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Linux At the Point of Sale

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the pos-that-refreshes dept.

Linux Business 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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Jeff Albertson (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22538206)

is that you?

Re:Jeff Albertson (1)

PenGun (794213) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538292)

Google it. POS on linux is not at all new, on *nix it is positively ancient.

Re:Jeff Albertson (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22538488)

What the hell are you two talking about?

Re:Jeff Albertson (2, Informative)

crazed gremlin (978591) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538718)

Jeff Albertson, aka "Comic Book Guy" from the Simpsons

Re:Jeff Albertson (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22538770)

Linux is, always has been, and most likely always will be, a POS.

Re:Jeff Albertson (4, Interesting)

cp.tar (871488) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539204)

Google it. POS on linux is not at all new, on *nix it is positively ancient.

Quite. Konzum, the largest Croatian supermarket chain, runs all POSs on Red Hat.
The owner of the chain saved millions on Windows licences alone.

I don't like the store, but I was mightily impressed when I first saw the Red Hat login screen on their POS.
I considered it quite uncommonly sensible business practice, at least for Croatian standards.

Book on this topic (4, Informative)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538222)

John Locke's Open-Source Solutions for Small Business Problems [] dedicates space to POS issues.

Re:Book on this topic (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22538382)

John Locke? I'm Lost...

Re:Book on this topic (-1, Offtopic)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538426)

John Locke? I'm Lost..

Come on, mods ... admit it. That was funny.

Re:Book on this topic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22538778)

Don't tell me what's not funny! Don't you ever tell me what's not funny!

Re:Book on this topic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22539474)

John Locke? I'm Lost...
Anyone want to explain this one? I'm not enough of a philosophy geek to understand it.

Re:Book on this topic (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#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:Book on this topic (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22538680)

Good call on that one; we have some silly requirements from PCI at work like "can't broadcast SSID" to deal with. However, I am not sure this person wanted a real answer. His "requirements" started with FOSS on Linux - which is NOT the way you specify requirements. The "question" is almost a troll from that alone. Requirements would be more like, "inexpensive, secure, reliable, supports multi-level department inventory, bar code scanning, etc." It may well be that FOSS and Linux can meet those requirements (probably can). However stating that in your requirements basically isn't an appropriate way to ask the question. You'd laugh at someone who put that into an RFP.

Re:Book on this topic (5, Informative)

Nikker (749551) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Book on this topic (1, Informative)

einhverfr (238914) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539522)

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.

Re:Book on this topic (2, Funny)

spintriae (958955) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538632)

John Locke was a great philosopher, but let's leave technology to our contemporaries, shall we?

Re:Book on this topic (4, Interesting)

Ian.Waring (591380) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538798)

Or you could go ask GNU Solutions [] or PCMS [] about how they fitted out one grocery retailer in the UK with an end to end Linux Point of Sale system.

Ian W.

Re:Book on this topic (1)

einhverfr (238914) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539502)

Interesting book. And I would recomment Freelock consulting too (John's company).

One of the projects not in the book (because we were developed after the book came out) was LedgerSMB. As of 1.3, we will have OpenOffice, Excel, and CSV export options, scanner inputs, credit card interfaces, and more.

Hope this helps.

Your boss has responded (4, Funny)

awkScooby (741257) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538230)

No you may not

Re:Your boss has responded (3, Insightful)

gladish (982899) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538420)

Or "Why?" Why should someone agree to replace an existing, presumably working, system with something that you aren't sure is going to work.

Re:Your boss has responded (5, Insightful)

Skim123 (3322) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538816)

Not only that, but if any programming is involved, now the manager is doubly-screwed when this employee finally moves out of his parent's house and quits his comic book shop job. If there's a problem with the system, or some added functionality needed, now he's got to find someone who's both a programmer and willing to work for minimum wage.

Re:Your boss has responded (1)

einhverfr (238914) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539552)

There can be reasons to change. YOu do need to ensure that they are valid though. They can include better management of data, etc.

Also if your old software is no longer supported, you cannot connect it with anything which processes credit cards and still fall under safe harbor from the CC companies.

