Posted on 10:37, October 1st, 2010 by headgeek
Non-Computer Small Business Support – a.k.a. Newsletter
As I may have mentioned in the past, I’m a member of LINX, a local B2B referral networking group. On October 14 th, we will have a Visitor’s Day, where we open the doors, and invite everyone to come join us for breakfast, networking and introductions. If you would like more information, e-mail me
One of the other members, Lisa Wood has started a newsletter. Together we hope to be sending this out to many people. Lisa works with PayChoice, providing great payroll solutions to employers who need reliable and responsible payroll assistance and will be writing from that experience. I will be adding information for businesses to use technology for profit, not just as necessary tools. If you would like to help us test drive these newsletters or even contribute to them, please click here. This will add you to the manually managed list, of beta testers and contributors.
Yesterday I posted about Disaster Preparedness. This was short introduction to how I am managing my data needs to ensure business continuity. As I was discussing this with potential client, this morning, it occurred to me what I had written only covered severe disasters, such as flooding, fire or theft. There are other types of situations where Disaster Preparedness can turn an almost immediate profit for the time and energies spent. Let’s take a look at this scenario:
A law firm has a few lawyers, a couple of paralegals, an intern and a book keeper. A small staff totaling 8 people. If any one of these people are unavailable, the business can continue on, albeit slightly impacted. However, if any of the support staff are parents, particularly single parents, the impact can become very difficult, very quickly. The key idea here is to determine HOW a person may be able to work from a remote location, maintain connectivity with the office and still keep confidential information secure and protected.
Time to look to applications and websites such as GoToMyPC.com or LogMeIn.com. Both of these services offer remote desktop functionality over secured channels. However, these applications also require monthly subscriptions.
Two other potential resolutions are probably already available. Most businesses of this size are using a server, running Microsoft Windows Server. Many are even using Small Business Server (SBS). Both of these provide support for Virtual Private Networks (VPN); a private, encrypted tunnel is run through the internet between two locations, virtually inserting the remote computer into the business network. Once this connection is made and the employee’s personal computer is temporarily added to the network, the user can then use Microsoft’s built-in Remote Desktop functionality to access their workstation, as though sitting in front of it. Depending upon the speeds of the internet connections between the home PC and the office network, the end user may not even notice any differences in performance.
This is one way to keep private issues, such as sick children of employees, from having a large impact on business continuity.
I just received a ‘tweet’ from @KYBizInfo that stated: “Roughly 40 to 60 percent of small businesses never reopen their doors following a disaster.” 40 to 60 percent? That is a wide margin. Very wide. Too wide. So, out of curiosity, I followed the embedded link(s) and ended up at http://www.property-casualty.com/News/2009/11/Pages/Experts-Say-Small-Firms-Lag-In-Disaster-Planning.aspx
In her article, Experts Say Small Firms Lag In Disaster Planning , Caroline McDonald states that a majority of large businesses have the plans in place to handle serious issues that will affect their business in the event of catastrophe. This really got me thinking about my own business and the steps I have and have not taken to protect myself and what situations would cause serious or damaging hardship for me.
I keep all my records for my business in QuickBooks Premier. No, I am not plugging this application, it just works for my needs and has all the growth potential I need. I still prefer GunCash for my household financial tracking. QB is running on an XP machine, that I keep fully updated. This machine does nightly backups to a large file server. I also have QB running on my laptop and connect back to this system via VPN when I need to make an invoice, while onsite. When QB requests to backup the database, I always put that to a USB flash drive I keep in my tool kit.
The next set of records I have is my e-mails with customers. Currently my e-mails and domain are hosted. Using IMAP protocol, I organize my e-mails into folders that are on the hosting server and only delete items I will have absolutely no business need for (like spam) gets removed, daily, so I don’t over size my mailbox. I run a few rules against my mailbox that backups anything over 90 days old to the large fileserver in my home office and removes it from my mailbox. As an example, each customer and vendor has their own folder in my mailbox. So I can easily find anything to or from that customer or vendor. It really helps keep things organized.
And that is really about all I have to worry about. Sure, I’ve got a few template documents for agreements and such. They are backed up by a couple of processes. First, I sent them as attachments to myself on a gmail account.
Sure, I’ve got other pieces of software I use to work on client’s machines, but all of those are available online. Most of them (like anti virus and anti spyware/malware tools) get updated weekly or monthly as it is. For ease of use, the majority of my ‘toolbox’ fits nicely on a couple of special bootable CD’s. The ISO’s for are on a couple of USB flash drives I keep in my pocket for easy access as needed.
