My short bio:30 years ago this coming week, on November 17, 1986, my wife and I traveled to Comdex, Las Vegas, to spend our honeymoon unveiling ViewTouch, a graphical programming tool I developed which I used create the first graphical touch screen point of sale software for automating the information tasks of restaurants and hospitality. The ideas in this software have only partly been put to use but they have revolutionized how many types of businesses, both inside and outside the hospitality and retail markets, are run. My Proof:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Comdex_1986.png

http://www.atarimagazines.com/startv2n6/gettingdowntobusiness.html

http://www.viewtouch.com

https://github.com/ViewTouch/viewtouch

I will be in and out the rest of the day and will answer all questions. If you have one, you'll get an answer today.

Comments: 277 • Responses: 74  • Date: 

fancy_pantser132 karma

What is it that makes technology (both hardware and software) in large but non-technical fields lag a few steps behind in terms of usability, stability, standards-adoption, and overall modernization? Aren't there enough incentives to improve?

For example, the software used in hospitals is notoriously bad (i.e. Epic EHR) despite decades of federal and private investment and millions of users worldwide. Same goes for automotive, real estate, hotel management, retail/POS systems, warehousing and logistics, etc.

It seems like every time I have to become familiar with another one it's riddled with basic UI/UX flaws and bizarre shortcomings. Last week my friend, a hotel manager, showed me how they manage reservations. I had asked why the front desk staff always take so long to do anything and he demonstrated the long, tedious process. It was this widely-used system. I was horrified.

43P04T34126 karma

My wife, a nurse, uses Epic. Her hospital has committed $350 million to implementing it over a 3 year period. $25,000 per employee. I could write a book about my attitude toward this particular boondoggle and so many others like it. Everybody thinks that the browser interface is the only interface that apps can or should have. The app interface universe, including Apple and Google interfaces, is a colossal, idiotic blunder. Throughout my life I have seen almost nothing but the crap you describe. And nobody in the press, tech or otherwise, even writes about it - the way things are isn't even brought into question. The prevailing view is that 'if this is the way it is then this must be the best it can be'. It's the biggest con job of the computer era, in my opinion, but I can't even get an interview, or an article written, so we're screwed, as you note. I have hopes that someday this will change, but Apple, Google, Oracle and Microsoft have blown it and as long as people accept what is, instead of what could be, we will remain screwed.

Deacon_B25 karma

Would the issue be stemming from a lack of quality or accountability among software developers' work in that field or just supply-and-demand business tactics?

43P04T3454 karma

It's complicated, obviously. I am accustomed to looking at it this way: the management of software development is often overlooked except in the video game industry. There needs to be some real vision in the heads of the people who have the authority in the process of software development. There need to be people as dedicated to the issue of user interfaces who are dedicated to making money, to selling hardware, to keeping their jobs at all costs. This is a battle which, except in the video game industry, needs to be fought. If app developers had 1% of the vision and creativity that the video game teams have then apps would be a helluva lot more intuitive and easier to use than they are.

tetramitus18 karma

To be fair, we haven't even had apps as we know them for a decade, and computers were built to game from the beginning.

43P04T3434 karma

I generally agree, except that ViewTouch is 30 years old, and the non touch screen precursor of it is nearly 40 years old.

tetramitus4 karma

Yeah, but, (no offense) the early touch screens were pretty unresponsive, especially in a POS situation where they were constantly getting beat up, grease smeared on them, etc.

I tend to agree that the UX with apps is generally frustrating. I feel like if they spent a day working on it they could come up with a better solution for it to be more intuitive. But I feel that to be intuitive you need to replicate what the user is already used to, or make it a very simple experience.

Another thing is that the teams behind apps are generally smaller than the teams behind video games. Apps generally start out as startups, and sometimes they hit and grow. If the app is successful, and you change the UX because you can afford a team to totally redesign it, you are going to have a lot of angery customers because they don't know how to use the already familiar app.

43P04T346 karma

You make an excellent point - "the need to replicate what the user is used to". What I strove to create was a perfect graphical language counterpart to the way language is used in the context of a restaurant. My means of creating that was the widget driven interface which had equivalent graphical counterparts to every significant spoken word in the context of taking a restaurant order and passing that information to the prep staff. and yes, again, it has to be simple - a serial procedure which has no unneeded divergence from the thought path.

I have guided the development of this software since even before I first created any working versions of it, hence users have not been dragged all over the planet following different people with different ideas as to what it is all about.

tetramitus2 karma

And the widget based touch screen is really the only way to go that I know of. I think there has been a lot of hesitation as people don't want to let go of the precision allowed by a mouse/stylus because that would limit their ability to fully customize, or whatever. I'm actually talking to someone about app dev right now for some video editing stuff on another forum and I am really pushing the "make cutting the video, and drag and drop really really simple", because if I'm editing video on my phone it's not going to win any oscars, I want to stitch a few clips together to show my mom, add music, that's it. I want video apps to do like 5 things, not 500. I understand wanting to include as much as you can in the app, but I would rather make it an expansion to have tons of different effects. I don't need hearts floating across the screen, or filters on the shots, I just want to cut the clip on the head and tail, drag and drop it in series with the other clips, be able to import music if I want, have a little audio control so I can adjust volume from video and volume from audio input and that's it.

With touch screens simplicity is what you need. I have fat fingers, don't make me try to activate some tiny little button by using the corner of my finger, where I miss the button 5 times and have to start over because there is another small button next to it. I just want "Add videos, add audio" then I can look at each clip independently and cut it, place it in a linear timeline, and have a video.

I don't like having to pick from lists on my phone because generally it means using the corner of my finger to pick a small option, I would prefer to operate quickly.

All of these complaints might just be from the apps I use the most, which are generally weather conditions (lots of information weather, not just "its sunny" but I want to know swell height,period, see radar, see satellite, so for these apps I don't really know how to make it super easy, as I want to be able to chose what information I am getting. But sometimes I want to just click the button and have the information I want presented to me.

I used to do some UX design when I was a kid, I would love to help design an interface for apps, but I don't have any formal training in it.

43P04T342 karma

I think we share the same challenges, design perspective and attitude.

BIG-DATA10 karma

How is it that these things should look? I personally am one of those people that cant imagine how it could be better. Apps on apple devices, i mean.