But the key is that you want to ensure you get support from people who will continue to be there for you. This means working with companies who do have a track record (like Metatron Technology Consulting) to ensure that this is done right and that you have continuing support in the future.

Larger businesses with internal IT staff may find this to be less of a challenge though.

Re:Your boss has responded (1)

NevermindPhreak (568683) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539484)

Inventory management is a MAJOR part of retail. It makes it easier to know what you are out of, to manage loss control, and to visualize trends, among other things. If the current owner is having problems with it, he/she may welcome new solutions.

Of course, if the owner is currently happy with what they have, well... if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Re:Your boss has responded (1)

TheQuantumShift (175338) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539590)

I used to work in a similar shop, with almost the exact same setup. While it "gets the job done", it by no means helps improve business. To get a view of whats going on, you need to manually enter all the info into a spreadsheet, then be handy with graphs and what not. Managing inventory is also all done by hand. For every fith item sold, you're basically slashing across four hash marks on a chalkboard. Back when I was still doing it, I was toying with some simple database programs and a cue cat. Never quite made it as the owner decided he'd had enough and closed down. If you search there are quite a few hardware and software solutions for all budgets (I know i see tons of ads in linux journal) of course theres always the other guy [] ...

Job (5, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538236)

"I work at a local comic and games shop,

Wow, didn't see that coming from a /. reader ;)

Even better (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22539142)

By rolling his own solution, he's saying he is committed to working their for a lifetime!

I guess that settles it (4, Funny)

noamsml (868075) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538262)

Linux's critics will call it a POS operating system.

Re:I guess that settles it (1)

cammoblammo (774120) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538836)

A few days ago I was at Rivers, a clothing store here in .au. The terminal at the checkout proudly and in huge type displayed the name of the presumably custom checkout software: RiversPOS.

I thought it was a bit odd, given their reputation for quality merchandise.

Re:I guess that settles it (1)

Hucko (998827) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538958)

Don't forget their boring ads!

Re:I guess that settles it (0)

kwilliam (919560) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538912)

POS = Perfect Operating System

Re:I guess that settles it (1, Redundant)

mrbcs (737902) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539418)

I think that means Piece of Shit.

Re:I guess that settles it (1)

CheeseTroll (696413) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539360)

A few years ago I did some work at a certain large electronic store's HQ, and it brought out the 10-year-old-boy in me whenever I passed the "POS lab", filled with all the variations of their POS systems.

iBookshelf would work (2, Interesting)

vraddict (653878) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538266)

Try searching freshmeat before asking questions about software. []

Re:iBookshelf would work (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539284)

Try searching freshmeat before asking questions about software.

What's the difference in philosophy between freshmeat and

Re:iBookshelf would work (4, Funny)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539452)

Freshmeat - off the table raw
Sourceforge - put into cold storage

Try Sourceforge (5, Informative)

drewmoney (1133487) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538274)

This one comes to mind: Openbravo [] Again, try sourceforge.

Lemon POS (5, Informative)

martin-sandsmark (1148615) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538336)

I think Lemon POS fits the bill quite nicely: []
It runs on KDE 4 though, so it might not be completely production ready yet.

Your lucky day (4, Informative)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539160) has a recent article on Linux POS. [] .

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:Lemon POS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22539414)

Why do they show a picture of a lime?

Virtual Machines (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22538348)

Make a virtual machine with the software for a register in it. Then companies could just customize that image and deploy it on any workstation. VMware has USB pass-through, so you can use a USB barcode scanner with whatever software you make/choose for the bundle.

I'd recommend doing it on the moka5 LivePC platform [] . Then the VMs can be updated via the web automatically.

CueCat! (3, Funny)

erroneus (253617) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538378)

I've got a bunch of old CueCats! Want any? They haven't been modified... yet.

Re:CueCat! (1)

milsoRgen (1016505) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538474)

Hahah I had some of those, they were in a bin outside of my local radio shack for free.

