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Viable, a Rockville, Md. provider of next-generation video relay and videoconferencing services and products for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, upgraded to a new enterprise platform, which enabled the business to add a new call center every month and provide remote management across worldwide locations. Jason Yeh, vice president of technology, tells IncTechnology.com that the business was outgrowing its previous technology solution and needed a more scalable platform to support expansion. Elizabeth Wasserman: Tell us about your business. Jason Yeh: Viable is a community video-relay service provider, a company that provides interpreting communications services for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, enables the deaf to make video phone relay calls through an interpreter and through videoconferencing solutions, and provide hardware and software video phone equipment that enable people to communicate through our video relay services. We have more than 250 employees and we were founded in 2005. Most of our executive team and management are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Because we are the market, we understand who the target market is and understand the value and importance of communication. Wasserman: How quickly was your company growing and what did that do to your technology needs? Yeh: We’re only four years old. We’re a very young company that started to grow incredibly fast and we encountered a lot of computer management and growth issues and challenges. One was call center expansion across the United States. We needed to have the capability of establishing a functional call center in a short amount of time. So after we decide on a location, we had a very short time in order to get it up and running and functional. That presented a challenge to our IT team, in terms of setting up the network infrastructure and all the IT side. One of the challenges was setting up all the equipment, workstations, etc. to ensure that everything was operationally stable. The installation of all our applications in all the call centers took so much time and manpower and support for troubleshooting small detail items to get the call center up and running. Another issue we faced was that as we grew out infrastructure and data centers had more capability and that meant we needed more hardware, server equipment, and so on to handle a lot of data with streaming video. We now have more than five data centers around the U.S. and that required more server set up, more travel and higher expenses. Wasserman: What made you decide to change your enterprise platform? Yeh: Our business was growing so fast. Just in the last couple of years from 2007-08, we’ve tripled in size. We needed to have an enterprise system capable of providing us a faster recovery, quicker set up, and to ensure our set up time was as short as possible to aid us in getting us in getting call centers up and running. We were able to set up an imaging system where we replicate the installation and integrate our platform and it would help us go much faster. What we have is ZENworks Configuration Manager from Novell. That’s helped us deal with patch management, deployment, systems installation, and the set up and remote management of more than 100 workstations. Moving to an enterprise solution has allowed us to reduce our setup time in call centers by 80 percent and it saved us costs as well — well over 50 percent of the transportation and labor costs. Before, we did not have an enterprise system. We were just running business operations on several different home-grown applications that fit specific needs. Wasserman: When did you upgrade and what results have you seen? Yeh: In September 2008 was when we did the initial move to the enterprise solution. It allowed us to reduce our set up time in call centers by 50 percent and it saved us costs as well — well over 50 percent of the costs. That’s because we don’t have to constantly send our technicians all over the country to set up the infrastructure anymore. We can do a lot of the work remotely. All the installations and set up for each of the work stations we can do remotely. This really allows us a lot of scalability and the ability to deploy new call centers more rapidly. As you can imagine, that allows us to scale our new business at the same rate or faster into the next few years.
