Software Solutions

Last month we examined the hardware required to set-up a small or home office (SOHO). This time around Windows talks software: from platforms to word processors, here's what you need to know …

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By  Matthew Wade Published  February 1, 2006

|~|SMB-software-server---m.jpg|~|For ease of use and bang for your buck - in terms of features and the level of support offered by local resellers - Windows recommends Microsoft's Small Business Server 2003 (SBS 2003).|~|The operating system (or OS) is the backbone on which everything on your network can be shared and added. As the centre of this network is a server then, the first software consideration to be addressed is the OS that this system will run. At the most basic level, this software provides basic network functions such as file, print and internet connection sharing. It can also be used to host your firm's web site and an internal staff intranet, provide remote access functions, and offer protection by adding a firewall. Office productivity applications then run on top of this server OS, which we'll come to shortly. In the case of most small and home office set-ups, a dedicated IT staff member simply doesn't exist, which means that opting for fully regionally supported server and desktop operating systems is a sensible plan. To this end, for ease of use and bang for your buck - in terms of features and the level of support offered by local resellers - Windows recommends Microsoft's Small Business Server 2003 (SBS 2003). Designed specifically for firms with between two and fifty computers, this OS is easy to navigate and can be used to store, find and share information from one centralised server location, provide employees with an intranet that they can use to find and share documents and collaborate on group projects, host your firm's web site, and provide a company-wide e-mail service. The OS also allows mobile staff to remotely access their desktops, e-mail, network files, your firm's intranet, contacts and so on. This process is designed to be - and indeed is - a simple one with SBS, meaning little staff education should be required. It also means that if you've bought SBS and accompanying support from a local reseller then they can perform system management for you from their offices rather than coming to yours. Two versions of SBS 2003 are currently available: a Standard version and a Premium edition, the latter of which includes SQL Server, Microsoft's Office FrontPage 2003 (which is packed full of advanced website development tools) and ISA Server, which features extra network security and system tools. Further buying and price info is given in the box below, however from a pricing point of view it's worth considering that, if your approach to hardware buying is a cherry picking one whereby you pick out and purchase a server, client PCs individually yourself, then you could well find hardware manufacturers such as Dell and HP running special discounted deals on their servers when purchased with SBS 2003 preinstalled. Thus saving you cash from the start. --------------------------------------------- Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 The nitty gritty HOW TO BUY IT: * Pre-installed on a server built by an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) * From a Microsoft small business specialist (an independent firm that can install product and provide additional services and support) * Via a mail order or online retailer WHAT YOU'LL PAY: Standard Edition: * Retail license/full packaged product (bought via retailer): $599 with 5 client access licenses (CALs) * Open new license (purchased through volume license reseller): $521 with 5 CALs * Open new license with software assurance (includes latest versions of software as released): $781 with 5 CALs Premium Edition: * Retail license/full packaged product: $1499 with 5 client access licenses (CALs) * Open new license: $1298 with 5 CALs * Open new license with software assurance: $1947 with 5 CALs OTHER OPTIONS Upgrade from Standard to Premium edition: $900 Upgrade from previous versions of SBS (such as 2000) to 2003: $599 Extra licenses: 5-pack VUP CALS: $194 20-pack VUP CALS: $776 --------------------------------------------- Client talk In terms of the OS you'll use on each individual network client, Windows XP Professional is the platform that will sync most seamlessly with SBS 2003 and enable you and your staff to utilise all the functions SBS has to offer. Compared to XP Home on which you might run your family PC, the Professional version adds support for remote usage, meaning staff can access their XP Professional PCs from any another Windows PC. Professional is also the only version of XP to pack in scalable processor support, meaning if any of your team's power users are using dual-core or hyper-threading processors, the OS will recognise both and glean their performance benefits. This isn't the case with XP Home edition (a useful point to also bear in mind if buying a dual-core or hyper-threading PC for the home). Last but not least, from a networking standpoint Professional has more to offer than its Home aimed counterpart. Should you have an employee to whom you're delegating admin IT responsibilities, Professional's 'group policy' functionality will help them simplify the administration of groups of users or PCs. Also useful for businesses in this