Re:CueCat! (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538944)

I've just been running some searches to find interesting things I can do with a CueCat but haven't been able to turn up anything current. I have noted that USBView shows the device in black which means a device driver has been loaded for the device. "dmesg" reports the following:

usb 1-3.3: new low speed USB device using ehci_hcd and address 6
usb 1-3.3: configuration #1 chosen from 1 choice
input: :Cue:CAT as /class/input/input25
input: USB HID v1.10 Keyboard [:Cue:CAT] on usb-0000:00:1a.7-3.3
Now what can I do with this?

Re:CueCat! (1)

Skater (41976) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539140)

Scan barcodes! Have fun!

Yeah. It's interesting for about 20 minutes.

Re:CueCat! (1)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539478)

Tattoo a barcode on your hand and use it to login.

Re:CueCat! (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539492)

Me too from my Wired [] Magazine subscription. I haven't figured out what todo with it for scanning barcodes. :P

Buy something off the shelf (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22538380)

This comment will not be appreciated by Linux die-hards: I recommend you to opt for a relatively affordable and popular off-the shelf product. Why not something that you hack together from a collection of open source libraries? Well, if you will stop working at the shop then at least your boss will have access to support. Yes, I know that there are plenty of forums for support of OS software, but typically these are mainly good if you are already pretty techy.
In this case, I don't see the need for a religious OS war. Just buy a decent an popular tool, no matter what the OS is.

Re:Buy something off the shelf (2)

connorbd (151811) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538618)

Well, a good point, but not exactly a deal-killer, especially when there are off-the-shelf open source packages out there. There is a fair amount of POS Linux experience out there -- I was reading about it in Linux Journal a decade ago. There should be some way to just turnkey it.

Re:Buy something off the shelf (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22539328)

Unfortunately, there as been ZERO change in the last ten years. You either pay a huge amount for a solution from IBM or some such company for a POS software that runs on Linux/Unix or you get a FOSS "solution" that's no where near production ready or it's some stupid web-based solution that 1) also isn't production ready and 2) doesn't use native OS app behavior.

Excellent advice, but let me add... (5, Interesting)

rufusdufus (450462) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539016)

I used to own a bookstore and had the exact same idea. Since I am a competent programmer I build my own scanning system. It worked fine. But.
I wasted a lot of time on that system, and should have just bought an off-the shelf product. But.
In actual point of fact, the data mined by using the scanner was useless. The reason for this is simple: the manager of a small store who spends a good part of their lives inside will already know what needs to be done, whats selling and whats not. There is little insight gained from the data you gather.
It degrades the customer experience in subtle ways. First off, it makes the transaction just a little bit slower. This irritates customers. Next, it adds a level of distraction to the employees whey they have to pay attention to so fine a level of technical detail; the added 'cognitive load' of using and keeping the system up to date fatigues them and makes them more system oriented and less customer oriented.
In short: this sort of fine level of tracking is net negative to a small retail business.

Re:Buy something off the shelf (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539050)

There are three counter arguments:

  1. Price: Setting up a high quality FOSS POS terminal takes about $300 in POS hardware + an old computer. Turnkey COTS solutions generally cost about ten times that much.
  2. No vendor lock-in: Any decent Linux-aware consultant can come up to speed on and support any of the major FOSS point-of-sale packages pretty quickly. Once they do, they can provide support up to and including the creation of custom features.
  3. Ease of use: No lock-in means no annoying anti-features that could potentially prevent the administrator from getting work done. These FOSS programs generally use standard databases and standard file formats, which allows standard tools to manipulate the data. This may not apply in the same way to a non-technical user, but clearly the questioner is expecting to be able to personally take advantage of this point.

This *is* assuming that the original poster really is technically capable enough to plug in three hardware devices and set up a single piece of software. If they're not, it's probably worth hiring the consultant to begin with.

Re:Buy something off the shelf (0, Redundant)

Grovulent (988582) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539356)

I agree with this. Unless you have some kind of a trailblazer spirit - there's little advantage in adopting linux for this sort of operation until it displays a known and established competency. One may as well spend what is really a small amount of money for such a long term investment - picking a product that is right for your business. A good selection can be found at []

Re:Buy something off the shelf (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#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 [] 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.

Re:Buy something off the shelf (1)

einhverfr (238914) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539578)

Sure, of you can get a support contract from a company which supports your software.

