This is not anything against Rapid Fire software, it may be old and antiquated but everything I’ve read indicates it’s rock solid and does a wonderful job despite it’s DOS platform. The problem does not lie in the software but rather the hardware that we try to run 15 year old software on.
And now for the whole story…
A friend of mine who runs delivery for a local pizza place asked if I could take a look at there Rapid Fire POS terminal that had failed. They said it powers up, but nothing happens and it smells like it is burning. When I opened the computer it was so filled with a combination of flour and dirt that it had burned up the motherboard.
Before I continue, I will very clearly state, I know nothing about the pizza business, I’m an IT professional and I do not handle POS computers either. Now that, that is out of the way.
This computer was an old Pentium III. So my first thought was well I’ll try another processor out of my junk bin and see if it solves the problem. First I tested the processor in a known computer and it worked I then dropped it in the bad one and still nothing. So again, not knowing anything about the software it was running, as I was just asked to fix the hardware. I gave them a call and asked what operating system does this run on and they told me DOS. Thankfully the person I was interacting with remembered the dawn of the computer age and knows what DOS is.
So a computer that runs DOS, point of sale or otherwise is much less finicky about having the hard drive removed and stuck in another computer. So back to my junk pile and I pull out an old Pentium III with 2 serial ports and drop the hard drive in it. I boot it up no problem. I then pop in the Linux SystemRescueCD (you can google this for a totally free tool) and backup the entire hard drive to another computer and burn a disc off for the owner.
Next comes the point of the discussion. I noticed that the computer had a built-in ethernet port which was unused and a PCI network card. The extra PCI network card was an “NE2000” compatible RealTek card, which has available DOS drivers and works with Rapid Fire (most network cards made today do not have DOS drivers). The built in network port on most if not all standard computers is not NE2000 compatible.
Now I’m not familiar with the Rapid Fire software or it’s configuration and upon asking the provider of the original hardware this was claimed to be proprietary information. Despite the fact that the pizza place I’m working with has a support contract. After some discussion they agreed to walk my client through the configuration rather than me (as if he doesn’t have phones to answer).
So now I’m really interested, why does someone need to pay $500-1000 for a computer that runs DOS with a $10 network card in it? Now I’m sure there are those that will claim these cards are special or they cost $100s, not true there is plenty of surplus available. Search eBay for NE2000 and here is a great bit discussing the NE2000 cards:
This is basically disgusting to me that providers of Rapid Fire hardware, including POSHotline.com would have their customers believe that they are using custom hardware you can’t buy elsewhere. This is not a flame, as that is exactly what I was told when I asked them, shortly before I was laughed at and hung up on, but I digress.
Now the next question…licensing? Who actually owns the rights to Rapid Fire, it seems Radiant bought the rights in 1997 though they no longer support it? When I asked POSHotline if I could buy just the software, I was told that it is not licensed that way? Does anyone out there know how it is licensed now, if at all? Seems to me it is either unavailable because Radiant owns it but doesn’t sell it anymore or perhaps it has fallen into the public domain or otherwise, I do not claim to know who owns it. If someone out there does know who owns it perhaps they can shed some light on the subject.
Finally, it has been claimed by some that any old computer with 2 serial ports and an NE2000 network card in it CANNOT run RapidFire…why not? Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps someone could point out the error in my thinking? More likely though, it seems that people are being sold fairly run of the mill computers at $600-1000 when pretty much anything will work (provided it has the necessary serial ports and ne2000 card).
Here’s the best part, if this is true. You old, old PC that your grandma is now using to get her email or even more likely is being placed into a landfill would satisfy the need. Why would you want an old computer for this purpose? Well, it would most likely be free, it probably has the serial ports built in or there is an internal header pin that they can be easily added to. Old computers were built much, much better than modern computers…this is largely due to planned obsolescence and the use of ever cheaper parts.
I understand that pizza places do not have IT departments and I understand that there is a place for profit when selling a product of course. Though I do not agree with taking something off the shelf, calling it something it isn’t and charging double what it cost you. To be sure you could not buy a replacement at Best Buy, however any local computer builder could most likely build one.
In conclusion, let me know what you think? Is it reasonable to have to pay such high prices to continue running antiquated software? Would you like more information regarding this concept? Do you mind running an old machine if it costs next to nothing? Do you know who owns the licensing to RapidFire? Should I put together a specific list of hardware recommendations? Do you have any hardware recommendations?