43P04T3425 karma

I don't use Apple products but let me just suggest a handful of things I know from Android, since it is very similar. Tiny little buttons that could be much bigger. Tiny little text that could be much bigger. Buttons where app designers put them instead of being where you want them to be. Buttons that say what app designers want them to say instead of what you want them to say.

BIG-DATA6 karma

Fair point. I do feel that a lot of websites and apps and i guess just products in general are a lot more concerned with aesthetic, and how that causes them to be perceived, than actual usability and intuitiveness. Which is unfortunate. Like the insanely small font apple computers use even on giant iMacs, for example. I actually raised the resolution, and it doesn't make things look strange or pixelly at all. And in fact i still think the font could do with being a little bigger.

But.. it's a problem with consumers too, I think. Its hard to see something and know that it works well in terms of usability. I myself definitely usually have to use something or at least see it in action before i realize its value in terms of usability. But what you can see is an aesthetically pleasing layout. Moreover, its gotten to the point where an unconventional layout is interpreted as cheapness, and makes people question the integrity of the whole product.

Also, sometimes the things that have the highest usability require more explanation and are less intuitive. Like.. i dont know.. game controllers (playstation, xbox) vs keyboards. The controller takes some explaining and getting used to, but obviously also has some benefits. So its a toss up.

43P04T3469 karma

Yeah, just wait until your eyesight starts failing. Then the fun begins. But I digress...

I live by certain axioms and I'll pass a few of them on to you because they reveal my attitude about all this. I hope there isn't too much in them which is self-contradictory.

The user interface is a window of opportunity which will never close.

The only user interface which a user will ever be happy with is one that a user can completely customize for himself.

Software Developers should never have to know what the user interface looks like, to spend any time working on the user interface or even have to care what it looks like. It's not a software developer's problem. Software developers have their hands full simply making sure that everything underneath works.

vapeducator14 karma

Sorry, but your assertion about software developers is entirely untrue. In fact, there are many software developers who specialize in user-interface design, user-interaction design, human factors HCI, as well as the other underlying layers. Part of a software engineer's job is to design the software using patterns such as model-view-controller so that user-interface layer elements (view) are loosely coupled to other layers, so that the internal data and control layers aren't dependent on the presentation layer. This allows multiple presentation layers to use the same internals, but it doesn't prevent the software developer or engineer from knowing the dependencies.

The majority of the users I've ever worked with have no interest in customizing the user interface for themselves, just like nobody wants to customize a suit or a dress for themselves, even though they'd certainly want to wear customized clothing. So they go to a tailor, dressmaker or a seamstress who has those alteration skills so they only have to get measured in a sitting and await the results.

The problem is that the underlying business process interaction necessary to complete transactions is often quite complex, requiring management of dynamic state, multiple modes, complex logic and other difficult things even without discussing specific user interface limitations.

The user interfaces that work best are those that work the way that the user would expect, based on their knowledge of the business process, such that the software supports or improves the process without interfering with it in an obtrusive manner. The software should be resilient, tolerant of errors, guide users to fix errors using understandable language, and have a memory to speed future interaction using the most common prior data patterns.

43P04T346 karma

If you're providing Point of Sale solutions to hospitality then there is no way to escape or avoid the fact that the end user has to complete the interface and my experience is that, without exception, they all want to have a hand in that, if not have near total control over it. A prime requirement of PoS is that you have to provide easy to use, intuitive and still powerful tools which allow users to complete the interface.

vapeducator2 karma

The users don't have the skills, breadth of experience, nor knowledge of interaction design to be effective user-interface designers. That doesn't mean that they can't participate at all. On the contrary, their input and feedback is very important, but needs to be evaluated by a designer who knows how to change the interface to work better, often in ways that the user doesn't even know that exist or is possible. You can read some of the methods I use to elicit useful info from users here. If you ask the users if they felt I listened to them and used their feedback, they'd say yes. But they didn't directly design the UI: I did, based on the info I gathered from them and from my experience building a lot of systems.

I built several successful retail point-of-sale systems starting in the mid 80's, in the dBase, xBase, foxBASE, clipper era. Those systems lasted for more than a decade, as long as the businesses themselves lasted, until they got sold and merged into other entities. I also built touch-screen apps for emergency call-center dispatch systems in the early 90's. I worked for several software development consulting firms where I developed solutions for many clients.

43P04T343 karma

You are correct. Generally they don't. But! If you give them a good enough tool, and I try to, then they can do a fair job of it. The only PoS interfaces which even ViewTouch users have which I consider to be close to perfect are those which they allow me to help them with. This final step is critical, and it makes all the difference in the world whether or not somebody who understands it very well is involved. It pains me to see a client pretend that they are going to build an interface without ever having done it before and without the training and assistance which I am used to providing to my clients.

I would be a lot happier if this were a top level discussion.

irgeorge73 karma

[deleted]

43P04T3443 karma

Yes, this is the way it often works. Thanks for pointing this out. And I would point out to anyone who doesn't see your graphical illustration to click 'Show Images' at the very top of the page.

incer23 karma

I work in a small business making machines for the food industry. I am the sole software "developer" in the company. I use quotation marks because I'm 100% self-taught.

At an industry level there's a serious disregard for the user's time and work. If there's some menial task that could be automated with a little more effort, it's often disregarded, why? Because the ones making the machines won't be the ones using them, they just have to train the operator on how to perform that frustrating and repetitive task every day multiple times a day, and the managers who actually buy the machines and manage the installation don't care either, because it'll be the job of some lowly worker.

When we train users on our machines, they're usually all enthusiastic, because they see that they are actually built to ease their workload, and that they're intuitive to use.... But that's not something that makes the machines easier to sell. What has helped lately is that the same automation which reduces labor also reduces user error, and THAT''S something managers will appreciate.

43P04T3413 karma

A big part of the appeal of Point of Sale software is that it does reduce errors, and it does this by standardizing the process of communicating what customers want to the people who are tasked with preparing the food & beverages they order.

Atlanticall15 karma

I work for Wyndham and we just scrapped using Opera for a custom browser based solution from Sabre that we're in the middle of deploying. It's soooo much better. It has taken us about five years from conception to implementation though. It's a massive project, we have 8000 hotels and ops centres around the world.

We had end user focus groups and I can tell you that their considerations were taken very seriously. It was nice to see.

43P04T349 karma

So your apps are all browser based? And you just switched browsers?