Novel concept, that.... My company (Metatron Technology Consulting) supports many of these sorts of solutions.

The pieces are all there. (4, Interesting)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538384)

The pieces to implement any sort of reasonable retail POS setup using FOSS are all available.

There are two things that it sounds like you're going to have problems with though:

  1. Budget - Doing this sort of project poorly is worse than not doing it at all - you're going to want to cough up the money for a real barcode scanner and a real POS cash drawer to replace your current register.
  2. Realistic features - This problem has already been solved, and well, but if you make up a bunch of random features beforehand (like OO.o spreadsheet output) you can be sure that none of the existing solutions will have the exact feature set that you're imagining. Unless you're prepared to write an entire system from scratch, see what exists and adapt to it.

The last time I looked into this specific problem the nicest looking piece of software for my requirements was L'âne [] , but you'll want to actually do the research yourself (try searching on Freshmeat [] and Sourceforge [] at minimum).

Yeah, we know about sourceforge and freshmeat!!!!! (5, Interesting)

xtracto (837672) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538478)

I am so tired of these "look at sourceforge and freshmeat" answers we get everytime someone asks for advice on slashdot. I am sure peope already know those exists. But have you *really* tried looking for a software project in SourceForge lately? I have. And even though the filters are nice, the amount o garbage projects out there is amazing. And there are so many projects that misleadingly have the "stable" or "production ready" labels which are not even on pre-alpha. Or others that say they are focused to "end user" and is a darn API.

Really, the noise-ratio of SourceForge is amazing, given that everyone and their mother can upload projects. When someone posts in slashdot is to know things that have *worked* and are working currently for other people. Sure, there are thousands of books about dating on amazon, but if you wanted one, you would go ask some people (not in slashdot of course ;-)) which one would they recommend...

If you are going to recommend to look on SF or FM, then please consider just looking at the next story on slashdot... you really do not add anything useful to the conversation.

And to the parent, sorry it is nothing personal, but most of the posts I read at the time of my reply are among the same lines. I am also interested in the original question, but as I said before, I am looking for *experiences* from another people using such software rather than only a list of all the "Yet_Another_P0S"

Re:Yeah, we know about sourceforge and freshmeat!! (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538830)

But have you *really* tried looking for a software project in SourceForge lately?

Yea. I have. And you're right, there's a lot of noise. But there's also enough signal to make it worth the time.

Here's the thing: If you want to make a good decision, you have to actually spend the time researching the topic. There's no way around it. And when the topic is availability of free software, freshmeat and sourceforge are the place to start.

Advice is great and all, but it should just be another component of your research. If everyone just relies on advice rather than looking into problems themselves, the same wrong answers and mistakes will just keep getting repeated over and over forever.

Now, my post was direct advice - based on real experience from actually implementing a POS system in a small retail environment like the one described in the question. And part of that advice - a small but key part - is to do the damn research before implementing anything.

free isn't cheap (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538422)

I am sure you could find a bunch of POS software for Linux. But chances are they will either be to powerful and hard to use or easy to use and underpowered. There is a chance that you find what you need but why limit yourself with Linux when you can have many more options if you let yourself free of software religon. Getting the wrong program even though it is free may cost the company more over time. There may be a POS system that is open source or freeware for windows that may fit your need better.

Re:free isn't cheap (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539162)

There's a very simple reason to limit yourself to FOSS for this sort of application: forwards compatibility. In 10 years or so, you might actually want to use all this data that you've collected - perhaps even migrate it to some new system. With free software and open standards, this will take an expert an hour or two. With proprietary software and random formats designed specifically for vendor lock-in, it's likely to be a god-awful nightmare even for an expert.

There may be some areas where the FOSS solutions are so immature that the proprietary applications have significant practical advantages. Point of sale is not one of them - point of sale with free software on Linux is a well-solved problem with decade old mature solutions at this point.

I have experience here. (0)

Zombie Ryushu (803103) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538428)

The biggest issue you will have is creating a POS Software that integrates into an Inventory database. I had this experience in 2003. Firs off, you are going to have to create a LAMP application to handle sales and controlling the inventory, and Time cards. There are applications like this. But their interface leave much to be desired. I couldn't do it because I didn't have the PHP and MySQL needs to do it.