That’s really it. I have little or no inventory to worry about. And IF things were to go really bad and I lost my office and contents, I still have my laptop and USB flash drives. At the very worst, I still have my flash drives. A replacement laptop and a broadband internet connection would put me back in business in just a couple of brief hours.
How are you set up? Are your backups running? Are you getting the data you need included in your backups? Are those backups being taken off site, just in case something happens to the office? If something were to happen to your office, do you know where you would set up, again, permanently or temporarily? If any of these questions are not answered, we should have a conversation. There are A LOT of quality, low cost or no cost steps you can take, now, to prepare for what may happen. Let’s get together and discuss them.
WOW! It has been a crazy busy couple of weeks. I apologize for not posting more frequently.
The last few weeks have been very interesting for me. My new customer engagements are staying about the same, but I’m landing more work. Customer referrals are growing.
What does all this have to do with the tech side of the site? Well, I’ve found myself caught between two customer’s needs. Both critical, on-site with one and another calls in needing immediate assistance. With work unfinished, it is not right to just up and leave to assist another customer. This is where remote access applications come in handy and make it into my ‘required tools’ toolkit.
I’ve tried several web services such as Webex, GoToMyPC and others with various levels of success. On a whim I recently tried TeamViewer. At first I was very critical of the application, because of their licensing costs. As a service provider, I decided the reporting and the remote agent .msi install with re-branding features were what I would want. The reports are useful as they show the times and duration of connections to client machines that can be printed or added into an invoice or monthly statement. Their secure service handles file transfers with ease and is low on bandwidth needs by comparison of other services and products.
I will be purchasing that TeamViewer license in the nearest possible (read: $$$ available) future.
Posted on 11:17, August 12th, 2010 by headgeek
Backups – an Essential part of any IT solution
Backups, the failure of many an IT person. Failed backups have caused the loss of employment for many IT professionals. They run at night, during the off hours. If lucky the software sends an e-mail after each backup, detailing what was backed up and if the backup completed successfully. But just because you have backups and successful e-mails does not mean you are covered. The backups still need to be tested. After all, of the mission critical server were to go down, how long will it take to bring it back online? What will be missing? Who is impacted by that missing data? Can the machine be brought back to a ‘moment in time’? All of these questions are important, have a fiscal impact on the business and determine the quality of success.
Now for the ‘skinny’ on backups and what you think you may know.
First, tapes are dead. Using tapes for your mission critical backups is slow, unreliable and painful. Most data warehousing outfits with terabytes of data to be backed up are moving tapes to a thrid or fourth tier solution for very long term storage.
‘External Storage’ like USB drives are good for smaller environments, the SMB and individual workstations. Using a USB drive of sufficient size and a tool such as Clonezilla, a system can be restored to an image. Other features within a Windows domain environment, like folder redirection and roaming profiles helps to bring a client station or workstation back to a point in time, prior to the failure. Usually in about an hour, dependent upon the amount of data.
Larger enterprise environments are using ‘backup servers’ for their data storage needs. Through the use of redundant storage devices, backups occur across the network. Restores are performed the same way.
As you look to identify your backup solution, consider that with Server 2008, Microsoft no longer provides support for tape devices. Bare metal restores of system states via tape are no longer possible without specialized ASR (Automated System Recovery) disks.
So, keep these things in mind, and when you have questions, ask your nearest IT professional, then test the solution to make sure it works the way you need.
In essence a software license sometimes referred to as an End-User License Agreement (EULA) is a permit to use the software in question. There are many different licenses types for Free and Open Source Software and most commercial software vendors will have a unique license to their product. But this really does not define what a license IS. Rather than give definitions I prefer to relate to other situations a person may already be familiar with.
Let’s take a look at an unrelated issue to get a better understanding of Software Licenses. Legal operation of your vehicle on public roads is what we are going to use to demonstrate the complicated issues of software licenses. Please keep in mind this is a generalization, is not specific to any particular license or type and more detailed questions will be welcomed.
To legally operate your vehicle on the public roads in this country you are required to have three specific things, the first is an operators license or permit, often referred to as a driver’s license. Next, for most vehicles, is a license plate, which shows or demonstrates taxes paid on the vehicle in question. And finally proof of auto insurance to show the ability to pay for damages in the event of a mishap.