Atlanticall12 karma

The video linked above shows the Opera (ORS) interface, which is a java based front end for a property management and reservations system made by MICROS/Oracle we used for about 15 years. It was dog shit, had little customization, was often slow and unreliable. It was serviceable only because we were used to it. It was all run on our own private servers. We've migrated/are migrating to a browser and cloud based solution from Sabre called SynXis for our hotels, central reservations, and property management. Customized UI, more scalable, faster. It's going to take just shy of two years (hopefully) to on-board all of our hotels though.

43P04T347 karma

I'll try to find some time in the next few days to look at it. Most of what I know about Micros is from what people tell me, and what I hear is pretty much in line with what you're describing. I will die never having understood why Larry Ellison paid all that money for it. It looks from here like you have job security for quite a while.

heliotrope3n126 karma

Do you ever plan on fixing that website of yours?

43P04T34114 karma

No. I'm not in the business of web sites. My thing is PoS. If you have any PoS questions, let 'em fly.

now_its_a_dick_joke89 karma

wait... you sell POS software... Wouldn't YOUR website be the first point of sale? Excuse me, I'm a layman.

boringdude0040 karma

It makes perfect sense if you've ever used a PoS system, which are invariably a load of crap, a PoS if you will, designed by people with no experience in the sales, food service, or hospitality industries.

43P04T3442 karma

There are hundreds of them. They're not all the same. In my case, I built 6 restaurants and operated them for 14 years, and used my PoS software exclusively in my own restaurants for 5 years before I even began designing them with a touchscreen interface. You've obviously had a bad experience or two.

my_new_winchester19 karma

[deleted]

43P04T3413 karma

I honestly do not have a deep enough understanding of any of them to be able to say so. I like to sometimes watch the wait staff using whatever PoS they have just for kicks, but I don't really have the time to acquire the perspective it would take to have a viewpoint toward any others. I have been around the world a few times and have seen all kinds of them in a superficial, cursory way, you can be sure.

my_new_winchester7 karma

[deleted]

43P04T345 karma

No. Sorry. I mean, there are many shared components, but the requirements are obviously different. If anyone had ever asked me to go there then I certainly would have.

43P04T3416 karma

Selling PoS software is one of the things I do. Sometimes I just give it away for free. Most of the people who contact me do so having first heard about me from a satisfied customer, or who have read about me in a book, something like that, but no, not first from my web site. But you're a layman, whatever that is, so let me explain that first picture to you. All of those tablets and monitors are getting their touchscreen display from a single $35 computer which is attached to the 24" touchscreen at bottom right. That means that there are no data files that need to be passed over the network at any time during any operation of the PoS system. It's not a peer to peer network, in other words, and that is a huge advantage in the operation of any business system deployed across a network.

Down below are explanations about how you have access to the source code at GitHub, even if you're not a client of mine, and of other topics. The mouseover buttons are straight out of the PoS program itself. There's a photo of me and links to some of my customers. Let me know which of this information or which part of the photograph is inappropriate to you and let's see what happens, OK?

Oh, and on the outside chance that after you've visited the web site you still have a question about ViewTouch PoS, then let me know what that is and I'll answer it for you, OK?

Dayofsloths20 karma

Does PoS not stand for piece of shit? I'm very confused.

zelman23 karma

Point of Sale

43P04T344 karma

My money says he knew that.

43P04T34-1 karma

Yes, you are.

ChezBoris61 karma

Hi Gene,

I own a small doughnut shop in Montreal. My impression from interacting with my peers (small businesses) is that small business owners don't optimize their business operations using POS data. They either have real difficulty accessing the data (because of my antiquated POS I only get printable data, which I have to enter manually into Excel!) or they simply don't have the time or ability to convert the sales data into actionable changes in operations.

My question is: do you foresee POS driven data aquisition/analytics entering the small business operations world? And do you know of any particular services that you feel are doing this well? I am especially interested in trying to use the data for helping the different parts of running a business (staffing, marketing, maintaining appropriate stock and identifying waste).

43P04T3449 karma

I have a client, two of them, on the St. Lawrence River near the Ogdensburg bridge, not all that far from you!

Now, to your comment. First I'll note an irony which your comment reveals. Over the years I have often been told that my fully integrated, self contained reports are not what people want, but what they want instead is for me to export the data to Excel. And that, of course, if I did that, would turn my report solution into their report problem. So I never did that. It's as if they just can't get their head around the fact that they are asking me to be able to ride their bicycle backwards.

In general, the PoS companies like to break Pos & hospitality management functions into components, then sell the components separately to make more money. That will make them more money but it will also break the vision I have of Pos & restaurant operations automation, so I never did that.

I am not really that well up to speed on what everybody is doing. The number of companies in the game is too many to count. What you're describing is a rather complete array of hospitality management components and I suspect that nobody is both offering them all and doing so at an affordable cost to the hospitality market. What I have done is at least make it economically and pragmatically possible, by placing my software under the GPL. Let me know if you don't know what that means.

You didn't ask this question but what I think you would benefit from next is if your customers could order their donuts & coffee from their own devices, and that this ordering process would include payment for these items as well. What you would get from this is information about how to maximize profit on your most popular menu items and how you could further engineer your menu to offer more items like the ones your customers prefer. Is there such a thing as donuts fried on demand?

Maybe you should email me about being a client. A Raspberry Pi and an android Tablet and you've arrived. I can't promise that I have everything you're in search of but I can promise that at least nobody is going to tell you that what you're in search of is simply not going to happen. I will be able to tell you how many of each type of donut you've sold on any day, week, month, quarter or year, but I won't be able to tell you how many to prepare tomorrow. That could be done, at least, if it's not already being done, because there is no reason that it can't be done.

zalo27 karma

I understand the UX reasons against this, but export of the data to a common, easily parseable format (like .csv) would assist with the training of machine learning systems/predictive models.

Simple day-of-week correlations should be possible without much effort, but correlating the sales of item x with baseball games in the area might be a little more involved...

43P04T3416 karma

First of all, there are things worth knowing and there are things not worth knowing. If we can at least put what is worth knowing on the table and get the rest of it off the table then we can begin. I have always resisted telling my developers and associates how they should do what they do. As a software development manager I focus on the result, not on the method of arriving at the result. I also like to deal in specifics, not in generalities. For example, if a PoS program simply told you what your ten most popular items are, and what your ten most profitable items are, and then helped you make decisions about how to perfectly align those, it would be worth its weight in gold. It's an old concept and if those are aligned, then you're going to make money. It doesn't matter if your PoS is pretty or not. It matters if your PoS helps you learn to manage like this.

karn194814 karma

How do you determine what data is worth knowing? Also, do you do it per-client, per-industry, or...?

