IBM said on Tuesday that it will start installing a rapidly growing retail version of Windows in its computerized point-of-sale (POS) terminals and other devices it markets for use in retail stores and restaurants.
The decision reverses IBM's earlier anointment of open-source Linux as the sole heir apparent to the proprietary IBM 4690 operating system, which runs in various models within the company's market-leading SurePOS terminal line.
IBM now plans to offer Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Embedded for Point-of-Service (WEPOS) software in all of the SurePOS machines, as well as its self-service checkout systems and an interactive AnyPlace Kiosk product line that was introduced last fall.
WEPOS, which is aimed at smaller retail stores, is a three-year-old operating system that was updated by Microsoft last April. The number of WEPOS users grew 250% last year, according to a report released last week by IHL Services Inc., a Franklin, Tenn.-based market research firm that focuses on retail technology.
IBM's embrace "is a big deal for WEPOS," said IHL President Greg Buzek, who noted that the company is the "undisputed" leader in sales of POS terminals.
IBM has long claimed to be OS-agnostic in the POS market, where it supports a variety of software platforms, including DOS and various versions of Windows. But Buzek said IBM clearly has been leaning toward two operating systems: its own 4690 software and a retail version of Novell Inc.'s SUSE Linux.
Despite their antiquated, DOS-like user interfaces, 4690-based terminals still bring in about US$1 billion worth of annual revenue in North America, according to IHL, although most of that is in the form of maintenance fees.
IBM strongly pushed users of the proprietary terminals to switch to systems running SUSE Linux, which it began offering in 2004. But after an initial surge in the overall use of Linux-based POS systems within the retail market, their sales growth quickly slowed due to a combination of Microsoft's introduction of WEPOS and the natural inertia of users that already had invested heavily in Windows-based devices.
Last year, Linux-based POS devices generated about $475 million worth of revenue in North America via device shipments and maintenance fees, according to IHL. But that was just one-eighth of the $3.8 billion pulled in by Windows-based retail terminals, the firm said. That gave the various versions of Windows a 68% share of the overall POS market, which IHL put at $5.56 billion.