Librepos (3, Informative)

UUDIBUUDI (1241572) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538440)

Librepos [] 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.

Wtf? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22538468)

You can get cheap barcode scanners that plug in beside the keyboard and generate characters as though they were typed. Even if you don't want one of them, there are millions of libraries out there for every conceivable mix of scanner/language/OS. The whole barcoding bit is irrelevant, the question should be "Can I write a very basic app over a very basic database?". To which the answer is "Who cares?"

Not much of a problem (5, Interesting)

Camel Pilot (78781) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538482)

Except for this part

more detailed inventory control

That is where the works... integrating with the rest of the business software.

I have written an html/cgi Point-Of-Sale for my wife's hot sauce retail shop [] . Works excellent and is integrated with a custom and much larger web store builder, order manager, and inventory control. This is the hard part and consists of several thousands of lines of perl code.

As far as bar code reading you just use a wedge or y cable and it acts just like keyboard input. A little javascript to ensure which form field is the active/default field and you are away. Input can come from a bar code scan or keyboard input for those items which are not bar coded.

Same mechanisms on vendor order receive for inventory maintenance.

Re:Not much of a problem (1)

Friend of Nature (1245372) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538538)

I agree. I did a project for a company some ten years back, a small database app integrated in a barcode printer. They used a standard barcode scanner, it sent the scanned code as a standard ascii string on a serial port. Just read from the serial port where you attach the scanner, using your standard stdio routines, and you're all set in that part of your solution.

Re:Not much of a problem (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539298)

I agree. I did a project for a company some ten years back, a small database app integrated in a barcode printer. They used a standard barcode scanner, it sent the scanned code as a standard ascii string on a serial port. Just read from the serial port where you attach the scanner, using your standard stdio routines, and you're all set in that part of your solution.

RS232 is still available, but I'd say for small installations, and especially when simplicity is desired, go USB.

1) Nearly all barcode scanners today worth buying are available in USB.

2) These USB ones all have standard Human-Interface-Device drivers, and appear, as far as the application or operating system is concerned: as keyboards. So you can use them trivially. Provide the user a place to type in a code, and he can either type it manually or scan it. Your application doesn't know or care that the inputs coming in from a scanner. So it works trivially with web forms based apps, excel spreadsheets, MS access, filemaker pro, whatever you need.

3) Nearly all barcode scanners worth buying are highly programmable so you can have them insert custom prefixes and suffixes around the barcode. So if you want to scan multiple codes in sequence separated by a CR/LF you just tell the scanner to append a CR/LF to each code it sends.

You can also get keyboard wedge versions that go between your computer and keyboard on the PS/2 port, but I don't recommend those. They're flaky. PS/2 doesn't seem to be designed for this, and some motherboards and keyboards just aren't reliable. USB is far smoother. And PS/2 should be dead anyway.

I've had personal experience with a number of scanners and at the entry level I'd recommend a USB Symbol LS2208, for around 150.00. I've also heard decent things about the Metrologic MS9520 around the same price. You can get cheaper scanners... like the idtech econoscan for half that price, but they're junk. The next step up would be a laser scanner, or wireless, or more ruggedized, or have support for 2D barcodes etc, none of which you probably need in a small Point-of-sale environment.

Re:Not much of a problem (1)

ArAgost (853804) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539260)

[...]Point-Of-Sale for my wife's hot sauce retail shop
Wow! do you actually sell much of that... stuff?

It also better work with CBG token ring network as (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538544)

It also better work with CBG token ring network as well and after speed king let him down he may go nuts and fire you if this does not work out.

Linux isn't an option. (3, Insightful)

copponex (13876) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538560)

First, are you even sure you're doing the business to necessitate a POS system? Is there a problem with theft, being out of stock, or are you trying to sell things online? You may have a solution in search of a problem.