DadAtH_me48 karma

You don't. OP is still doing business like he did 30 years ago and assuming that he's smart enough to correlate "Oh you don't sell this".

Deep learning helps you find connections that would be way too time consuming for a human to ever sit down and figure out. Maybe Jelly doughnuts sell best when there is a weird combination of weather, traffic and local events.

All of the replies have been along the lines of "Trust me, I wrote this I know what you need best. I can help you understand what I understand best about what you think you need if you want".

It's a completely different paradigm.

Atario4 karma

Experience does mean something, you know

43P04T344 karma

I've never seen anyone refute the basic sense of the idea that you are in good shape if the fastest selling item on your menu is also your most profitable item. It's not at all my original idea, but it is one that made me a lot of money in the six restaurants that I built and operated years ago. I had a very successful career in the restaurant business in the period from '70 to '84 when I lived in upstate New York and without that career there would have been no foundation for me to build my PoS systems on.

43P04T349 karma

In hospitality it is as, I would imagine, similar to any business that has items or services you which you sell in a recurring fashion. In particular, you need to know which of these are responsible for the larger part of your transactions, and which do not contribute much, if at all. You need to understand what brings people to your business, and more importantly, what brings them back again and again. These are the items or services that you turn your attention to, and which you fine tune for profitability, always seeking to maximize profitability. Stop offering items or services that people don't use, don't respond to. Replace items or services you're removing with new ones which have the same characteristics as the ones which have historically brought customers to you.

If my clients want me to I go over their reports with them to help them understand the specific usefulness which the reports offer. What cannot be denied is that the reports contain truths which the management and ownership of the restaurant or bar is almost always unaware of. It's necessary to keep all the data forever, of course.

Slightly__Drifting11 karma

As a data analyst, I think having BOTH would be useful. I constantly have to create new slave databases from our as/400 DB to restructure dirty machine data, or rebuild a report that was designed by someone with the wrong frame of reference.

Your said your code is on Github, does that mean I can program my own reports into one of your POS's? Or even dump the data into FME or COGNOS or SPLUNK or any other business intelligence framework?

43P04T344 karma

It means you can do any damn thing you want to. You've got my email, my phone. Get in touch and I'll put you in touch with the other guys and who knows? In 4,5,6 months you just might find yourself no longer stuck where you are. It would be nice to be able to do exactly what you think should be done, wouldn't it? There you go.

ChezBoris2 karma

Maybe we can collaborate, I am interested finding ways to make efficient ways for small businesses (like my own) to analyse sales data. If you're interested, feel free to PM me.

43P04T346 karma

Well, of course. I can respond affirmatively here - no need to pm because all I could do is to tell you my contact info which is on my web site anyway. There are already people in the ViewTouch community working this, by the way.

UpHandsome4 karma

I don't think he was talking to you.

43P04T342 karma

Anyways, I do like a lot of what you're doing we'll see if we can do business together, I'll send you an email. Cheers, Boris.

Yeah, he was.

ChezBoris8 karma

Gene, thank you very much for the detailed answer. You very rarely see an AMA where the answers are as detailed as the ones you are giving. Thank you!

First, it's cool you were ahead of your time. For a long time people didn't appreciate the value of data on every day life. I think there is a shift now, it's happening fast and in basically all industries.

Second, I appreciate you are placing your softer under GPL. I know what it means (in my other life I am a UX designer and data analyst).

Third, I already fry donuts on demand. I would hesitate trying remove the customer interacting with the staff as it provides a lot of benefit from the customer perspective. However, certain industries would definitely benefit from it.

Lastly, I am in the process of moving my shop (in May). I am looking for a new POS, your approach appeals to me. However, when I first got my POS only a few POS software were certified by Quebec government to work with their MEV/SRM. Is your software compatible with their MEV? I'll PM you asking for your email. Cheers, Boris

43P04T346 karma

[email protected], Boris.

Adding compliance with MEV/SRM is trivial, I expect, since the code is already available to anyone. Everybody in the ViewTouch community would welcome your participation, you may be sure. And since I'm from Northern New York originally, I would be glad to meet up with you. I plan on being on the St. Lawrence again next summer for a few weeks.

trekie8813 karma

Whats the next improvement to come to retail systems in your opinion?

43P04T3417 karma

One of them will be that PoS and retail interfaces will move to our personal devices. Until very recently the identity of anyone buying something was unknown but of course now that we buy so much online, our identity and much about us is known to the vendor. What is happening is that when we visit stores and restaurants our identity is now being made known to vendors, too, not only at the time of a sale, but even from the time that we enter these locations. This fact, combined with the fact that we have such incredible personal devices, will be exploited to move the entire pre-sale and sale process to the interfaces of our devices.

HabitualAbyss3 karma

"From the time we enter these locations" How do they know anything about us just by us walking in?

43P04T348 karma

If you or your device can be recognized then the door is wide open as to what is known about you. Last time I returned to the USA about a month ago I had to step in front of a camera and it printed a photo of me to be compared to the one in my passport. We live in an era now, for better or worse, when the electronic devices we buy are listening to us, analyzing what we say, monitoring us. Our cars and smartphones know where we go, when we get there, when we leave, how fast we drive, and lots more. And this is just the beginning.

akinghearts12 karma

Have you seen Halt and Catch Fire? Seems like you have lived a storyline out of that show!

43P04T3410 karma

I will look into this. It looks interesting!

Camsy3411 karma

Was the reception to your product something you had expected?

Have you created anything in more recent years?

43P04T3426 karma

It is fair to say that I had a pretty good idea at the time that it would be a game changer because the response of the people first viewing it was very enthusiastic. I was totally unprepared financially, however, in being able to deal with the response. That was actually very frustrating. I was completely on my own and there was nothing I could do except talk to people and answer their questions. It was a situation where any individual or company was free to copy what they thought they were looking at, what they thought they understood. That is exactly what happened, and this continues all these years later, too.

