Looking for a point-of-sale system for your small business? Check out these three best open-source POS systems that effortlessly scale from very small to very large.
Whether you're a retailer or a restaurateur, a point-of-sale (POS) system can make a big difference in streamlining your business. However, the scope of POS is very broad with hundreds of different POS software packages and vendors. You can expect to invest a fair bit of time figuring out what will best fit your business.
I recommend the Linux computer operating system and open source software because they are secure, stable and efficient. All of the POS systems discussed in this article (including the honorable mentions) run on Linux, and they all have good graphical interfaces.
You'll also need to think about hardware, which is a topic for another day. You can take a look at Barcode Discount (or any vendor that sells POS hardware) to get an idea of what's available in the world of specialized POS hardware.
SUSE Linux Enterprise Point of Service
SUSE Linux Enterprise Point of Service (SLEPOS) has the backing of the venerable, well-established giant software company Novell. SUSE Enterprise Linux is a top-notch, polished and completely reliable version of Linux. It comes with excellent management tools, such as centralized upgrades, centralized security and regulatory policies and full disk encryption.
SUSE Linux offers a wonderful tool that you won't find in any other operating system: the KIWI custom image builder. This lets you, or your IT people, easily customize and deploy SUSE Linux images for all kinds of different use cases: retail terminal, backend retail server, kiosks, desktop PCs, touch-screen devices, network-managed installations and virtual machine images.
You can customize the images exactly as you need, and then install and manage them over your network. If something goes wrong you can easily roll back to an earlier version.
Three components make up a SLEPOS system: a central administration server, a branch server and then the POS terminals. Those can be pretty much any kind of retail endpoint: an ordinary PC, customer kiosks (like bridal registries or catalog stations), cash registers and wireless terminals (figure 1).
The administration server holds the master image and configuration repository. The branch servers each serve a particular location or department, and the POS terminals connect to the branch server. This architecture provides a clean, secure administration structure that easily scales larger or smaller as needed.
Figure 1: The SLEPOS architecture.
SLEPOS uses strong encryption for all network transmissions, and it supports the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard.
You can try a free evaluation download and, if you elect to purchase SLEPOS, the reasonable licensing costs $32/year per client, $185 for a branch server and $315 for the administration server. Novell has hundreds of partners all over the world, so you can always find expert help. Get a glimpse of SLEPOS in action on this YouTube video.
OpenBravo Retail is an excellent, user-friendly POS system that any tech-savvy do-it-yourselfer can set up and manage. But don’t panic; the company also offers comprehensive professional support. OpenBravo runs on Linux, Mac and Windows, and there is extensive documentation and good community support.
You can download and install it on your own server, or take advantage of the cloud service option called OpenBravo on Demand. This puts all the headaches of system administration on your service provider. You pay $25 per month for each terminal, and $49 per month for each back-office user (with a minimum of three).
OpenBravo offers a full range of features, including:
- Touch-screen optimized
- Sales and refunds
- Daily reporting
- Warehouse module
- Restaurant module
- Manufacturing module
- Professional services module
- Real-time inventory view for sales clerks
OpenBravo Retail is part of OpenBravo ERP (enterprise resource planning), which gives you the option of setting up an integrated ERP environment for managing customer relations, finances and accounting, document management, messaging, business intelligence. Just like SLEPOS, OpenBravo grows with you.
ViewTouch for Restaurants
ViewTouch is a small shop that operates out of Eugene, Oregon. Founded and run by Gene Mosher, it's been around since the 1980s. Mr. Mosher claims that ViewTouch was the first touch-screen POS.
Figure 2: Gene Mosher showing the original ViewTouch POS at Comdex back in 1986 (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons).
ViewTouch is a one-stop shop that offers complete hardware and software bundles for restaurants: touch-screens, tablets, printers, mobile touch-screens and video-ticketing systems for the kitchen. ViewTouch software supports big-screen HDTV menu boards, so you can have slick, easy-to-update displays.
ViewTouch supports all the primary functions required by a restaurant: Time clock and payroll, easy menu authoring, guest-check management, cash balance and expense tracking. One of the most important parts of any POS is good reporting, and ViewTouch offers flexible reporting that pulls up whatever data you want: food and beverage performance, employee performance, totals at different times of day, large trends and small data points.
You can slice and dice your data pretty much however you want. Pricing is very reasonable and straightforward, and they will help you customize your system to fit your needs.
Apache OFBiz, the Apache Open for Business Project, is a high-powered software suite for small businesses with complex needs and the developer talent to install and customize Apache OFBiz. It is a powerhouse suite that rivals the best commercial POS/ERP business suites.
There is no vendor support, but there are independent service providers if you need outside help. However, any experienced Web developer should be able to put it together and make it do what you want.
Unicenta is a free-of-cost fork of OpenBravo. (There are several mentions on the Unicenta website that OpenBravo is dead, which it is not.) It's very capable, optimized for touch-screens, and it's a good general-purpose POS system that supports any type of business. You won’t find much in the way of documentation and community support, so this is for the self-sufficient and tech-savvy user.
Carla Schroder is the author of The Book of Audacity, Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook,and hundreds of Linux how-to articles. She's the former managing editor of Linux Planet and Linux Today.
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