I highly recommend getting a turnkey system. $2500 may seem like a lot of money, but that's all it costs to get a complete solution from Dell or another provider for Quickbooks POS. It will work 99% of the time; it's compatible with QuickBooks, and it includes everything you need. Plus, with ODBC, you can easily tie in your inventory levels with an e-commerce solution.

Think about this: if the system only lasts for two years, you have spent a little more than $100 a month or $3.40 a day on probably the biggest expense (besides COGS, rent, utilities) in a retail environment. How much time and effort would it take to get a Linux solution to be usable, and how much are you paid per hour? Hopefully more than $3.40.

Quite common here (1)

Micaelis (1245376) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538624)

Linux POS are quite common here in Brazil. One of great users of Linux POS is a store called Renner. They have several stores across the country, all of them using Linux. So is a feasable thing and good one too. Cheap reliable, with the right interface, easy to use too. Based in what I saw, the shop clerk have no problems at all. With the logo of the program doesn't have a Linux Penguin in the interface and I have read it in one IT specialized magazine, I'll never know it or notice :)

STOP (5, Insightful)

ceroklis (1083863) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538628)

<paternalist advice>

Don't do it.

For you it is "kicking around", a fun project, a proof of concept. For your boss it is a tool, essential for his business, that has to work flawlessly.

Now ask yourself a few questions:

  • How much work does it take to go from a prototype to a fully documented and tested implementation ?
  • Are you going to be paid for this ?
  • When are you going to do it ? On the week-end ?
  • Will your boss expect you to offer 24/24 support, since it was your idea ?

Besides, realize that POS software is the least exciting thing you could work on. If it is not your job, forget it. If you want to tinker with linux and learn things, do something fun.

Remember: you are not the first [] .

</paternalist advice>

Re:STOP (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539546)

Will your boss expect you to offer 24/24 support, since it was your idea

If your boss expects you to pack 24 days into a week, I'd just plain quit.

Linux retail systems (1)

xixax (44677) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538642)

At the last Linux conference I went to, there was a talk by a guy using Puppet to automate provisioning of POS and backend systems across a national equipment hire firm (here in Australia). Works much better than the old system (fewer staff, more sites), they are large enough (400+ stores) to warrant maintaining their own system. However I'd guess that unless you have a deployment that makes maintaining your own system worthwhile, something off-the-shelf (FOSS or otherwise) would be a better bet maintenance wise.

Why Open Source? (5, Insightful)

DavidD_CA (750156) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538666)

I realize this is Slashdot, but for your owner's business why does this have to be an open source solution?

There are plenty of businesses who are quite satisfied with solutions from Intuit or Microsoft that are very affordable, easy to use, and much more "out of the box" than any open product.

And if your owner is already using QuickBooks or Small Business Accounting, then a POS solution can tie directly into it.

Remember that your employer is going to pay either way. Either by paying you to piece together a solution for him or by paying for off-the-shelf software. You would be doing a disservice to your employer to only recommend one side of the fence.

Re:Why Open Source? (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539088)

and much more "out of the box" than any open product.

Have you actually compared the software solutions available, or are you simply assuming that "open source" means "box of parts"? As a simple example, is open source - and it's as "out of the box" as software can be.

Re:Why Open Source? (1)

DavidD_CA (750156) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539218)

I based my comment on what the OP said and the comments made thus far. While I've never gone looking for any "out of the box" POS hardware/software solutions, I sure haven't seen any. And based on the OP's comments, it sounds like he's ready to go tinkering.

Re:Why Open Source? (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539420)

While I've never gone looking for any "out of the box" POS hardware/software solutions, I sure haven't seen any.

Those are available from a number of companies, although since the hardware is all standard off the shelf stuff there's no real reason for someone who's even vaguely technical to buy it as a bundle. Simply buying the hardware and plugging it into a computer with any of the decent FOSS packages installed is a straightforward solution to the problem.

it sounds like he's ready to go tinkering.

Yes it does - it even sounds like he's thinking about writing some of his own code, which is probably a mistake. But there's a lot of space between writing his own code and restricting himself to extremely expensive windows-only commercial-off-the-shelf solutions from giant vendors.

Re:Why Open Source? (1)

DavidD_CA (750156) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539582)

Fair enough, but what happens when he decides to leave the company or gets hit by a car?