I have continued to innovate. I offered wifi tablets for tableside ordering in 2003 with the exact same interface that I used in the fixed position graphical terminals. ViewTouch is no longer a company; it is a Trademark and the software is freely available at github, so all projects I'm involved in are just that - projects. What I have most recently created is a Raspberry Pi based PoS solution for restaurants which rivals and in many ways surpasses any other PoS system. The Raspberry Pi, of course, is a $35 computer and I offer licenses & 24/7 support for as little as $35 a month. Restaurant operators who pay thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars for their closed, proprietary PoS systems ought to be shocked that I have an equally good or better solution for them which costs virtually nothing, and gives them access to the sourcecode.

There are other projects underway, too, which provide similar solutions to other workgroups, including one in the cinema/theater, agricultural and educational sectors.

Camsy348 karma

Why did you choose to make the software free? And why do you choose to charge such a low cost, given that you can see the market can, in some cases, be willing to pay a huge amount more?

43P04T3423 karma

The decision to change to the GPL3 license had to do with ensuring the survival and the continued development of the software and the ideas in it. I can tell you that I have some very happy clients. More importantly, I have my personal freedom, because I have needed it to keep my family as my highest priority.

delmonte-juice11 karma

I recently spent 2 years at a tablet POS company that is working its way to replacing POS in the sports industry. As someone who saw first hand what POS software can do for a business, I have to tip my hat to you for all of your hard work.

As for you, where do you see viewtouch in the next few years? Any active projects you can share?

43P04T3413 karma

In my opinion the only suitable design for PoS in the future is one in which our personal devices enable us to handle ordering the food & beverages we wish to purchase. The interfaces are where my interest is. PoS interfaces of the future will require us to allow our food & beverage histories to be created and accessed. Same for our food & beverage preferences. This is the data out of which our individual interfaces can, and must, be built. Heaven help us if the app designers never figure out that every interface must be completely unique, else this one-size-fits-all curse will enslave us to our devices instead of freeing us from them. Think of the horror of the automated phone answering systems which have enslaved us. Shoot me now if we don't find a way to condemn those systems to the dustbin of history.

I will return to your question later when I can because right now I have to step out for a bit, but I will be back and will answer questions the rest of the day, including a broader response to your question, so thanks for understanding this.

jsalathe8 karma

Was this the progenitor of the Micros touchscreen?

Did you make money off it?

43P04T3411 karma

It was the progenitor of that one, and of all of them, actually. It is for this reason that all PoS systems seem to look and work the same, but as you examine them individually up close then you begin to see that different people have taken them in their own direction.

Yes, I earn a living from providing and supporting this software to restaurants all around the world, but only on those PoS systems which carry the ViewTouch trademark.

Netprincess8 karma

Hi Gene! I was there at Comdex as well ( AMD) and I've seen your SW, have you ever thought of a hand held device for the wait staff?

43P04T347 karma

I haven't done Comdex in a LONG time, or CES, either. If you look at the picture on my web site you will see a picture of some of the android tablets that wait staff are using. I first did wifi tableside ordering on tablets in 2003, by the way. I just returned from 3 weeks in Belgium and everywhere I went they were taking my order at tableside with tablets. I don't think it's a very big step from tableside tablets to your android phone - I'm already doing that, too. Drop me an email if you saw me at Comdex. Damn that was a long time ago.

Netprincess4 karma

Great news and yes I did see your booth. I think you were right down the row from us. I will jet you an email and I think I have pictures as well.

43P04T346 karma

I can't wait to see this!

OnlySpoilers1 karma

2 things. tableside tablets should never be a thing. they remove the use of one of my hands both of which are constantly in use during a busy dinner shift, also the possibility of being damaged/stolen/mixed up with another servers is high. 2nd thing, how do you see mobile phones playing into a PoS? would the customer order through their device? or would a waiter/server/whatever take their order

43P04T341 karma

Yes, only through their own devices. A mobile phone is much more than that. It can/should also be one's PoS device. And the interface should be completely personalized for each of us according to all the knowable factors of our dining experiences: where we are, what we have previously ordered there, our preferences, our dislikes, what we are likely to order, etc..

OnlySpoilers1 karma

interesting, in that case eventually servers would become obsolete. a restaurant would only need people to deliver the food and clear tables, possibly someone there for QC

43P04T342 karma

Well, yes. or as I usually say, Indeed. One of our projects involves a PoS for brewpubs where you touch the screen to pour and pay for your beer. Such systems exist now but you can't actually have such a system unless you do all the work yourself. There's a market for a system that John/Jane Doe can buy without having to be 7 different kinds of tech genius.

ganondoom7 karma

With your surname being Mosher, is there ever any expectation on you to behave in any particular way when attending concerts?

43P04T3419 karma

My son, who is 24, can tell you all about that. Maybe he can have an IAmA about it.

Mosher, by the way, is not a Jewish name. It began back in the 1400's in England as Moger but when the Mosher from whom I am descended came here the spelling was changed to Mosher.

ganondoom17 karma

Solid answer to a stupid question. Thank you!

43P04T3416 karma

Well, you're not the first person to make such a comment, and it's a standing joke here in the family, of course.

XxQU1CK5C0P3RxX8 karma

God I love you

43P04T3416 karma

Since we're officially off topic I will tell you (and everyone else here, obviously) that I don't think anything is as important as family, laughing, staying young, having fun, helping each other. You can't imagine, or maybe you can, how good life can be if the people around you understand this. As important as ViewTouch is to me, it's not as important as my family is. Back on topic, then. ViewTouch would not exist if it weren't for my attitude.

Vandergrif5 karma

How difficult is it to make touch screens that aren't shatter-prone? If I had to guess it's borderline impossible because of the number of cracked phones I see everywhere.

43P04T3412 karma

It isn't the touchscreens; it's the glass! Maybe glass will never be satisfactory. Maybe it will be plastic or some other material that finally passes muster in this regard. Then again, why can't these devices themselves be 'softer'? There are a lot of things in this world which don't break when you drop or crush them. Our devices need to be built in such a fashion.

Vandergrif5 karma

I can't help but wonder if these devices are also partly designed to be shatter-prone on purpose - seeing as how many people consistently drop their phones and whatnot, and how often that results in either an additional source of revenue from double-dip buyers who outright replace a 'broken' device, or simply the slight bump from marked up refurbishing costs that are dumped on the consumer.