Many small and mid-sized businesses rely on Microsoft Exchange servers and services to manage e-mail and collaboration processes. But there are a growing number of alternative products on the market, each trying to chip away at Microsoft’s market share by delivering similar functionality for less money, making its software available on a non-Windows platform, or offering unique products and services not found in Microsoft Exchange. What Microsoft Exchange is Developed by the Redmond, Wash. software giant, Microsoft Exchange is the leading messaging and collaborative software solution, widely embraced by both small and mid-sized businesses and larger enterprises. Installed on a company’s premises, this server-based software is used for managing e-mail, calendaring, contacts, and tasks — all part of the Microsoft Office suite on the client end. Exchange also supports mobile and Web-based access to company info. Additionally, Microsoft’s offerings offers data storage, shared folders, and unified messaging solutions — such as accessing your voicemail box via e-mail or listening to your e-mail over the phone. “I wouldn’t say it’s the ‘de facto’ server solution but it’s certainly the leader in both revenue and the number of organizations,” says Mark Levitt, vice president of collaboration and enterprise 2.0 strategies at the Framingham, Mass.-based IDC research firm. “Because Microsoft has established itself as a provider of many applications and products, companies see value for a single source that offers a variety of management solutions, all using the same underlying Windows platform,” Levitt says. “Plus all upgrades and patches for multiple products can be handled by one company, which is very appealing.” The trouble with trying to compete According to Gary Chen, a senior analyst for enterprise research at the Boston, Mass.-based Yankee Group, e-mail management is “pretty much a two horse race” between Microsoft Exchange and IBM Lotus Domino and Notes. “Exchange is definitely the leader — they’ve come up a lot over the past few years — though [IBM] Lotus Notes has really put a lot of effort into making a resurgence, and they have some interesting things on their roadmap,” says Chen. “Exchange can be hard to manage and the alternatives are cheaper, so [competing products] may find a niche for themselves.” Along with IBM Lotus Notes, Chen says Novell GroupWise is also a popular alternative for mid-sized businesses. “There are clear advantages to going with an accepted platform like Exchange, though,” concedes Chen. “In terms of the skills, ecosystem, and add-on products that you can take advantage of, Microsoft applications dominate [small and mid-sized businesses] and mid-market, and Microsoft has been integrating heavily with Exchange and SharePoint.” For some companies, e-mail isn’t a top priority, adds Chen. “Many rely on advanced functionality, applications that might be critical to their business, like unified messaging and shared folders – something Exchange does well.” PostPath and others Levitt says there are many alternatives to Microsoft Exchange. Along with IBM Lotus Domino and Notes and Novell GroupWise, competing integrated collaborative environments (ICE a.k.a. “groupware”) include Oracle Collaboration Suite, Yahoo!’s Zimbra Collaboration Suite, and PostPath, “which looks just like an Exchange server to other Exchange servers and to Outlook clients,” says Levitt. Sina Miri, spokesman for PostPath, which Cisco agreed to acquire on Aug. 27, says their clients prefer PostPath to Microsoft Exchange Server for a few reasons. The most critical is PostPath performs better on all hardware, says Miri. “This is especially true with modest and even low-end hardware, plus it’s low maintenance due to its architecture and the use of the file system as opposed to Exchange and its Jet database,” explains Miri. Standalone e-mail server software competitors include Sun Mail Server, CommuniGate, Ipswitch, MailSite, Gordano, Mirapoint, Scalix, and the Unix-based Sendmail. Levitt says free hosted consumer-oriented webmail services are often used by individuals for business purposes — such as Yahoo!, Gmail and Windows Live Hotmail — or free mailboxes bundled into Internet connectivity services, such as AOL, Comcast, Earthlink, Research in Motion, Verizon, and so on. Linux, too Linux has grown to be a low-cost alternative to Windows, says Levitt, and so companies like IBM, Novell, and Sun “have embraced the alternative operating system with competitors to Microsoft Exchange, which operate on the Windows platform.” The open-source movement can’t be ignored, says Levitt, especially with relatively high upfront costs for Microsoft Exchange, “not to mention ongoing upgrades, some of which you have to pay for, as well a licensing complexities when you’re dealing with multiple computers.” On the flipside, however, it might be harder for IT people to manager alternative software, which might add to your bottom line. “Many rush to open-source products because there is no initial check to write, but you don’t get anything for free,” cautions Levitt. “There are always associated costs when you’re dealing with a product not as well established or supported as Microsoft Exchange.”