Then the business owner needs to find someone else to support the application which is mission-critical to the business. Craigslist?

"Extremely expensive windows-only commercial off-the-shelf solutions" aren't all that expensive, especially compared to potential downtime or the lost productivity of this employee tinkering rather than doing what he was likely hired for.

And for all we know, the owner might already be using QuickBooks to do accounting and payroll. Likewise, their accountant might be, too. I'd love to see the look on the accountant's face when he's told they are using something called "Banana POS" from 2001.

Re:Why Open Source? (2, Informative)

pbhj (607776) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539236)

>>> "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 - []
Banana POS - []
easypos []

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.

Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22538808)

It's the real comic book guy!

If I were your boss I'd be scared (4, Insightful)

The End Of Days (1243248) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538818)

If you're going to 'break out the programming books' to work on something as vital to a retail business as a POS system, my only answer for you is to walk away slowly and forget such grandiose dreams. You aren't yet equipped for it.

Got Java? (1)

LukeWebber (117950) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538856)

You might try Apache OFBiz (Open For Business). I haven't tried it yet, but I'm definitely eyeing it.

That said, I do tend to agree with the posters who are warning against setting up something your boss can't work with. OTOH, if the alternative is to do nothing, the business probably doesn't have all that much to lose. Better for them to actually learn something about their sales and inventory than to go out of business through simple ignorance.

linux is not the answer to all questions (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538868)

There is nothing very good in OSS for POS. I should know i had to implement a POS on freebsd and the solution ended up being me having to write it all.

no good for a single shop situation.

Re:linux is not the answer to all questions (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539192)

There is nothing very good in OSS for POS.


That's like saying there's nothing very good on Windows for First Person Shooter games. Or that there's nothing good on Mac for page layout. If you couldn't find any FOSS solutions for a POS setup it's because you didn't look. At all.

AbanQ (1)

Gheesh (191858) | more than 6 years ago | (#22538910)

There's a program called AbanQ [] , formerly known as FacturaLUX, which works quite well in a POS. However, it is oriented mainly to the Spanish market and has little U.S. support, I'm afraid :-(

Choose a good Open Source ERP (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22538954)

Probably the most effective solution would be to pick up one of long-living Open Source ERP projects, such as ERP5 [] and Compiere [] , 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.

Mod Parent Up Please. (1)

bobbuck (675253) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539514)

I read 30 posts and this one was the only one that had information beyond someone's gut reaction.

Worst post ever? (1)

stedo (855834) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539024)

This isn't the worst post ever, it's not even close. This [] is a lot closer, and there's probably even worse (having read the above link, that's a scary thought).

Barcode scanners are like keyboards (3, Informative)

FridayBob (619244) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539076)

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.

bar codes are not hard (2, Informative)

dominux (731134) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539084)

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.

Small Business ERP / Fulfilment isn't that hard .. (3, Insightful)

Qbertino (265505) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539098)

... but you have to follow some rules.

I've done a few small to medium business ERP setups based entirely on OSS. Point is: OSS or not isn't really the question, since you want openness, accessible Data and zero-fuss flexibility.

Small business systems actually are quite flaky - unless you're shop is using a well-designed vertical market system tailored for your shops needs. If that is the case I'd be carefull about attempting to 'improve' anything. Look at where the work is - like data migration and merging of data sources. That's enough work to start with and can have your boss notice that custom ERP can speed up the business. Measured by that regular closed-source bases small-business solutions can be exceptionally crappy beyond imagination. I've seen 15+ employee shops running on software so crappy you wouldn't even believe it.

For a portable barcode terminal running on OSS/Linux, AML [] should have you very much covered. That said, I'd personally recommend building the entire base system client-plattform independant, read: As an internal Web Solution with some small linux server tucked away somewhere and just using the PDA terminal for gathering. .... Unless of course it's super-easy to get Python (or any other favourite PL of yours) and MySQL running on it. Which wouldn't suprise me given the advancements in IT and raw processing power. Even then you want a hot spare backup at any case.

