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The Icon Bar: News and features: New RISC OS, new markets.
 

New RISC OS, new markets.

Posted by Andrew Harmsworth on 01:00, 10/8/2000 | , , , , , , ,
 
Far out, in the only recently charted backwaters of the south-eastern tip of Australia lies a small, unregarded grey creature sitting on a RiscStation. This Possum shares a distant ancestor with the ape-like beings who designed the computer on the other side of the globe. This is his story.
 
RiscStation Australasia manufacture and sell RiscStations using UK designed and built motherboards. Not content with this, they have also developed the POSsum - an Electronic Point-of-Sale System (EPOS). Together with EBMS (see below), this unique and innovative software and hardware POS solution was demonstrated at Wakefield 2000[1], to the delight and amazement of those who took the time to take in the phenomenon.
 
For years people have been saying, often vociferously, that RISC OS needs to get itself into diverse markets to survive. Whatever anyone says about RISC OS's future in education, it will never return to its previous position of market-leader without a political miracle. Cerilica[2] are beginning to take on world-class opposition with Vantage, but how big is that market? Millipede[3] have taken RISC OS machines around the globe with their TV production systems, but again it's a very small market. Pace[4], with their web-TV (one could argue that their RISC OS technologies are all Acorn-designs. Acorn were always very good at creating technologies years ahead of a saleable market), are taking RISC OS into homes around the world (see your Argos catalogue's inside back page), but it's not a desktop computer.. With the POSsum, RiscStation Australasia are at last taking RISC OS desktop machines into virgin territory for the platform. Territory already owned by some very big players, but the playing field is big enough to allow POSsum to breed and become a threat.

What is a POSsum?

A possum is a small nocturnal Australian marsupial. A POSsum is also RiscStation's POS (Point Of Sale) system.

What is EBMS?

EBMS is Image Software's EPOS package designed to provide the facilities required for a retail/rental business to operate without overlapping the facilities provided by an accounts package. It includes EPOS, customer accounts, stock control and report generation facilities.

Why is it different to other software already available on RISC OS
systems?

EBMS is very different in that it has been designed from the ground up as an EPOS (Electronic POS) system with the facility to order and keep
track of stock.
 
Other software products have focused on general business accounting, rather than the specific accounting needs of an EPOS system. The needs of an EPOS system are quite different to a standard accounting package, the system needs to be extremely stable, simple enough for untrained staff to use, and have a high degree of security.
 
The reporting needs of EPOS software are different to a standard accounting package too. For example; will you sell more of this item if you reduce its price? If you vary the sale price of an item each day, EBMS can tell you not only how many of the products you have sold in total, but how many have been sold at each individual price.
 

Automatic order generation
 
Automatic
order
generation


Housekeeping
 
Housekeeping

Stocktake
 
Stocktake

System database
 
System
database



Some of the EBMS functions; the icons have been specially designed to work in various colour depths, including greyscales, to help keep the cost of the product down.

So How Can POSsum Compete With Established Platforms?

POSsum essentially competes on two factors; the high reliability and small footprint of RISC OS, and the simplicity of the POSsum/EBMS bundle.
 
Most users of EPOS systems are not computer gurus. Nor are they even enthusiasts, they just want to get a job done. Their system needs to be set up once by their reseller, then run essentially untended until the next software update. RISC OS systems are quite capable of doing this.
 
Whereas an EPOS system based on Microsoft's WindowsTM may take anything up to 3 minutes to start up in the morning, the POSsum boasts a 'Switch on to service'TM time of less than 35 seconds...
 
Everyone knows that Windows systems are computers that are prone to viruses, 'Melissa' and 'I Love You' were major blows to the credibility of computers in retail applications. As well as being rather virus resistant, the POSsum is being marketed as an 'EPOS Terminal', it isn't even called a computer. This is because many of the prospective customers for the system, mum and dad type businesses, see the computer as having a number of negative connotations, never mind how good it is for keeping track of your groceries.
 
