It all started several years ago when Tak Tang, the Technology Coordinator at The Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis, MN got frustrated at his stores POS system because of his inability to get the information out of it that would really be useful to the store. Like most proprietary software POS systems have a locked core that prevents anyone from copying the source code and also prevents anyone from getting inside to mine data that the software wasn't designed to spit out. Not being able to get inside of the software means expensive service calls to vendors when something goes wrong. It also means having to wait to purchase the next version for new features and bug fixes.
Well all of this was really cheesing Mr. Tang off so he decided to go ahead and write his own POS system. And he DID! IS4C (Information Systems 4 Co-ops) was born. Tak's software is written in PHP which is a free web language which can run on any computer with a web browser. So he wrote the software and implemented it at The Wedge and they have been running it for a couple years now. At The Wdge however they run the software with several expensive software dependencies such as Windows 2000 and MicrosoftSQL.
People's became interested in IS4C as a result of their own frustrations with their POS system. All three Portland Co-ops are currently running the exact same antiquated Casio POS system which uses proprietary software and hardware and which seems to only be serviceable by ONE local company which charges exorbitant service call fees. Commercial POS systems can cost upwards of $15,000 per cash register lane, and for a medium-sized cooperative trying its hardest to keep its financial head above water, the commercial solution simply wasn't an option. IS4C was appealing because of the open-source factor however, in a co-op run entirely on Macintosh, the Microsoft dependencies were downright repellent. So they set about developing a version of IS4C that could run free of the expensive Microsoft requirements, instead looking to the open-source Linux operating system and MySQL for the answer to their problem.
Long story short. THEY DID IT! This past Saturday morning, a group of co-op geeks gathered at People's Food Co-op and successfully ran IS4C on a Linux box running Ubuntu using MySQL 5 and PHP 5. Stop the presses. History has been made.
With some further development and bug fixes this software could easily replace all of the big expensive unfriendly commercial POS systems and mean effective, accurate ringing and reporting for even the smallest community co-op.
The project is a powerful testament to the spirit of community that suffuses the co-op world and to the possibilities that can be laid bare by many hands working as one.