Open Source Implementation in Catering Business
Interview with Derek Wallace, Caterworld
Brendan Scott, 30 July 2002

1.    About Caterworld

Caterworld is a chain of outlets which provide catering and cleaning supplies to the hospitality industry, including hotels, restaurants and conference centres.  Caterworld has locations in Wagga-Wagga, Albury, Shepparton, Melbourne, Geelong and Bendigo.

2.    What was implemented?

The system implemented by Caterworld involved a combination of server, networking and desktop systems.  Our outlets had some existing hardware, but overall needed to be upgraded.  Instead of throwing out the old machines we added network cards, loaded them with a minimal install and used them as routers.

The operating systems is Red Hat Linux, with various versions ranging from version 6.2 to version 7.2
We use Star Office version 5.2 for office applications on the desktop including email.
For our accounting we use Online 2000.
For web browsing we use Netscape.
We also have an application which allows bar code scanning at point of sale from the Online 2000 package.

These applications were implemented on about 50 computers located around the Caterworld offices.

3.    What have been the benefits?

We've enjoyed good performance, freedom from viruses and minimal licence fees.  The system has been easy to roll out and easy to extend.  The system also provides a centralised system for administering remote computers.  Overall administration seems to require less management and support time.  Had we gone the Cisco/Microsoft route, I believe we'd have had to employ an additional person as an IT manager, so free software has allowed us to save on headcount and payroll as well.

4.    Why did you choose free software?

At the time Caterworld had limited funds for this implementation and the payment of licensing fees for operating system and applications would have been prohibitive.  In retrospect we are glad with the decision to go open source.  Quite apart from the lower (non existant) licensing fees, it has provided a number of other benefits such as reliability and lower administration costs.

The decision to go the free software route was strongly influenced by the lower up front cost of that route.  With hindsight I would have taken the solution even if the up front cost had been similar.

5.    When did you implement free software? How long did it take?

We implemented free software around the time of the GST (July 2000).  Including an 8 month evaluation period, it took about 12 months.  This period was longer than it ought to have been because of some problems we had with our telecommunications providers.

6.    What process did you go through in selecting free software?

We first assessed the market and obtained costings for a standard system involving a combination of Microsoft and Cisco products.  This would have been cost prohibitive for the system we wanted to implement.  One of our programmers suggested that we have a look at Linux.  We conducted an evaluation of two distributions - Red Hat and Mandrake.  We found Red Hat was a better fit to our needs, so selected and standardised on it.

7.    What has been the users' reaction to free software?

Our users were a mix of people with no computer training (often mature age) and some with previous experience with Microsoft products.  Overall we found users receptive of the implementation.  Those with no training were quite motivated to learn.  We found that people with no training found the transition to free software easier than those with, for example, training on Microsoft products.

What criticism users have had seem to relate to email, rather than to the office suite.

8.    What issues have you encountered?

There have been some issues with: opening attachments under email; reading pdf files; print spooling.  Many of the functions of free software are driven from the command line rather than a GUI.  This can take some getting used to.  These issues have been overcome.

9.    Opposition faced?

One of the difficulties with free software is that, at the time, it had something of a reputation as a "Hippie" operating system. It is also my perception that a free software program will be criticised more heavily than its proprietary equivalent for exactly the same failings.

10.    What differences have you identified?

The word processor in Star Office 5.2 is not as fully featured as Microsoft Word.  There are also some issues with interchanging documents with Word users.  However we have not found this to have much of a practical impact.  Our word processing is generally limited to short documents with relatively standard formatting.

11.    What tips can you give to others considering free software?

We would have spent a little more money on having someone with Linux/Unix experience there to assist in the intial stages of the implementation.  We would also have spent more time evaluating the email system.
Take some of the up front savings on licensing and spend them on a Linux professional for support or configuration expertise, at least initially.   The free software word processing solutions are acceptable for businesses which do not do a lot of their work on documents.  Think carefully about free software if you have a heavily document intensive business, especially one where you need to exhange documents in Microsoft Word format.

12.    How much time should people allow for their implementation (per computer)?

We didn't keep records of this information.  I would guess it would be about 2 hours per computer.  For the earlier systems it would have been longer, for the later ones, shorter.  This does not include the time spent on designing the network (which was considerable).

13.    Future free software plans

We plan to run software to replace the video surveillance system with a free software premises security system.  We also intend to use it for an ecommerce internet site.