informative)

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Monday February 25, 2008 @06:49AM (#22543876) Journal
    Since he said FOSS,I'm assuming a little mom&pop with not much cash.So here [bananahead.com] you go.Seems to have the features you want at a price of $0.00
  • by mp3phish ( 747341 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @02:08PM (#22548238)
    You won't find out. I work with POS professionally and you just won't.

    All chain grocery store POS systems are in-house written and typically don't even TOUCH the inventory. They all work on what we call a "dump" Where you scan the barcode and it does a lookup on the SKU, but doesn't subtrace the quantity from inventory, it just changes the price of the general ledger.

    They do manual ordering and receiving which means that the POS doesn't tell them how much quantity they have on hand, but what dollar value they have instead.

    With these methods, if you want to handle lottery tickets, deposits, splitting a 6pack to 6x 1 packs, etc.. you will just need to create a couple procedures for the cashiers to do things like.. Maybe put cheat sheets at each cashier station, and make it part of the training. You will then just have them type in the price of the lottery ticket charge, or credit, the price of the deposit charge or credit, etc. etc... Then you can use the automated system to do all the stuff that is "normal" and for all the special stuff you do it on a dump. (type in generic part and price).

    You will never find a POS system that will track your inventory on the specialty items unless it was created for that type of system and has years of support already behind it. It just won't happen. And even regional grocery chains don't have each little special case done yet. They all use barcodes for standard stuff, but they all do manual stuff with all the special stuff. Walmart is probably the only ones doing a complete management system and its only because they have about 15 years and millions invested in a home brewed system.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"