If you plan well, the biggest trouble you'll have will be data-migration, syndication and integration, which actually is the fun part of ERP programming. Make sure that any client tools your boss is accustomed to use have zero-fuss in and outbound connectability, data-wise (CSV tables will do).

You want to plan your little project in such a way that it doesn't interfere with running business and that you and the people involved have time to test it. And you *do* want to test it thouroughly. If your boss discovers that your system has been omitting VAT and clipping it from the revenue at the end of a quarter, he'll have your ass and balls for breakfast. And for good reasons too.

Look into regular expressions and the powerfull data objects of the PL of your choice (Dictionaries in Python, Arrays in PHP and Hashes in Perl), they do wonders for this sort of job. I like to use OpenOffice for printing the bills - you can automate OOO within the CLI. I don't like the existing OSS ERP setups, because AFAICT they're more trouble than they are worth - I usually roll my own. You might want to do that too - maybe using some generic webkit or something (Zope, CakePHP, Django, Typo3, whatever ...) .

You also want to know your way about object modelling and entity relationship modelling. Don't even try this sort of thing without understanding the basics of ERM(!!). If you and the people involved aren't aware of, let's say, the difference between a product and the booking of a purchase of a product then you'll be in deep shit half way into the project the latest.

And do see to it that you understand *ALL* relevant business processes involved before you run your mouth with your boss. Could be that he very much likes to do things by hand at night just to slip the one or other sale past the IRS or something like that. If you don't know the details and can't say for sure that automating this or that would really improve business without any downsides be carefull. You can even run the shop into the ground if you boss doesn't think either and believes your freshly bred ERP pipe-dreams.

Good luck.

50 Cents from a professional web-centric business process automator and consultant. :-)

Software (1)

daliman (626662) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539102)


We develop some gym management software [] which has POS software integrated. Unfortunately, it's not open source.

However, the tools we use to do it are.


Did similiar last year (1)

pembo13 (770295) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539146)

I made a quick POS to do book sales with Python, PyGTK, Adodb, and MySQL. It was quite the learning experience, didn't take very long. I actually upgraded it just this past week to ensure that it worked on Windows (it did, so it's cross platform) I just cleaned up the UI a bit. If I had to do it again I would have coded it differently, but it works, and pretty well.

I recently came across Lemon POS, it looks good but haven't tried it yet, []

In terms of bar code scanner, I had one for my own POS. I used the CueCat, modded by some entrepreneurial eBay seller. eBay for "USB Barcode Reader - Cue Cat CueCat CueCats Scanner", I think the seller was 'herder-of-cats'. He modded it to work like a keyboard, so it essentially just "types" out the barcode, no special programming required

I used my complete app in Linux, in Linux from Windows via NX, and on Windows XP, all three times with the CueCat barcode reader and a keypad (for when I had to manually enter ISBN numbers

If anyone is interested I can share the code, just need to remove some hard coded passwords.

This barcode scanner doesn't suck (1)

generica1 (193760) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539252)

We have used these for years in my office, they just keep going and going: [] . They cost roughly $100 but sometimes they can be found for much less.

There's An Existing Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22539254)

I know the original poster is looking for an open source solution that runs on Linux, but I wanted to point out that a colleague of mine created an extremely feature rich point of sale system specifically for the comic store industry. Check out MOBY by Bitter End Systems: [] It not only will handle bar codes and the other features you mentioned, but it will import info about comics provided by Diamond Comics, the largest distributor of comics in the U.S.

There are commercial Linux POS options . . . (3, Informative)

mdshaw89 (657957) | more than 6 years ago | (#22539330)

If you are interested, IBM does have a Linux POS software solution called IRES, based on Novell Linux. Check out [] for more information. Good luck!

Good Lord, Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22539406)

It sounds like this is a untried solution seeking a problem.

Bottom line, is this going to make money for your boss?

Probably not. You're looking for a learning experience at his expense.

Unless you can show him good reason for doing this, it's best that you just can the idea and focus on something that will make him money.

Sorry, but I'm just fed up with lower-levels pitching high-end solutions non-problems, especially when their eyes glaze over at seeing a command line prompt.

Linux POS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22539408)

Linux POS; how appropriate.
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