Interesting train of thought you've got in regards to heading in a softer direction though, as opposed to tougher. Though, if a screen were to be fabricated in such a way as to have some give to it, surely any force applied to it would instead be transferred through and applied to the innards of a given device, yes? It would be quite a fine line to walk, ensuring that such a screen had enough elasticity to roll with a punch, but not so much as to jeopardize protection of anything behind it - like a touchscreen. Still an interesting idea, though.

43P04T3410 karma

As things get lighter the force with which they strike a hard surface when dropped diminishes. We already have rubberized sleeves, etc.., but the materials science people have yet to meet this challenge. It's probably a tossup whether cancer or this problem is solved first. By the way, it's not force which makes a touch register - it's you being the electrical device you are interacting with the display covering which is also an electrical device.

Vandergrif1 karma

It will certainly be interesting to see how such commonplace devices develop going forward - preferably less self-immolation a la samsung's recent problems.

it's you being the electrical device you are interacting with the display covering which is also an electrical device.

That actually reminds me of something I've occasionally wondered about - perhaps you can lend some insight; I could have sworn on occasion to a touch screen registering as though I've pressed it when my finger was perhaps one or two or three millimeters away from physically touching the screen. Any idea what's going on there?

43P04T345 karma

The short version:

Resistive touchscreens require enough force to press two electrically charged membranes together. Capacitive touchscreens (which is what most touchscreens in devices are these days) require the capacitance charge your body carries (capacitance is a stored electrical charge) to disturb the electrical characteristic of your touchscreen in a way which allows the firmware (low level software) to determine where on the touchscreen the disturbance occurs, thus where you touch it. Engineers can refine/correct me, of course. There are also touchscreens which transmit acoustic waves across the surface and touchscreens which simply use optics to see where your finger, or any object touching the screen is. Touchscreen technology is very far advanced these days and will no doubt continue to be refined.

IEatYourFood2 karma

It's scratch resistance vs break resistance. The softer the material, the faster it scratches but its flexibility make it won't break if you drop it. For now most companies go for harder more brittle but scratch resistant screens. Which makes sense to me, I don't drop my phone anyway. Of course you also have the professional rugged tablets that are unbreakable, work in any temperature while wet and god knows what else. But those come at a premium and are not sleek and sexy consumer tech.

43P04T342 karma

The first tablets I ever bought, in 2002, were $2,000. There are better tablets available today for $20. Industrial strength tablets that cost $2,000 will perhaps have their unique features adopted by consumer tablet designers & manufacturers as the years go by. Tablets will undoubtedly get better. Something none of us sees now might be all the rage in 5 years. All we know for sure is that everything changes.

bulgariBLACK5 karma

Hey Gene,

I'm in the cellphone industry. It's they're an opensource POS that you know might work for me? If I wanted to go about building one, but didn't have a huge budget, how would you recommend I start that process?

43P04T347 karma

I'm going to do something here which I had no intention of doing until I got your comment. It's an email I received exactly a month ago from someone who is now undertaking a substantial refactoring of parts of ViewTouch with the plan that he will then be reselling ViewTouch in his part of the world. I want you to know what others have found in ViewTouch so that you don't have to rely solely on what I might say. What follows is what he wrote to me:

irstly, may I introduce myself? I'm redacted, owner of an extremely new, small but friendly (i.e. basically me and some contractors) business computing consultancy based in the South East of England, in redacted. Unlike other IT businesses in our sector, we're partly in it for the love of it as much as for anything else. Personally, I have a cast-iron, non-negotiable desire to do the right thing for my clients, and protect them from the greed and cruelty that I often see levelled at small to medium businesses in my industry sector - which is sometimes merely an inadvertent consequence of business models, but is often a cynical and deliberate attempt in the worst case.

I studied Computing and Artificial Intelligence for my degree, and am an experienced Java, PHP and C++ developer across a range of different platforms, Linux being my OS of choice. I am also a Health Science student, part time. Amongst various services that we provide, in doing a complete survey of a client's business requirements and aiming to solve all of them together, we do EPOS sales, setup, training and support. I've implemented and supported a wide range of EPOS software and hardware, both as iOS/Android and cloud solutions (such as Vend) and as traditional desktop implementations (everything from Micros, to AccuPOS, to even the humble but actually surprisingly good, old-school DHPOS).

Good or bad computing in business can be, to a major extent, the difference between happiness or extreme stress for everyone. I often, therefore, style myself as a "technology therapist", as I integrate psychology and counselling techniques into my professional practice. I cater specifically for those clients, in many cases, with limited budgets or who have received a raw deal in the past from other providers. I'll even do stuff for free for clients who can't afford to pay but are doing something important for society. This is partly driven by my own experiences of being on the raw end of life, in the past. In many ways I probably lose money, but I take home a better prize - that of knowing that I've used my skills for good. It gives me a huge sense of satisfaction to do what others won't, and to do what is right versus what is profitable (though they are often not exclusive). We do work for NGOs and other non-profits for free, aside from direct costs, on this basis.

About six months ago I was trying to plan an EPOS project around being hosted on refurbished legacy PCs or Raspberry Pi units, not realising that anything like this already existed. Somehow I didn't find you on Google then, and thought this was a completely novel idea. The thing is, the cloud based POS applications like Vend don't cut it for many smaller clients. There are many people who love it, but an equal number who hate the "one size fits all" approach. The cost is also extreme for what is essentially quite a basic and inflexible app. So I set about writing a Linux EPOS solution in Python about three months ago... and appear to have started to develop an inferior version of ViewTouch without ever having seen it. A perfect example of reinventing the wheel, so to speak, but blindly.

ViewTouch does absolutely everything that I want - in fact it is almost precisely what I'd specified in the design for my own solution - and it's even targeted at the development platform, reasonable implementation cost and FOSS ethical/customisation underpinnings that I was looking at. RPi terminals were precisely what I had my eye on, running an ARM-optimised distro based on xubuntu.

ViewTouch must surely be one of the most underrecognised but most effective graphical EPOS solutions I've seen for hospitality - it is genuinely and objectively really good and well designed. The quality of the C++ itself is very high. What was most impressive about ViewTouch was how quickly I was able to work out how to configure it and try it out. Somehow, the code "looks" simpler than I'd imagine for the functionality that it provides, it's surprising how you've kept the size of the C++ source down. The source quality is far better than other competing FOSS EPOS solutions and I would certainly have a much better time writing customisations for it than for Floreant, which is horrendous behind the scenes.

