by Carol Sliwa

DECEMBER 15, 2003 ( COMPUTERWORLD ) - Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse
Corp. couldn't turn to any of its retail peers for advice five years ago
when it began deploying Linux-based desktops.

At the time, the Burlington, N.J.-based company made one of the largest
commitments to Linux to date, rolling out more than 1,000 Linux PCs. It was
the largest Linux retail installation ever announced by a U.S. company. The
pioneering move was an outgrowth of Burlington Coat's Unix heritage.

Looking back, CIO Mike Prince said Linux has proved to be a "good,
reliable" operating system, and the move was "absolutely" worth it. The
company has even substantially increased its Linux deployment since the
operating system first crept into its development labs in 1998, when
college interns insisted on using it.

A year later, Burlington Coat Factory began rolling out a half-dozen
Linux-based desktops to each of its stores for managers and inventory
clerks to use, and last year the company completed its migration of an
average of 15 cash registers in each of its 350 stores to Linux. So
Burlington Coat Factory is now deploying about 7,000 Linux-based clients,
according to Prince.

Prince said the move has been economical because of the thin-client
approach that the company has taken to deliver key business applications
over its frame-relay network. Users access the applications through Web
browsers, so when changes are made to the software, they don't have to be
installed on thousands of desktops, he noted.

The reduction in licensing costs wasn't a major issue for Prince. He said
the company's total cost of ownership declined because the systems were
easy to administer and to lock down so users couldn't install applications
on their own. He said that keeping the store systems running requires only
one or two workers in his network group.

Supporting Roles

"We have more people supporting a handful of Windows users than roughly
7,000 Linux systems," Prince said. He added that the Linux systems "just
sit there and don't break. They run and run and run. People can't mess them
up. They don't get messed up on their own. Unless there's a hardware
problem, we almost never have to do anything with them."

Mike Prince, CIO at Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp.
Prince said that if the company needs support for its Linux desktops or
servers, he has found plenty of options through partners such as IBM, its
Linux vendors (Red Hat Inc., and SUSE Linux AG, which Novell Inc. recently
announced plans to acquire) and third-party support providers.

"We've had far fewer issues getting resolution with Linux than we've had
with any other operating system we've ever used, including all of the
Unixes," Prince said.

But Linux has yet to gain traction with the knowledge workers at Burlington
Coat Factory's home office. Prince said many of them have relied on Windows
desktops for years, and initially there were "real compromises and issues
of compatibility with documents passed from Windows to StarOffice."

Prince, who uses StarOffice, said compatibility issues haven't been a
problem for at least a year. But he sees no immediate business gain in
forcing the company's knowledge workers to make a switch to StarOffice on
Linux. He said he's convinced that it would save costs and streamline
support, but he would also "have people up in arms."

"Resistance is natural. People don't like change in their tools. Carpenters
are used to their hammers," Prince said. "You're not just going to go in
and change these things unless you have something terrific to offer. For
everything they give up, you have to offer some new thing that's appealing
to them."

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