Great Open Source Desktop,Laptops and Servers for your business

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We have been wondering how can we lead small business down a path were they can save money on much needed new hardware and at the same time get their work done. By getting their work done we mean having the basic default software requirements that most businesses would use such as an office suite, minor graphics, publishing applications.

On the hardware side we currently have a company called System76(www.system76.com) which provides most hardware that small businesses may require such as desktops, laptops and servers. They offer pretty good systems at a very low price compare to most major hardware vendors such as Dell, Acer or HP.

They currently have desktops/Nettops starting at $239 called the Meerkat NetTop(http://www.system76.com/product_info.php?cPath=27&products_id=91). For the amount of money this baby is going for it is pretty decent to get all of your work done and it comes with pretty much all the default software you would need to run your business or get some much needed work done. This particular NetTop comes with Ubuntu 10.04(64-Bit) and it also has the Open Office suite installed as default. It also comes with the Ubuntu Software Center by default so that you can download any additional software you may need such as the GIMP/inkscape(Graphics Design) or Scribus(Desktop Publishing) all are equivalents to Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, MS Publisher or Quark Express. We personally use these applications in-house for all of our needs and they work very well if not excellent, they are a total substitute to the above mentioned software packages.

On the portable/laptop side of things System76 also offers some pretty low priced systems that are pretty powerful for most basic business needs. For example there is the Starling Netbook(http://www.system76.com/product_info.php?cPath=28&products_id=105) for $389.00 and the Lemur Ultra thin(http://www.system76.com/product_info.php?cPath=28&products_id=106) for $729.00. These netbooks/laptops are pretty powerful for the price.

On the server side they offer the Eland Pedestal(http://www.system76.com/product_info.php?cPath=29&products_id=62) starting at $798.00 with 8GB of ram, an Intel processors(2.2GHZ Duo Core – Upgradeable) plus 250GB of storage space(upgradeable to 2TB). I say for that amount this server can be more than sufficient for any small business which requires an office server. The one thing about this particular server is that it requires some space as it is a tower and not rack mountable. However for those of you who require rack mounted servers and or have little room to spare you can always get the Jackal 1U(http://www.system76.com/product_info.php?cPath=29&products_id=64) with the same specifications for $898.00. If you require more power there are other offers you small business owners can take advantage of click here to view their line of servers.

As a reminder System76 is not the only vendor which provides a powerful operating system such as Ubuntu; Zareason is also another Hardware provider(http://zareason.com/shop/home.php). Dell offers Ubuntu as well for home users although their offerings is not as vast as System76. On the server side Dell can provide different variations of Linux. The difference once again is the price. System76 beats them in pricing and to some extend in features and component quality.

As a side note we recently performed some server installs of the Ubuntu 10.04 LTS server operating system along with some Ubuntu desktops for one of our clients and we were able to provide them with a complete scalable office solution which compensates for active directory, Microsoft office suites, desktop/web calendar solutions and document sharing. Our setup also included a complete configuration of the MYSQL Database server and the Postfix email/spam assassin server. All of this was configured on System76 hardware which included servers, laptops and desktops. If you are in need of setting up a complete office environment but can’t afford the Microsoft/Dell,HP(Insert Vendor here) high prices then consider using smaller vendors and using reliable open source solutions.

For more information on Ubuntu vendor support please visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubuntu_%28operating_system%29#Vendor_support

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Operating System Security(the joke is on us) part 2

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Oh boy oh boy here we go again yet another round of Microsoft patches. Why must we the small business owners have to deal with this stuff. For those business owners whom don’t have the time to research everyone of these patches, meaning what they will or will not break as in other software within the Windows system. If you are running a server this can be very daunting although there are those whom simply don’t care and just go on about their business because they don’t have any crucial software that needs to be up and running 99.9 percent of the time. But for those who do such as their office servers running either Small Business Server, Windows Server 2003 or SQL Servers this can be a total pain in the butt.

You come in to work the next morning and find that you can’t connect to your network printer or oops you can’t find that share drive you’ve always connected to and the database connection to Sharepoint server is no longer available; Not saying that these patches can cause any of this to happen although Microsoft has not confirm that they would not either.

Regardless our recommendation is to actually get a test machine running such Windows servers or Windows operating system just to make sure that everything is working correctly before you go an update all of the workstations/servers and break something.