Anyone can obtain free and open source software (FOSS), and install it on the company’s computers. Just think: no expensive proprietary software that demands multi-user licenses. But before you download any of these programs onto your business computers, software experts recommend that you ask a few questions about FOSS liability issues such as licenses, copyrights, patents, and trademarks. The reason is that violating any of these intellectual property protections can risk embroiling your business in litigation — maybe not right now but at any point in the future. “If you make copies or distribute modified versions of the software without satisfying the conditions (i.e. without permission), you infringe the copyright, which gives the copyright holder access to certain legal remedies,” says The Legal Issues Primer for Open Source and Free Software Projects, published by the Software Freedom Law Center, which provides legal representation for FOSS projects. “In particular, the copyright holder can sue you for damages or ask a court to order you not to make or distribute further copies.” The Primer emphasizes that users need to know the conditions stated in their FOSS license so that they are not unwittingly violating copyright law. The first thing users need to know when they purchase open source software is if they received it from a reputable source, advises Philip Robb, a research and development manager in HP’s Linux and Open Source Organization. Robb is also general manager of FOSSBazaar.org, an open source community of technology and industry leaders who are collaborating to push for adoption of free and open source software in business. Robb says that a software company in disarray will not have security updates on their website to protect users from malware or Trojan viruses in FOSS products, which could have the potential to bring your business to its knees. License and copyleft questions Software licenses and copyrights are different in the FOSS world. Developers and programmers in the FOSS ecosystem write these open source software programs collaboratively under an open source license, which permits users to use, change, copy, and distribute these programs free of charge, provided that they follow the licensing guidelines of the software. Most commercial software doesn’t allow you to change a program and redistribute it — unless you specifically negotiate that in a license. You should know what particular FOSS license your software holds and what are that license’s restrictions. For example, Linux uses the GPU General Public License (GPL), which is more restrictive about modifications and additions than the liberal Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) or Berkeley Unix license which gives unlimited use to developers and users. The GPL is a “copyleft” license, which means that whoever receives the modified software must also adhere to the same GPL license restrictions, so that the functionality of the source code will continue to improve. Robb stresses that users should remember, “a copyleft has an author who dictates through their license what the downstream user (those who use the software after it had been modified) can do.” However, if you’re using this software for your own purposes and not distributing it to a third party, then you won’t need to stick with these restrictions. Patent and trademark concerns The FOSS community discourages patents since patented software runs counter to their philosophy of distributing free software and having it modified by someone else downstream. When there is a patent infringement of an open source software program, the FOSS community rallies around the defendant, such as was the case when Firestar Software sued Red Hat. The community wanted to protect the patent and when Red Hat settled the lawsuit, the terms protected the software in both the upstream (the predecessors to Red Hat) and downstream communities. “Software patents are a threat to users and developers of all varieties of software, and whether a company uses FOSS or proprietary software is unlikely to have much effect on its legal liability,” Says Aaron Williamson, counsel for the Software Freedom Law Center. He continues that, “It is often impossible for users and developers of software to know whether a given program infringes existing patents; the question requires exhaustive searching, careful legal analysis, and often guesswork to answer. Some FOSS licenses attempt to mitigate the harm of software patents by causing developers and licensees of software to grant broad licenses over any patents they own which might be read on the software.” Trademarks are another issue all together. For end-users, trademarks aren’t a liability issue. Williamson says that trademark law is designed to protect consumers from confusing the knock-off project with the real one. If a company takes a logo without asking and then redistributes it or if a distributor markets its program and says that the creators of a related software project endorsed it, then a trademark infringement would occur. Also, if users build a support community around an open source project, they need to ask permission from the FOSS developers to make sure that it’s okay to use their name and logo in the support community. Risks of open source agreements The risks of violating licensing, copyleft, and other intellectual property agreements involving FOSS aren’t any greater than the risks your business undertakes licensing commercial software, according to Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, which helps users and tech members navigate open source software legal matters. “You take risks anytime you enter into a vendor/employer relationship.” Zemlin says. These days, large companies have put their faith in FOSS, such as Motorola, which uses Linux software in its cell phones. Zemlin adds that companies such as Red Hat, Oracle, and Novell, which install Linux for customers and also sell Linux support subscriptions, indemnify customers from legal risks. “The point of FOSS is having a huge vendor ecosystem that can assist mid-sized companies and indemnify their customers” in case of a patent infringement lawsuit, he adds. Robb adds that Fossbazaar and Fossology, the latter a user community that facilitates the study of FOSS and provides free tools, can help users and developers gather information about FOSS licensing. Through webpapers and discussion groups, the sites try to lessen confusion and fears about using and managing FOSS, including patent infringement. These support communities, so prevalent in the FOSS world, give users an advantage over proprietary companies because they want to protect the FOSS system and its philosophy of the open distribution of knowledge. Another justification for using FOSS, according to Williamson, is that users have more range and freedom with FOSS than with proprietary software. They also know what to expect: FOSS license rights and responsibilities are brief and to the point, as opposed to the terms in proprietary licenses, which are generally long and jargon-filled.