region, which often employ users who speak and do business in different languages, is XP Prof-essional's 'Multi-lingual User Interface (MUI)' add-on. This can be installed and used to change a user's interface language and provide localised dialog boxes, menus, help files, dictionaries, proofing tools and so on. Buying basics When it comes to acquiring client operating systems, it's likely that if buying a full IT business package from a local partner (such as those examples given in last month's 'Hunting out Hardware' feature), XP will come pre-installed on each system. Whilst it's true that this type of purchase can be the cheapest option, be aware that if the licenses you're getting effectively came installed on the PCs you're being sold by the reseller - in other words they are OEM licenses - then these can have some restrictions. For example, preinstalled software doesn't include free technical support from Microsoft and although support may be available through an OEM this could come at a cost. Also, with OEM licenses you’re not legally allowed to remove the software from one PC and put it on another, as you can with boxed retail versions for example. If not going the OEM route, you have the option of buying client licenses via what's called a 'volume discount' deal (available for those buying as few as five licenses), or opting for an 'Open License'. This comes into play when buying five or more licenses and is effectively a "buy as much as you need" purchasing option. Find out more from www.microsoft.com/smallbusiness/buy/software/options.mspx. Suite solutions As the majority of the IT world uses Windows, the documents staff and clients share tend to be Microsoft Office compatible, in that they end with suffixes such as .doc, .xls and .ppt. However, this doesn't mean that you must necessarily use Microsoft's Office products in order to create, read and share such documents, as there are a couple of key lower-cost, easy alternatives available. The big three suites that are most applicable to this region right now are Microsoft's Office 2003, OpenOffice, and Sun's commercial version of the same, Star Office (version 8.0). Should you have time, you'll find free trials of each available from www.microsoft.com, www.openoffice.org and www.sun.com/software/star/. Compared to Office 2000, the 2003 version's key improvements are based upon the concept of user collaboration (as such, rather than Microsoft calling 2003 an office 'suite', it has changed its approach and refers to the office 'system' instead). It's all about making information available across the work-place, for instance by utilising XML. OpenOffice of course has been around and finding favour with anti-Microsoft types for years now, but it's only really with version 2.0 of this productivity suite that it has become a truly enticing solution. Like Sun's Star Office, this 200Mbyte installation offers good compatibility with Office documents, plus it adds a built-in PDF converter. As with much of Office 2003, XML based file formats are used by default, and a definite plus about OpenOffice is that, unlike some previous Office alternatives, it doesn't need prompting to save files into MS Office-compatible format - this is automatic. What you don't get is online collaboration functionality or much in the way of online support, so if your team's working together on electronic projects is key, or your staff aren't hugely technical, OpenOffice mightn't be for you. StarOffice 8.0 meanwhile is Sun's commercial office suite that is based upon OpenOffice's source code. Again it can save your work into Office-compatible documents, plus it includes an exclusive Draw graphics program and the 'Base' database program, which requires the Microsoft ADO interface to access Access files. Arguably the key draw of StarOffice, aside from its low price, is its streamlined interface. Compared to Microsoft's numerous menus, many users will find StarOffice's quick and easy approach a plus. Rather than telling you which suite to opt for, we suggest downloading the trial versions and trying before you buy. We'd also be interested to hear your thoughts on what you think of each, so feel free to e-mail your reviews to the editor on windows@itp.com. --------------------------------------------- OFFICE OPTIONS Alternative suites options compared Microsoft Office 2003 Professional - Boxed retail pack: $565 - 'Open License': approx. $420 each user - Includes: Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Word, Access, Publisher, Outlook with Business Contact Manager - Contact: +9714 391 7000 - Web: www.microsoft.com Microsoft Office 2003 Small Business Edition - Boxed retail pack: $327 - Includes: Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Word, Publisher, Outlook with Business Contact Manager - Contact: +9714 391 7000 - Web: www.microsoft.com Microsoft Office 2003 Standard - Boxed retail pack: $422 - 'Open License': approx. $343 each user - Includes: Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Word - Contact: +9714 391 7000 - Web: www.microsoft.com Sun StarOffice 8.0 - $69.95 (download) - From $35 per license (5 - 10,000 licenses) - Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Base, Enterprise Tools & Support - Contact: +9714 366 2600 - Web: www.sun.com OpenOffice 2.0 - Free - Includes: Writer, Impress, Math, Draw, Calc, Base - Web: www.openoffice.org ||**||

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