Retailer finds Linux runs well, despite support issues

In February, Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse became one of the largest companies to commit to a rollout of more than 1000 Linux PCs and servers. The systems will give workers access to a variety of intranet and host-based applications as well as desktop productivity applications.

CIO Mike Prince, a keynote speaker at last week's Linux World Conference & Expo in San Jose, told Computerworld senior writer David Orenstein that Linux has performed very well so far but has been hindered by inconsistent support from application vendors.

CW: How is the rollout going?

Prince: The first thing we did . . . we were opening up a new distribution centre . . . we needed to deploy about 50 desktops there, and we deployed Linux. It exceeded our expectations. It has been invisible operationally to me that we put Linux over there.

As we've been opening stores all spring and summer (in the northern hemisphere), we've been deploying Linux. That's gone well, too. I don't know of any glitches. A total of 1250 machines are going to get shipped to older stores, probably while we are out at Linux World. Our experience in at least a dozen new stores is it has done everything we expected.

There are a few things that have come and gone as problems. We use Telxon handheld devices at all the stores. We wanted them to port their new technology to Linux, and they weren't willing to do that without us funding the port for a sizable number. But with the groundswell of the popularity of Linux, they have done the port.

Another thing is that, right now, we run time and attendance applications from a company called Simplex Time Recorder Co. Simplex currently supports a Unix version and a Windows NT version and has basically developed an NT-only stance. We are not sure what we're going to do for next-generation time and attendance software. Linux has indeed been an obstacle there.

CW: Do you have a sense about whether owning a Linux PC will cost less than other operating systems?

Prince: Yes. Everybody involved with the project so far feels that in every way, for lower support requirements and stability, Linux has met its objectives. It's about as stable and reliable and easy to support as we think any operating system could be.

CW: What are the issues still pending for Linux?

Prince: The whole strategy of deploying Linux as a platform for Web-based applications depends on a viable browser for Linux. This whole stagnation of the Mozilla effort [by America Online's Netscape Communications unit to develop an open source code Web browser] and AOL's conflicting interest in what it wants to do with the browser, and Sun is now expressing interest in stepping in. That has to resolve itself satisfactorily or else this will start to look less like the right thing.

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