IT certifications are one way to distinguish between well-trained job candidates and prospects whose skills on specific hardware or software aren’t quite up to par. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. In recent times, however, an overabundance of certifications and widespread cheating on exams caused in part by lax security at testing centers have tarnished IT certifications’ reputation in the eyes of many human-resources executives and hiring managers. “It’s a big problem,” agrees Don Sorensen, marketing vice president at Caveon, a Salt Lake City test security company. He says there are “literally hundreds” of so-called “braindump” websites that share or sell test questions. According to a 2007 report from the Association of Test Publishers, of 101 IT vendors and certification test centers surveyed, slightly more than half said that 46 percent or more of their IT certification tests had been copied, stolen or breached in some other way in the recent past. Some test givers said their new tests could be found on braindump websites within a month of being published, and in some cases, as soon as two days, according to the report. Industry groups, testing centers, test security organizations, and individual companies are taking steps to curb cheating and spiff up the image of IT certifications. One of them is Cisco Systems, which as of April 2008 had issued 1 million certifications to IT professionals — working at small, medium, and large companies — who take courses and pass tests on routing and switching, network security, and storage networking, among similar topics. “In the past we’ve done a lot to protect the integrity of our certifications, but we haven’t talked about it much,” says Fred Weiller, Cisco’s marketing director for career training and certifications. “Now we’re on a communications campaign to explain how we protect certifications. Our goal is zero cheating, zero trade offs.” Industry taking action The actions Cisco is taking to keep certification test questions from falling into the wrong hands reflect steps other companies and industry associations are taking as well. They include: Limiting the number of test vendors they work with to one, PearsonVUE, a global testing company. Dumping paper-based tests in favor of computer-based tests, which allows test companies to analyze data to flag individuals whose scores or behavior indicate something’s fishy. “We can ban some candidates for life,” Weiller says. Constantly monitoring security at testing facilities, to check test results for trends that might indicate cheating is going on. Photographing test takers to ensure they aren’t using proxies to take tests for them, then making photos available to HR and hiring managers “to prove they’re interviewing the person who took the test,” Weiller says. Changing tests so they’re more difficult to memorize or reproduce, by including for example, simulations that force candidates to draw network diagrams rather than answer multiple-choice questions. In addition to cheaters, certifications have lost some of their luster because there are so many of them. Cisco and Microsofthave issued more than 3.25 million certifications since the early 1990s. That’s when IT vendors first began using certification tests to document that employees were proficient in using newly released software programs. The Computing Technology Industry Association, another IT trade group, has issued 1 million certifications in its lifetime, and vendors such as Novell run certification programs too. There’s a reason why software developers, network managers and other IT professionals like certifications so much some are willing to cheat to get them: a fatter pay check. A network analyst with a college degree, experience on the job and a certification earns $74,285 a year, compared to $66,000 without certification, and $61,200 with neither certification or past job experience, according to the March 2008 IT Skills and Salary Report, published by Global Knowledge, an IT training company, and TechRepublic, an IT online magazine. How to protect your business What else can small and mid-sized businesses do to make sure they’re not hiring or promoting cheaters? Just as there’s a difference between Harvard and your local community college, not all IT certifications are equal. The highest-valued certification programs are the most in demand, command the highest salaries, and are most relevant to the job. Pay attention to how often a certification needs to be renewed. In a profession where hardware and software updates happen yearly or more often, how relevant is a certification someone got 10 years ago? Look at how self-critical a re-certification program is. “The rigor they put on their customers to stay on top of the technology is key,” says Erik Ullanderson, Cisco’s global certifications manager. Don’t base hiring decisions solely on a candidate’s certification. Connie Shaw, is HR director at Tyler Technologies’ EDEN Division, a Renton, Wash., business that sells utility billing and other software and services to cities and local governments. A portion of EDEN’s 170-person staff are project managers, technical support crew and Website or software developers. “When I’m recruiting it’s not just about a person’s education, background, experience and fit,” Shaw says. “It’s important to evaluate all those factors and then make your decision.”
