Desktop Linux could take off at airports, says Unisys

Unisys sees common use self-service check-in desks at airports as one of the first areas where desktop Linux could take off.

The airport check-in desk could be where "desktop" Linux usage takes off, according to Unisys's European coordinator of open-source software activities.

Moves across the air transport industry to introduce Common Use Self-Service (CUSS) check-in terminals at airports could present an opening for Linux, said Pierre Benne of Unisys France, speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Paris on Monday on the use of Linux in the enterprise.

Desktop Linux will likely be most successful in situations where the number of applications can be limited to an easy-to-use few, such as in call-center workstations, or in self-service airport check-in terminals, he said.

Apart from a few isolated trials, self-service check-in terminals are typically provided by airlines for the exclusive use of their own passengers.

In the future, however, "We envisage automated check-in kiosks which present a neutral interface, not tied to one airline," Benne said.

Unisys has a functioning kiosk system based on the Linux operating system, Benne said. "We could deploy it tomorrow," he said, adding that Unisys is negotiating with two airport management companies over the introduction of the terminals, and airlines on two continents have shown strong interest.

Benne is not alone in envisaging this: In May 2003, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published the first version of its specification for CUSS kiosks, and in October of that year McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas installed over 30 common-use check-in terminals developed by IBM Corp. and Arinc Inc. IBM and Arinc had previously supplied the kiosks for Air Canada's check-in service at Vancouver's airport in December 2002.

Other companies working with IATA on its CUSS project, in addition to IBM, Arinc and Unisys, include IER SA of Paris, NCR subsidiary Kinetics, Materna GmbH, ServiceTec and SITA.

Unisys has chosen Red Hat Linux for its check-in kiosk, said Benne, although the company also uses Suse Linux on other projects. The various client applications for each airline will run within the browser, he said. Unisys already offers a range of J2EE-based applications for the air transport industry under the Air Core brand.

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