I would, therefore, very much like you to consider allowing us to become a ViewTouch reseller. I had previously got in contact with OroPos, the people who maintain Floreant, with the intent to customise their product, and they were absolutely horrible in response - wanting to maintain strict and sole control over any customisations even though Floreant itself is open source. Exactly how they can do that I am not sure, but somehow they evade the terms of their own Mozilla Public License by making a lot of the functionality dynamically-linked.

They replied, in somewhat angry and terse terms, that not only would they not supply the source for their inventory and order management modules "under any circumstances" - even though we'd offered to pay - but that they insisted that only they could make modifications and that my clients had to pay a $90 per-terminal binary license for them AND we had to pay for the development costs. This was just ridiculous, especially given the low quality of the product. So, I've now found you, instead. Will you help us?

KillerKeenStar5 karma

Do you have royalties on your design?

What is your net worth?

43P04T3413 karma

No, but I do have copyrights and my trademark. I don't know that, but I do know that I have something that has the potential to be worth a lot of money to a lot of people in every village, city and country in the world.

shadowstormer4 karma

Did you ever once think years ago after you had created ViewTouch that it would be running on something as small as a tablet or Raspberry Pi?

Also what is your favorite TV show?

43P04T345 karma

Well, if you look at that picture from 1986, you can probably easily see that even then I wished display and the computer driving it would someday be something not much thicker/deeper than a sheet of paper, and that it would cost about the same as dinner itself. It only took 30 years, but here we are! I could not see the future, of course, and I still cannot see the future, except for my own demise someday, and I hope that is another 30 years off!

Antilist4 karma

Quick question: we already have Touch-systems around the whole earth... And whats the next step? (technologically talking)

43P04T348 karma

I won't bother to mention all the things the news is reporting and the things that people are familiar with - that would be pompous and boring. What I think lies ahead what is not being talked about and is important is that we need to fight a war with these hugely rich, powerful companies over the interfaces which they are providing for us. I don't like them. I don't like not being able to customize them, to shape them into what I want them to be. I'm talking about interfaces we can see and can manipulate with our fingers. I don't like these companies presuming that it's their job to put things on our displays in ways that suit them, with no regard for how we would shape what's on our displays to our own liking. These companies think that the only freedom we need is the freedom to set up our desktop launchers. That's stuff for 5-year-0lds. The freedom we need is nothing less than absolute control over what we see on screens and how we make use of what we put on our screens, not just app launchers, but inside of the apps themselves.

There is a bit of this freedom in the way that PoS software is not usable until each user completes the interface to their own satisfaction. There are some truly godawful PoS interfaces out there, and that's because the people behind them just don't grasp the deep importance of how interfaces must be done, and how users must be given the freedom to fix these interfaces, as screwed up as they are. Even though I may have changed things a lot in the influence I have had, I would like to continue to be able to make things better. If I live to 98 I'll have 30 more years to work on this. That's my plan.

EmeraldKnight925 karma

I don't like these companies presuming that it's their job to put things on our displays in ways that suit them, with no regard for how we would shape what's on our displays to our own liking.

This is where I have to interject as a programmer. There are some very big reasons for the lack of customization available to users. The biggest reason is the cost of developing the software that would allow users to perform that customization. Developing that sort of functionality would make for an entire app in itself. Doing this for each individual app would be prohibitively expensive, both in the initial development costs and in the long-term maintenance. They could develop a flexible system that could be applied to any app, but that would require its own set of APIs, maintenance, probably legacy support, and a whole host of other complications and costly labor. In general, the customization system itself would be a huge money sink and wouldn't provide any immediate financial benefits to the company, and would actually very likely divert attention away from building and maintaining core functionality.

The other reason that immediately comes to mind is that most users really don't care about having that much control over their software. They just want the software to work right out of the box and to be simple to use. Providing UI customization that, quite frankly, has a lot of potential to introduce some pretty nasty and unexpected bugs in the backend and might take a lot of thought from the user or from the developer to ensure 100% fool-proofness just doesn't make sense when such a small percentage of your users will even bother to make use of that feature in the first place.

In short, it's not so much a matter of companies wanting to control the user experience so much as it's a matter of development and maintenance costs, an assessment of probable user behavior, and the need to avoid unnecessary additional risk with a system that might not even work.

If you want to see more control over UI customization, then you first have to convince users that they want it as a feature and then convince software companies that the users want it as a feature. Until then, it seems unlikely that customization will be a wide-spread feature.

43P04T343 karma

You have actually discovered the deeper, underlying thing that ViewTouch accomplishes. I won't say that every PoS, or that any other PoS achieves it, but you have described quite precisely what ViewTouch is designed to do, and it does it quite successfully.

43P04T341 karma

Back in an hour and I'll answer that for you, ok?

62400repetitions4 karma

What's your favorite technological device to come out in your lifetime?

43P04T3414 karma

Besides the touchscreen? Well, as devices go, it would have to be that device in my pocket that connects me to the Internet and provides all those apps. As technological advancements go, of course the Internet. My specific gripe with the apps on my device, however, is that the interfaces to those apps is completely beyond my control. It is I, the user, who should have control over ALL of the interfaces which do the things I want them to, and on which I depend. None of us should have our interfaces designed by and controlled by other people. The great challenge of our lifetime is to win control of our individual interfaces with all this technology. If such a device existed, that would be my favorite device.

vdsw1 karma

What ROM do you run? Some are incredibly customizable.

43P04T342 karma

I'm neither a programmer nor a hardware guy. I know that ROM is Read Only Memory but I don't understand your question.

dmsayer5 karma

He doesn't use ROM. He installs a bootable Linux distro to an SD card, then puts that card into a rasberry pi (connected to a touchscreen display interface and a Ethernet link [or WiFi]) and boots into Linux, then downloads and installs his ViewTouch software from github.

43P04T342 karma

Actually, all I do is ddrescue my most current image to either a MicroSD in the case of an RPi or to a M.2 card in the case of an Intel NUC. I next update/upgrade any of the software and write the updated device to a new image file. Lastly, I individualize certain lower level configs and do a first iteration of the client's menu. The software includes the code to download & update the binaries. I can do that via remote access or sometimes clients will do it with a button holding the command that launches the script which compiles & installs the newest tested version.

zalo3 karma

You've mentioned a couple times that the future is in letting the user use their mobile device to view menu/place orders.

What do you see as the lowest impact way to loading this "applet" onto the user's phone? A web address on the wall?