In the wake of a bit of negative feedback and press, some small and mid-sized business leaders are understandably reluctant to move to upgrade to what Microsoft calls its “next logical step,” the latest version of its popular Windows operating system software, Windows Vista. The reports have raised concerns about incompatibilities with existing software, lack of drivers for existing hardware, and confusion for employees. As a result, some businesses are opting to stay with the last version, Windows XP, or find alternatives. The trouble with staying put with XP is that Microsoft has a reputation for eventually forcing users to migrate to the newest edition of its software. Windows XP will continue to be supported by Microsoft for only a few years. All versions of Windows XP will receive free security patches as well as non-security related updates, but only until April 2009. After that, they will receive security related patches only, until April 2014 when they stop supporting XP completely. So the pressure is for small and mid-sized businesses to make a choice. While some may decide to stay with XP and switch to Vista only when they buy new machines, others feel that simply sitting still just isn’t an appropriate plan for the future. The new Intel-based family of Mac computers is an attractive alternative for home computer users, but ultimately there are simply too many PC-specific needs in the business realm, at least at the enterprise level. Decisions, decisions “You have to live in this world as it exists,” says Richard Giroux, IT Manager at Whitelaw Twining Law Corp. of Vancouver, B.C. “but sometimes you get to choose alternatives. Deciding not to upgrade to Windows Vista was one of those times.” Last year, Giroux moved all the desktops in Whitelaw Twining Law, more than 40 workstations, away from Microsoft to Novell Linux Desktop and SUSE Linux. The firm is planning to bring all the laptops over to Linux as well later this year. Just in operating system (OS) licenses alone, he figures Whitelaw Twining has saved between $10,000 and $15,000. “And that’s not counting the amount of time it used to take for Windows maintenance on each desktop,” Giroux says. “Updates, patches, virus, and spyware problems, it was a never-ending treadmill. Now? Hardly any, almost none. Some desktops now running Linux I haven’t touched in a year.” For the most part, Windows users don’t have to give up their preferred software to move to Linux. Giroux says the firm still uses a few Windows proprietary apps, but using Wine (an Open Source Windows emulator) on Linux to deal with it does the trick. Linux has often been considered too “geeky” for the average desktop user, but that’s no longer true. Some Linux distributions have been crafted specifically for Windows users seeking an alternative. Xandros Linux is one of the easiest desktop systems to make the Windows-to-Linux cross-over. So easy, in fact, that Xandros was the company chosen by AsusTek Computer to build an operating system for it’s highly regarded Eee PC. The tiny ground-breaking laptops run a customized OEM version of Xandros. “Xandros Linux was created just for this purpose, to be an alternative choice that just works,” says Steven Harris, vice president of communications at Xandros. “Xandros Desktop works as well as any Microsoft based system in a Windows-centric environment. And while Xandros comes with loads of productivity tools like OpenOffice, most Windows specific applications, like Microsoft Office, will easily run on Xandros Linux as well.” Windows replacements Novell SUSE and Xandros aren’t the only potential replacements for Microsoft Windows. Some other excellent alternatives to Windows Vista — but by no means all — include PCLinuxOS, MEPIS, Linspire, openSUSE, Fedora, Mandriva, CentOS, Ubuntu and more. Probably the best place to begin your search through potential Linux versions is Distrowatch.com, a website devoted to listing all the different Linux distros. You can find these and more at Distrowatch, as well as links to all webpages relevant to each, including reviews and community sites, both excellent resources to help make that important decision. “Linux has proven to be rock solid, with no need for retraining staff. No one here has ever had a problem working with this OS, it takes no more than 10 minutes training to set someone up on one of our desktops,” says Giroux. “Linux works just like Vista, only without the pain.”
