Retail Store Systems 101

I gave a talk recently at the Groupon office in Palo Alto, on “Retail from the Other Side: Learning from Working with POS Systems”, and wanted to share the slides for the same.

Retail Systems are a complex bunch. If retail is all about detail, their systems are all about variety, and the variety that I have seen in retail systems over the last few years is mind boggling. If you want to build anything for these systems, you have to take into account the store layout and architecture, whether they are on a POS system, a regular PC, or a thin client, or even on a virtualized environment like Citrix. You have to deal with antiquated system configurations, low memory, challenging connectivity issues.

Perhaps some of the biggest challenges are human related – in adoption and training – retail being a very geographically distributed operation, it becomes very difficult to retrain and ensure the associates are best positioned to use complex systems, but in a simple and efficient manner. You have to deal with language issues, remote connectivity, and busy store hours.

No wonder building store system, and building for store systems is not for the faint hearted.

Chrome and Email check!

Google just released Chrome, its open source browser which has a bundle of new features like making tabs different processes. In some ways, it seems to be a throwback to the days of IE6 where tabs would actually be processes! However, the new paradigm gives a tabbed UI and a process based backend, which should be interesting to try.

One big advantage with Chrome is going to be finding out which processes are badly designed and hog memory — something that is pointed out in this blog post.

I decided to give it a try to opening all the new emial services (Gmail, new Yahoo mail, and Live Mail) in separate tabs and testing their memory usage:

It seems to me that that all the mail programs actually use up a lot of space (and Gmail/Y!mail top it at around 20Mb each — looks like there was some GC happening and Gmail process collected back some memory). Live mail seems to be the most lightweight!

However, what I am worried about — if my mail tabs are using up that much space and it is only going to go up as these applications add more complexity, why would I not use a desktop based mail client, and switch to a web based client while on the go? A lot of times I have to face flaky connections, and it seems obvious that web based mail clients are downloading a ton of stuff everytime!

The pain point of offline mail clients is the ability to keep perfectly in sync with the server (IMAP notwithstanding and perhaps that should be worked upon) and the ability to install updates, due to which their UI is now lagging behind web based counterparts. If desktop applications can figure out some way of cleanly installing new features and keeping things completely upto date, would they get back in vogue?

Update: And this is what the condition was after leaving the tabs open for about 3+ hours:

Water Powered car unveiled in Japan

Genepax, a Japanese company, has unveiled a car that can run on water. It apparently extracts Hydrogen from water and uses it to create energy to fuel the car. The prototype was driven around in the city of Osaka in Japan. Engadget has more details:

The key to that system, it seems, is its membrane electrode assembly (or MEA), which contains a material that’s capable of breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen through a chemical reaction. Not surprisingly, the company isn’t getting much more specific than that, with it only saying that it’s adopted a “well-known process to produce hydrogen from water to the MEA.” Currently, that system costs on the order of ¥2,000,000 (or about $18,700 — not including the car), but company says that if it can get it into mass production that could be cut to ¥500,000 or less (or just under $5,000)

There is a video from Reuters that I have tried to embed below, but I am not sure if it will show up on the final blog (here’s the link to the Reuter’s page that houses the video):

Update: Looks like there’s more to it than meets the eye. See this discussion on Slashdot.

EasyEclipse – Making life easy for Developers

Link: http://www.easyeclipse.org

I went back to Java after quite sometime, and had a tough time installing some plugins (Visual Editor in particular, it is not supported as yet on the current Europa release and only on the previous Callisto) this site is really handy in case you want to get a setup with everything you need already installed. They have bundled everything together and everything just works!

They have also divvied it up into broad areas such as ‘Desktop’, ‘Web’, ‘LAMP’ and so on — targeted towards programmers in that category. Apart from the fact that they have these distros, it was also a great place to find out what were the most useful plugins for development on the eclipse platform. I didn’t even know they have very useful plugins even for things like database management and SVN.

A life saver for people not experts on eclipse, I must say.

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