Would be interesting if that $35 Raspberry Pi ends up acting as the web server, serving dozens of requests simultaneously.

43P04T349 karma

Well, the RPi is already doing that. The applet is available on my web site. It's called the X Server - a 30 year old piece of software born at MIT. The web address on the wall isn't exactly the way it's done - it's even easier than that. It's an Internet Resolvable IP address.

What's going on right now is that companies such as McDonalds is building $60,000 touchscreen order kiosks in all of their locations, spending Billions, and that's just McDonalds. You won't be able to buy that from them. You'll have to build your own. Well, hell, that's stoopid to the tenth dimension. Why in hell don't they just let you order on your own device? The software hat lets you do that is free. It's a very strange world. What is is often very dumb. What could be is often right in front of our faces.

Look at that picture on my web site. It's right there, what I'm talking about, except that the GUI is not individualized for any given customer. That's the next step that needs to be taken, and it is a trivial, easy to do step. I myself am not a programmer, but there are programmers working on this. Now, whether restaurant owners will go for this - that's a big issue. It took them 30 years to universally accept the PoS I unveiled in 1986 and it may take long time for them to do the right thing here. I can help bring about the future but I am way bad at predicting it.

Gangreless2 karma

McDonald's is putting out order and pay on their app. It's in conjunction with their in-store ordering screens and expected to come out early next year.

43P04T344 karma

And if you don't own a McDonalds it doesn't help you at all. What helps you if you have a restaurant is if there is something that works well that you can buy and you can afford. That's my universe.

HierarchofSealand1 karma

Both Google and Apple have been working on Bluetooth beacons.

The beacons send a one way message that can contain a number of things. In particular, it can communicate a URL. In the case of a restaurant like McDonalds, a customer would walk in and get an alert of the Beacon. That URL will lead to a web app localized for that particular location. The person places their order, and pays via Apple Pay, Google Pay, or some other alternative.

43P04T343 karma

Yes, and we are also working on this. The thing is, though, that you can't spy on people through their devices. There are lines you can't cross. You can do what you want, but you have to be very careful about how you do it, and you have to stay legal.

somedude2243 karma

Do you like basketball? Are you good at it?

43P04T348 karma

I learned to play back when you got one less step and when you couldn't carry the ball. It was a different game then. I'm almost 68 so no matter how I try, I'm no good at it.

ultimatebob3 karma

Do you have any patents from your original touch screen POS invention?

If so, please tell me that the NCR's and PAR's of the world are paying you big bucks in royalties!

43P04T3411 karma

Glad you asked. No, I didn't go that route. It takes lots of money to go that route and I was just me. I have a degree in Anthropology and I have no experience, no qualifications except the fact that I had built and operated half a dozen sub shops, but I knew quite clearly what I wanted, so I built it.

No, I get nothing. No, you can't even get a copyright on your graphical user interface. But you can change the world for the better. That's what I did. and that's what I got.

hey_hey_now4 karma

Thanks for your detailed replies! This is one of the most unexpectedly interesting AMAs I can recall.

43P04T345 karma

I have a lifetime of stories you would find hard to believe. And I like to talk with people. If I don't know you it's just the same as if I have always known you.

SomethingFreshToast3 karma

How many electronic divisions exist in your average non-tablet POS computer you've described? Meaning how many circuit possibilities exist before the screen interface?

43P04T343 karma

I have no idea. I'm not an electrical engineer.

j_cruise3 karma

I love your shirt in the photo! Do you remember what brand it was?

43P04T343 karma

It's a Van Heusen. Poplin (65% Polyester, 35% Cotton) Wrinkle Free, made in Vietnam. I wish I had ten more of 'em.

jewishunicorn2 karma

How's Elly doing?

43P04T342 karma

She's slowing down these days! Did you know that I got her a sister - Sophie? Stop in. You guys are always welcome, I hope you never forget!

Erger2 karma

Is it true that you went to the University of Delaware? One of our promotional materials said that the inventor of touch-screen technology went to UD but I have no idea if they meant you!

What did you think would happen when you were working on this technology? What were your plans for it? Did you expect it to be such a big thing all these years later?

43P04T343 karma

I didn't invent the touchscreen. I wrote the first graphical point of sale software which had a touchscreen interface.

Someone up above (Camsy34) asked a similar question and I think my answer there is pretty much the same answer I would give to you, ok?

vorbeon2 karma

Do you have any relation to the Mosher alumni house at UC Santa Barbara?

43P04T343 karma

Nope.

Atario2 karma

Atari ST? I approve

43P04T341 karma

In the period from '85 to about '92 it was a very highly prized computer in many countries and was used to create some amazing desktop publishing and music software, too. Lots of stories, lots of history there.

electronicchicken2 karma

Have you ever heard of IdealPOS, and would you agree that it deserves an award for greatest misnomer of all time?

43P04T342 karma

It's one on a very long list, we may all be sure.

konlon151 karma

Do you think Apple stole your idea, or made it better?

43P04T341 karma

Apple has never been much interested in vertical market solutions, it seems to me. Over the years people who design products have warmed to the idea that the best way for the public at large to be able to make use of computer-based devices is the touch screen and widget interface. ViewTouch is a lot of ideas, some of which have been copied many times, others of which have never been copied.

43P04T341 karma

The initial text on my web site goes like this:

Everybody knows how fast & reliable the latest NVMe Solid State Devices are. Everybody knows how affordable & versatile Android tablets and Chromebooks are. But Nobody knows how to build Point of Sale leveraging such speed with such value, do they?

Actually, yes. We build PoS this way!

Now, seriously, are any PoS companies in the world, and some of them are valued in the tens of billions of dollars, doing this? No, none of them are.

iampc931 karma

I'm way past this but I studied Information Technology and ended up working in retail management. If you were to give a top 3, what would be your biggest errors that employees or employers could avoid to better utilize their PoS systems better and avoid crashes, errors, etc.

43P04T342 karma

Great question, actually. Biggest error in ViewTouch PoS is when clients shut me out of the final important step of building the menu interface. They simply don't take the time, or have the time, to refine and polish the interface like I do. They don't understand that building a perfect interface is possible, but that it takes experience and attention to detail. Next biggest error is when nobody calls when they have a question or when they need training or help. Third biggest error out there is when they buy something like Square, which is a toy PoS, simply because they only care about getting the 2.75 rate that Square offers.