With presence on about 450 million desktops, Microsoft Outlook is by far the most widely used email application in the world, but it’s not popular with everyone. Some small business owners feel they don’t have the skills to administer support for Outlook. IT managers at mid-size businesses may fear it will be more susceptible to viruses and worms than other programs. Still others “just don’t like Microsoft,” says Erica Driver, principal analyst with Forrester Research, of Cambridge, Mass. Price comparison Price may also be an issue for some, though Microsoft’s email offering appears to be competitive with most of its competitors. An average cost for Outlook is hard to pin down. The Standard Edition of Exchange Server 2007 (Outlook is Microsoft’s desktop application; Exchange runs on servers) retails for $699. Customers also have to buy client access licenses, which are $67 per user. Customers can also pay $25 per user to get additional features and software assurance. But those who buy five or more licenses at a time get a 25 percent discount and there are more bulk discounts beyond that. To confuse things further, most of the time Outlook is bundled in Office, Microsoft’s desktop product suite, as well. Office Basic starts at $129 per user. Driver says she’s done the math and that running Microsoft’s email programs using Microsoft back-end software amounts to $100 per user, while Novell GroupWise is $130 per user and Sun Java Enterprise System costs $140 per employee per year. IBM’s Lotus Domino Messaging Express is $99, she says. Email penetration and security While no one tracks email penetration among small businesses, the picture on the consumer side is one of complete domination by Microsoft. At retail, Microsoft has 99.98 percent of the email software market, according to the NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y. market research firm. For businesses, Microsoft’s lead isn’t quite as commanding. Driver says no one has a majority of the market, which is split on the server side between Microsoft IBM, Sun and Novell. Leilani Quiles, IT director for Tew Cardenas, a 130-person law firm in Miami, is a fan of GroupWise. When Quiles started at her job seven years ago, the firm was already using the program. “Every so often the subject comes up to explore Exchange or Outlook,” Quiles says. But the consensus is that employees like the calendaring function too much. Quiles also thinks GroupWise is more secure. That contention comes from a similar argument to Apple’s when its operating system is compared to Microsoft’s: Because GroupWise and other email programs command a smaller share of the market, they represent a less juicy target for makers of viruses. He says, she says Not surprisingly, Microsoft considers such claims bunk. Jessica Arnold, product manager for Outlook, points out that the latest version of Outlook, Outlook 2007, has stepped up calendar functions (users can even publish their calendars on Office Online to let others collaborate on scheduling) and anti-phishing features. She adds that Microsoft is well aware of virus threats and makes use of beta testing to make Outlook more bulletproof. “Obviously, there will always be people who want to create viruses targeted at different programs,” Arnold says. “I wouldn¹t say Microsoft is alone in that.” So why go with one of the competitors? Phil Karren, product manager for GroupWise, says Novell’s system is easier to use, cheaper and more secure than Exchange. “What we see is I have some customers with 700 users and there’s one IT guy managing it all,” he says. Karren says another benefit is that GroupWise “tends to be a lot more frugal with the hardware.” That means that it works better with older systems than Exchange.
“March 11, 2007” doesn’t have the same ring as “Y2K,” but thanks to a change in daylight savings time on that date, small and mid-size businesses will have some Y2K-like problems if they don’t prepare. In an attempt to improve energy efficiency, the U.S. Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and that has shifted daylight savings time starting this year. Clocks will “spring ahead” on the second Sunday in March – March 11 — instead of the first Sunday in April. The clocks will revert back on the first Sunday in November instead of the last Sunday in October. On the tech front, that means that if your computer system’s internal clocks are still programmed for the old daylight savings time, it will mess up calendaring systems, which will lead to all sorts of problems. Each device that you use to run your business – from PCs to laptops to BlackBerrys – may end up an hour behind the actual time in your time zone. The worst-case scenario The risk to a small or mid-size business varies greatly depending on the type of business, the business’ reliance on technology, and what actions you take between now and March 11. The impact can range from a minor inconvenience – such as computer clocks showing the wrong time — to potential business hazards – such as transactions failing to be completed. There are also potential life and death situations, such as for companies that make timed medical devices. “It ranges from you and I are off on a meeting for one hour to a home health medication device that isn’t working on time,” says Ray Wang, principal analyst with Forrester Research, of Cambridge, Mass., “to transactions and other kinds of contracts that aren’t executed.” Many small and mid-size businesses are still unaware of the daylight savings glitch, says Jason Werner, product marketing manager for software maker Novell. “Everyone must pay attention and deal with this problem,” Werner says. “We’re not looking at Y2K all over again, but it is certainly problematic.” The fact that Y2K was overblown in the press is another reason why many are sanguine about this latest computer hiccup, Wang says. “It’s been known for a while, but people haven’t given it much attention.” What a small business can do What can business leaders do to avoid business problems resulting from the daylight savings time glitch? In a word, patches. All the major software makers, including Microsoft, Apple, Research in Motion, and Novell, are offering