So, now that we have these items in mind, let’s start relating them to software licenses. In a business environment there are generally two classifications of machines: workstations and servers. Workstations (the computer at the desk of the user) usually require an Operating System and then specific applications that the user employes to execute the tasks of their job. The Operating System (OS) may be some version of Windows (XP, Vista, Win7, etc), the Mac OS (if the workstation is an Apple product), or a distribution of Linux or Unix. Applications run on the machine can range from Firefox to MS Office, Quickbooks, or a custom piece of software written for a particular business. Each of these pieces of software have licenses. The OS license is like the license plate on a vehicle. Without an OS, the machine is unlikely to be useful for anything more than a paperweight. The individual application licenses are like a drivers license or an operator’s permit.
Servers are a bit different, but have many commonalities. For example, a server is still a computer that requires an operating system (license plate). For our example, we will use the Microsoft server model, even though there are several licensing models, this one is currently the most prevalent. Most Microsoft Server licenses include the single machine license (license plate) and 5 Client Access Licenses (CALs). The Client Access License is only a permit for a specific number of users to access the services of the operating system or specific application running on the server. For example, Microsoft includes in the base Server operating system ‘services’ such as file sharing. So, if you were to use a machine with Microsoft Server as a file server for an office of 10 machines, you will need to purchase the OS (Server 2003 or Server 2008) plus 5 additional Client Access Licenses. Only 5 additional CALs are required because Server 2003 and Server 2008 both include 5 CALs.
Now to take this to another level of confusion, let’s add an application such as Microsoft Exchange to the situation. Microsoft Exchange is an e-mail service with many additional collaboration components. But, in essence, MS Exchange is JUST an application like MS Word. In this example, you still need the Server 2003 or 2008 Operating System. If you desire to still use the server as a file server AND still run Exchange, you will still need a CAL for each user that will be accessing the file sharing services. On top of this, you will need the license for Exchange. AND a CAL for each user that will be accessing Exchange for e-mail (special drivers license). Now to get your e-mail from the Exchange services, you need a client application, like MS Outlook which also needs it’s own license (though it is usually included in the MS Office Suite).
Licensing of the above ten user network breaks down like this:
On the server hardware is the Operating System (Server 2003 or 2008) with it’s license.
10 Client Access Licenses (CALs) are also needed, one for each user that will be accessing the file share on this server.
1 Exchange License to provide the e-mail and collaboration services
10 Exchange CALs, one for each user that will be checking e-mail on the server
On the workstations is the Operating System (Windows XP, Vista or 7) with it’s license.
1 user license for MS Outlook to access the Exchange Services.
The Operating System licenses are like license plates. Without the license plate, it is very difficult to operate a vehicle, legally.
The Application licenses are like a drivers license, again, a necessity to legally drive on public roads.
The Client Access Licenses (CALs) are more like your insurance premiums. If you have a business vehicle (like a delivery truck) employees that will be using that vehicle will need a valid drivers license and possibly a special classification (like an application license). But for each employee you have that will be using that vehicle, your insurance premium will go up. You need not insure each employee to be a driver on that vehicle, only the specific employees that will be using it. The same is true in the above example with Exchange. If your business has employees that will not need access to Exchange, then there is no need to get a CAL assigned to them or to provide them with unnecessary software tool.
I hope this is helpful. If you have any questions, please leave a comment or e-mail me.
VistaPrint and New Business
Just for the record, I wanted to state that I really like VistaPrint for business cards and other material one might find they need. Reasonable prices, fast service and delivery and a very wide selection of samples and templates.
Yes, I know, VistaPrint is not a local company. I DO prefer doing business with local companies, but both the local print companies are extremely proud of their product. I have purchased cards from both and had them price the VistaPrint cards as done by them. The VistaPrint price, delivered in 7 days was 10.99 for 250 cards. Local shop 1 could deliver the 250 cards in 3 days for $65.00. Local shop 2 could deliver 500 cards as a minimum on a lighter weight stock in 9 days for $78.00. Both would have been required to charge tax as it was a local purchase. Both also wanted a one-time setup fee of $125.00.
VistaPrint is, in my opinion, a reasonable, respectable resource for quality print and promotional items.
Scribus for Desktop Publishing
Taking a bit of a side step, today. A few posts back I started on writing about OpenOffice and how it can be used to replace or in place of Microsoft’s Office suites. Today, I’m gong to break away from OpenOffice to introduce Scribus. I will be using Scribus today and tomorrow as I make up fliers to be handed out on Wednesday in the Business Building at the local County Fair.
Microsoft Publisher is an application that can be used to create and publish clean and professional looking websites. Originally Publisher was known as a Desk Top Publishing application. It can still be used for the creation of newsletters, fliers, brochures, catalogs and just about anything put to paper. Before Publisher, people would have to take their ideas and manual layouts to a print house where all of this was done for them. But now, anyone with the program and a computer can print like a big shop from a simple color printer.