POSsum is a modified RiscStation R7500Lite, fitted with four high speed serial ports and one 'power tap', a dedicated low-voltage output for POS equipment. Four serial ports allow for the connection of four devices without having to 'cascade' them together. This helps make POSsum systems easier to set up and maintain. Power taps replace costly and bulky low voltage transformers giving a neat and professional appearance.
 
It also does more for the user than far more expensive systems.
 

Mal McClenaghan presenting POSsum at Wakefield 2000
 
Photograph © ROUGOL
 
Mal McClenaghan presenting POSsum at Wakefield 2000.
Note the Possum on the RiscStation.


What Are Its Unique Features?

Networking

EBMS is designed to run across a network, so supports the stand alone (one register) type business, or the larger businesses where many terminals may be accessing a single copy of the stock/customer databases. This allows the use of diskless terminals, reducing the overall costs of setting up a large retail network.

Safety

EBMS has the ability to preserve a partly completed sale transaction, even through a machine reset or loss of mains power.

Convenience

An unlimited number of transactions can be 'put aside'. For example if a customer forgets part of their shopping and leaves during the transaction to retrieve it, the transaction can be 'put aside' and later picked up from any terminal on the network.

The ActivPromoTM time/item discounting system

ActivPromo allows the user to preset discounts on products according to product type, date, time, or other variables. Once set, discounts are automatic. 'Two for one', and 'Buy 3 get 10% off' offers can be created easily, and multiple offers can be catered for in the same transaction.

Variable pricing and profit protection

Most EPOS packages allow the user to set a variable price against a product. This allows you to give 'special' discounts to regular customers, but may result in discounting to un-economical levels. Profit protection allows you to set a minimum profit level for your sales, preventing you from giving an un-economical discount. As with all special features in EBMS, this facility can be turned on, turned off, or overwritten on a transaction by transaction basis.

Rental support

EBMS fully supports rental as well as retail sale functions, so is ideally suited to mixed sale/rental businesses such as Video, Games and CD libraries.

How Many Potential Customers for POSsum Are There?

Many, many thousands.

LAUNCH!

POSsum and EBMS have their public launch at Interact 2000 down under on the 29th August. The machines have, in fact, been on sale for a month or so and the software started shipping 7th August to resellers, for familiarisation and training.
 
Interact 2000 is the largest IT show in Australia, with some 40,000 people attending over 4 days, from as far afield as Singapore. They are looking to add a number of resellers to their list immediately after the show. Check out stand N30 if you happen to be in Melbourne that week!

What of the Future?

RiscStation Oz are guarding their cards closely here... but purpose-designed hardware for EPOS use; expanded facilities for EBMS (e.g. multiple sites); support for portable data terminals; further integration with accounting packages on RISC OS or other OS's (currently data import/export is via CSV or data import directly from Prophet2/3/3+Pro); and possible RiscStation-branded EPOS peripheral, would seem to be enough to keep anyone busy!
 
This POSsum certainly seems set to include most of the western world in its territory. No doubt Charles Darwin would admire his credentials. In any case, where this little Antipodean beast goes, you can be sure that RISC OS will follow.
 
Andrew Harmsworth
http://www.harmsy.freeuk.com/

Footnotes:

  1. The Icon Bar Wakefield 2000 show report
  2. Cerilica http://www.cerilica.com/
  3. Millipede Electronic Graphics http://www.millipede.co.uk/
  4. Pace Micro Technology http://www.pace.co.uk/

Acknowledgements:

Further information from RiscStation (Australasia) Pty Ltd
 
http://www.riscstation.com.au sales@riscstation.com.au
 
POSsum is a trademark of RiscStation (Australasia) Pty Ltd
 
ActivPromo and EBMS are trademarks of Image Software (UK).
http://www.imagesoft.co.uk/
 
Argos
http://www.argos.co.uk/
 
Our thanks to Mal McClenaghan for answering questions at such a busy time.
 

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The Icon Bar: News and features: New RISC OS, new markets.