software patches, which can be downloaded or are part of special software updates. (Microsoft’s new operating system, Vista, is compliant with the new change in daylight savings time.) Novell is one of several firms that offer patch management software. For $17 per device per year, that system addresses such potential headaches on a regular basis. In this case, Novell has offered a daylight savings time patch for months. Werner says the program is especially attractive to small businesses because it is compatible with legacy systems like Windows 98 and Windows XP. Adam Gray, chief technology officer with Novacoast, a Salt Lake City-based IT and product development consultancy with about 100 employees, says the whole process of updating his company’s computers took about 15 minutes with the help of Novell’s product. “It was so easy,” Gray says. “I’m looking at companies that are struggling with this and what it tells me is that they don’t have their act together when it comes to standard system maintenance.” There may be other such tests in the future. Many thought Y2K would be the last time that the tech world would have to grapple with a date-related issue, but Werner cautions that more changes may be on the horizon. “In two years, Congress could decide this isn’t working,” he says, “and decide to go back.”
The beginning of 2007 will see the arrival of a new version of a widely used computer operating system (OS). This latest version will see many new advances over the current editions, and is likely to be quickly adopted in the coming months. This isn’t Windows Vista, the long-awaited update of Microsoft’s flagship computer operating system. This new much-heralded update is actually based on Linux, the open-source operating system. The major launch is Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, expected to be commercially available in January. That will be followed soon after by Open Enterprise Server from Novell. And while Linux is still trailing Microsoft’s computer OS in overall popularity, it has a higher growth rate while coming from a small base, according to George Weis, an analyst with Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Conn. research firm. Much of this growth is coming in computer servers, popular with some small and mid-size businesses that deal in a high volume of data over a network. “The two OS for the server in the future will be Linux and Windows,” Weis says. “Linux is an economical cost-justified OS for the X86, Intel-compatible platform, and the benefit of Linux over Unix is really closing.” Linux has about $8 billion in annual revenue from server shipments, which is expected to grow to about $13 billion by 2011, according to a Gartner forecast. At the same time, Microsoft’s Windows will likely raise $22 billion in revenue from servers over the same time. But the interesting factor is that the $13 billion in revenue for Linux is in a market for what many people consider free software. History of Linux Linux isn’t a new phenomenon. Linux was developed in the early 1990s as an alternative to an OS called MINIX, itself an alternative to Unix. Linus Torvalds, then a student at the University of Helsinki, wanted to develop something that was both free and open. The result was Linux. During the past decade, software has maintained cult popularity, offering a desktop alternative to Windows or the Apple OS. But its real power as been on the server side. Linux, at its core, was designed to be developer-friendly, and as a result grew with the development of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s. Nicholas Petreley, editor-in-chief of the Linux Journal, says the OS has a bit of a dubious past. “It was a popular Web server for pornographic websites,” he says. “It was free and stable, and this proved it was a reliable Web server.” At the same, Linux started being used because it could emulate a Windows file and printer server, and many IT departments essentially “snuck in” the OS to save money, says Petreley. “Once Oracle and IBM supported Linux, it came out of the closet,” he adds. Now, he estimates that 80 percent to 90 percent of businesses use Linux in some way. Business uses of Linux There are different ways that Linux can be used in the small and mid-size business environment: in desktop PCs, servers (such as e-mail servers), and on workstations (such as graphic workstations). Companies need to undertake cost analyses to figure out whether a move to Linux in any of those categories makes economic sense – figuring out the costs associated with upgrading, any new licensing fees and finding technical staff that can shepherd the changeover. However, one of the great misconceptions about Linux is that businesses can just run it for free. While there are plenty of free downloadable versions, most small and mid-size businesses still pay for commercially-available versions that feature the traditional tech support you’d find with Windows or even Unix. For business use, the main downside of using Linux is simply application availability, says Gary Chen, a small business IT analyst with the Yankee Group, a Boston-based research firm. “An OS isn’t really useful without apps to run on top of it. Linux has some good applications but there still exist major holes and in some areas there isn’t the amount of choice as for Windows,” Chen says. “This is changing, but building an ecosystem that can rival the Microsoft system will certainly take a lot of time.” In addition to commercially-available server packages from companies such as Novell and Red Hat, there is a growing body of open-source software available for free that can help a small business develop Web services, host databases, and provide network monitoring. In this respect, Linux is a very solid choice for a small company with a small information technology budget, or a larger company trying to shrug off some painful licensing fees. Another attribute of Linux is that it is generally virus free, and many long time users speak highly of how it seldom crashes. Of course, with every silver lining there may be clouds. Most notably says Petreley, “There is no one to hold financially responsible should you have problems.”