Though Publisher is of superior quality, other applications from Adobe and Mac are much more realistic for commercial use.
Scribus, is, of a yet higher quality. Being extremely flexible and easy to use, Scribus is great for the professional as well as the home-user. Unlike Publisher, which works only on the Windows platform, Scribus is a freely available application that works with just about any operating system platform, being much more universal. A wider number of people are exposed to the application due to this simple fact.
The benefits of Scribus over MS Publisher start with pricing. Scribus is an Open Source project and application. That means everyone has access to the source code, can write extensions and plug-ins, offer patches and improvements. When a new version of Scribus is released, it will have been made available to a beta test team that anyone can join and participate in. None of this is possible with the current Microsoft model of closed source tools and solutions.
Another benefit is that Scribus can edit Publisher documents, so any investment made into Publisher or a received Publisher document can be edited in Scribus.
Scribus is also able to generate commercial grade PDF documents supporting ICC Color, separations, spot color and CMYK.
Scribus has a well established reputation, very few complaints and many high reviews, and the application is growing more and more popular, very quickly. Give it a try, yourself, and you will be telling others about it, as well.
Posted on 14:35, July 13th, 2010 by headgeek
Another useful function of OpenOffice suite is the freely available extensions and add-ons. In particular the Sun Weblog Publisher ( http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/project/swp). This extension is very useful for anyone with a blog website, like this one.
After Selecting the type of blog site, next enter the url to the xmlrpc.php file. On a self hosted WP site, the url will be ‘yourdomainname.com/xmlrpc.com’ one of the easiest ways to verify this is to visit the first page of you blog. If there is a /wp/ or other /’s in the address line, contact me via e-mail with your web site address and I will help you determine where to find the xmlrpc.php file.
Once you have identified and entered the path to the xmlrpc.php file, next, just enter the username and password you setup when you created the WP site. You will want to use one that has write permissions.
Once this is all entered select ‘OK’ and your configuration is complete. The next step is the hardest part. Write an article you want to have published to your blog. Sorry, I can’t help with that part of the process, much.
When you have your OpenOffice Writer document written and formatted the way you want, look on the button bar for a new icon that will look like a feather with an up arrow. The feather is actually supposed to be an old style quill. Click this button and a dialog box similar to this will open.
Now, just insert a title, select an appropriate category and click OK.
Now go look at your blog. Your new article should be there after a refresh.
I used these very steps to create and publish this post.
Posted on 11:50, July 9th, 2010 by headgeek
Free and Open Source Software – OpenOffice Suite – Calc
Calc is the OpenOffice challenge to Excel. Calc is able to provide most all of the same calculations, charts, graphs and other tasks of Excel without the heavy investment.
Similarities between Calc and Excel
The Calc application has a very similar look and feel to Excel. The human process of adding or editing information to a cell in either application is the same, double click that cell and start typing. Formula are entered in the same way. The standard menu options and buttons are, for the most part the same, and you can expect similar results form their use.
Differences between Calc and Excel
One of the most useful features of Calc (and the entire OpenOffice Suite) is the ability to export directly to PDF. This option is available from MS Office apps with an add-on application to convert the original document to PDF.
While in Calc, it is easy to open another document. This is not limited to just another spreadsheet, but all the applications of the OpenOffice Suite are available. This simple inclusion to the File → New menu link makes integration of of charts, tables and forms into other document types very easy.
Deleting cells in Calc is a bit less intuitive than in Excel, but with good reason. In Excel, if you high light a cell, then press delete the contents of the cell are gone. However, the same process in Calc will provide a dialog box from which you are able ot make other choices, such as the deletion of a string, a number, notes of formula, as well as Formats and objects. To delete the contents of a cell at a single key press, highlight the cell as above, and use the backspace key.
Another important difference is the separator value in formula. In Excel that separator character is a comma to delineate between values. Calc uses a semi-colon. The vocabulary is slightly different as well. In Calc the function values are called parameters while in Excel they are referred to as arguments.
Excel also has an important tool known as a Pivot Table. Calc has a comparable function known as a DataPilot. Though the names are different the results are the same with very few limitations.
Like Writer and all the other parts of the OpenOffice Suite, Calc is available free to anyone who wishes to use it, the same license applies to home and commercial uses.
Even with these differences, the OpenOffice productivity suite is worth checking out, considering the cost differences and the licensing limitations of MS Office.