IBM checks out of Linux, checks into Windows

IBM has sold itself and the industry out by turning to Windows for its point of sale systems.

IBM says that it isn't dropping SUSE Linux as a key part of its retail point-of-sale strategy. It's just adding Windows (WEPOS, or Windows Embedded Point-of-Sale). But for a company that has everything to gain from Linux and everything to lose from Windows (except some near-term cash), this reeks of capitulation.

IBM saw Linux POS systems spike in popularity, but that has subsided. Now it's voting with its feet:

As a rival to Microsoft in many other parts of the IT market, IBM had held out for Linux over WEPOS as long as it could. But the deal to support the Microsoft operating system should cement Linux's fate as a niche offering that is attractive mostly to grocery store chains and similarly sized hard goods retailers, such as Pep Boys or Circuit City, [market research firm IHL president Greg] Buzek said.

"It's like with blood types," he added. "Windows is like a universal type. But not everyone matches well with Linux." He predicted that Windows and Linux will eventually divvy up the POS market in a roughly 75:25 ratio.

I'm not sure I want Windows to be the "universal blood type." We've seen what happens on the desktop when Microsoft holds monopoly power: viruses and all sorts of malware have afflicted us ever since. Do we really want the consumer economy to be held in the hands of one company?

IBM has the resources to fix any shortcomings in Linux in POS systems. The article above claims it's a question of third-party applications, but IBM helped to erase this problem on the server. Why not stick it out to ensure a neutral operating system processes our purchases, rather than Windows?

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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