If your laptop and your cell phone mated, the offspring might look something like the Nokia 9300. This Symbian OS-based handset is the third in Nokia’s suitably dubbed “Communicator” series, designed for mobile executives on the go. It’s a phone, computer, and high-speed Internet device all rolled into one. But calling the Nokia 9300 a “smartphone” is like saying Bill Gates has a few shekels in his bank account. Here’s why the Nokia 9300 — which sells for $299.99 on a two-year contract with Cingular Wireless — may be right for you and your growing business. Push e-mail Unlike most handsets that log on to the Internet to “pull” e-mails down to the handset, the 9300 offers three ways to have your important messages “pushed” to the device as they arrive in your inbox: BlackBerry Connect: The Communicator is one of the first handsets in North America to launch with this program that lets corporate customers choose to either use the BlackBerry Enterprise Server or BlackBerry Connect to access ISP e-mail accounts through the BlackBerry Internet Service. Cingular’s Xpress Mail: This program is based on the SEVEN e-mail platform, which is compatible with a variety of corporate e-mail applications, including Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino, Novell Group Wise, IMAP4 and POP3, as well as global directories and personal calendars. Intellisync Wireless E-mail: This e-mail service “pushes” e-mails, meeting requests, calendar updates, among other information, to a variety of mobile devices. It supports a variety of platforms, including Palm, Pocket PC, Windows Mobile, Symbian, IMAP clients and other platforms. With push e-mail, you won’t miss a beat, as you can read and respond to incoming messages without fear of missing an urgent request. Multi-tasking and Office features Taller but trimmer than the Palm Treo series, this 5.9-ounce handset (measuring 132mm x 51mm x 21mm) opens up along its spine to access a QWERTY thumb keyboard and widescreen LCD (65,536 colors) that’s perfect for creating or editing documents, presentations, or spreadsheets. It also includes full synchronization support with Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes via the optional Nokia PC suite software. Calendar, contacts, and tasks can also be easily synched with a desktop or laptop PC. Run into a client at the airport but forgot his name? No worries – excuse yourself for a moment to “take a call” and browse your contacts list to find his thumbnail photo attached to his name. If you need to chat while tweaking your sales report, the 9300 includes integrated Bluetooth and speakerphone support, which means you can do both at the same time. In fact, the handset automatically switches to speakerphone when it’s flipped open to the keyboard (this can be changed in the Options menu). You can even use the 9300 to host conference calls for up to six participants, and take notes during the chat. Bluetooth also allows for wireless printing of documents and photos to a nearby and compatible printer. Oh, and the fun With support for high-speed EDGE service, the Nokia 9300 is also a fast Web-surfing tool and can handle downloads, including large e-mail attachments. Text-messages (SMS), multimedia messages (MMS), and pull e-mail compliments its host of push e-mail services and support. When not in an EDGE coverage area, the 9300 is a tri-band GSM phone that works in a host of countries. The handset also plays MP3s, AACs, and RealAudio. For video, it supports RealVideo, MPEG4 compression, and H.263 formats. If the 80MB of internal storage isn’t enough, a MultiMedia Card (MMC) can expand the memory. With this lineup of features, it’s almost hard to imagine why anyone ever lugged around a laptop.