Linux POS Shipments Getting Clobbered, But Russia, China and Latin America Rare Bright Spots

New POS marketshare stats released Tuesday (March 1) show an expected 6.9 percent worldwide POS growth, but included in those figures is a steep plunge in POS Linux support. In the U.S., for example, Linux shipments accounted for 9.3 percent of all POS units shipped in 2009, a figure that dropped to 4 percent last year. That's an almost 57 percent drop, according to the IHL Group.

What's perhaps even more interesting is where Linux growth is strong and why. IHL President Greg Buzek pointed to Linux strengths in China, Russia and parts of Latin America. In China, the reason is simple: The Chinese government has mandated that government agencies there not use Windows.

In Russia, the non-intuitive reason is decades of academic focus on science education. That has created a huge number of Russians with high-end science degrees and tons of coding background, Buzek said, the result of which is an employment pool swimming with coders who are perfectly suited to managing an open-source product such as Linux. "The sheer number of people who are available and their level of sophistication" has made Russia a very Linux-friendly environment.

In Latin America, where Linux shipments account for almost 20 percent of all POS operating systems (in Brazil, it's 21 percent), record-high unemployment and Linux's low cost creates another Linux-friendly community. Unlike countries such as the U.S., Latin American retailers are less concerned about holding onto their programmers for the long term. When custom code is being crafted, that becomes a critical issue.

In the U.S. and Canada, the POS operating system installed base percentages were: DOS and legacy Windows, 46 percent; Windows XPe, 13 percent; 4690, 10 percent; Windows Vista/Windows 7, 10 percent; WEPOS/POSReady, 10 percent; Linux 7, percent; Windows CE, 2 percent; and "other," 1 percent.In the U.S. and Canada, the POS operating system shipment percentages were: Windows Vista/Windows7, 32 percent; DOS and legacy Windows, 25 percent; WEPOS/POSReady, 19 percent; Windows XPe, 14 percent; 4690, 5 percent; Linux, 4 percent; Windows CE, 1 percent; and "other," 1 percent.

While the global report sees that 6.9 percent increase in worldwide POS growth, the U.S. figure is an even more modest 5.7 percent increase, IHL reported. Why? Buzek sees PCI "still driving a great deal of the replacements," but it's being countered by a much greater force: mobile. "The iPad is becoming a Guttenberg moment for retail," Buzek said, although he added that it's really only being felt in specialty chains now.

Buzek sees lots of mobile activity with back-office functions, but he only sees extensive mobile checkout—where it will soon erode even more POS marketshare—in specialty chains. Possibly, he said, in a handful of departments (such as electronics) in more generic chains, but not throughout the store.

"Specialty Stores, which include everyone from Home Depot and Best Buy to Limited and Wet Seal will see the most POS. I just don't see it as POS in frontend for Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreen, Kroger or 7-11 unless it is fixed or docked," Buzek said. "In these other segments, devices will be used by department registers and managers as employee assistance devices, not primary or replacing POS."

If defining specialty that way, Buzek sees mobile-replacing-POS adoption as "very widespread in all forms of Specialty Stores, Department Stores, Restaurants, and other hospitality venues for POS."

Buzek elaborated on who he thinks will—or won't—end up using an iPad-like device for checkout.

"Mobile POS will be big in any environment where high speed, front-end checkout is not paramount. Put simply, if the environment currently utilizes a bi-planar scanner for speed, mobile is not a good candidate for POS because of throughput concerns," he said. "In those environments, we are far more likely to see the consumer’s own mobile device purposed for POS so there is no line backup in any part of the stores."