Microsoft while trying to help patch their security holes actually go about breaking other things which you might need. So again the “joke is on us”. Why? You may ask; because we can’t get away from this even if we tried(only if you are using a windows system environment). Some of you may disagree and say that this happens on all operating system but no your wrong it does not. And I’m not bashing Microsoft here I truly think that they are doing a great job at trying to patch their software which is so insecure. But I don’t blame them I blame you the users because just like those people in bad relationships you guys keep coming back for more or stick around for yet another round of abuse.

Windows will never be secure simply because it is just a badly designed and flawed operating system. If you are going to use Windows servers for your business please get a testing machine to test all your software deployments and patches which may come from all of your software vendors including Microsoft, it is just good practice.

Here is some resources which give you some information about these patches.

Oh and just for those of you whom don’t or just won’t believe what I’m saying here is a bit of some bad news. The Windows 32sys flaw has been carried on to Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008.

http://blogs.technet.com/b/msrc/archive/2010/08/10/update-on-the-publicly-disclosed-win32k-sys-eop-vulnerability.aspx

Man having Windows servers is a total pain in the butt… But hey we support them too.

PHP 5 AND SQL SERVER DRIVERS

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While this is nothing new or big news Microsoft has managed to release PHP 5 drivers for its SQL Server platforms. We have not ran PHP on a Windows server in a very long time and so we decided to give it a shot and honestly it was a total pain in the ass but only because we are not use to the IIS 7 web server. Honestly we like IIS 6 better less complicated and more to the point. Sure IIS 7 is great for those .NET applications but not everything else. For instance we tried to install and run Coldfusion 8 on IIS 7 and again a total pain in the ass while on IIS 6 it installed like a dream.

Back to the main point, PHP runs fairly well on IIS 7 but if you don’t know your way around IIS 7 then you might have some issues with it. The simple PHP scripts we tried worked perfectly well but they were not as efficient as PHP and MySQL 5. In all honesty if your going to use PHP with a database I would stick to the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) it just works better and a ton faster.

But if your a Small Business Server user and want to go the PHP route instead of .NET or ASPX then sure PHP will get the job done on IIS/Windows Server. The best part about it is that the driver is

released under the Apache license.

Straight from their site:

The Microsoft Drivers for PHP for SQL Server are PHP 5 extensions that allows for the reading and writing of SQL Server data from within PHP scripts. The release contains two drivers, the SQLSRV driver and the PDO_SQLSRV driver. The SQLSRV extension provides a procedural interface while the PDO_SQLSRV extension implements PDO for accessing data in all editions of SQL Server 2005 and later (including SQL Azure). These drivers rely on the Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Native Client’s ODBC driver to handle the low-level communication with SQL Server.”

Here is some more information on the driver if you guys are interested in it.

http://sqlsrvphp.codeplex.com/

The Invisible Spider-Web

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What is the one thing we apparently can’t live without? Is not our taste in expensive clothing, is not being able to dine in fancy restaurants, and is dame sure not our jobs… ok so maybe we can’t live without a job but we sure would love to.  The one thing we simply can’t live without now a days is our cell phones.

Modern society as we now have come to know it; is an invisible spider-web constructed by an infinite number of satellites crunching numbers all day long.  And we are trap in this web while our carriers eat way at us every month like a predatory back-widow but we love every minute of it… unless you don’t have an unlimited plan then you hate every minute you have gone over.  But the overages are not a deterrent as we are in love with our phones.

Marriage use to be the old ball and chain but now it is our cell phones.  Everyone is just a number away at any given time of the day… The days of seclusions have been over for more than two and a half decades that’s longer than most of you reading this have been alive.  The option to detach is no longer there, or better yet we don’t allow ourselves that option because a day without our phones seems like a preposterous proposition.  Like most marriages that come to an abrupt end  so does the life span of our cell phones every two to four years we trade up or marry something which in our minds seems better; be it more sexy or for more intelligent features we take the leap. Not to generalize marriages but by the end of the cycle we are bitter with our decision and want to take the leap again.

The invisible spider-web seems to encompass everything life oriented as most people are addicted to their cell phones.  Some examples of our addictions include the fact that we spend more money on accessories than the price of our phones.  It began with a simple car charger, then a spare battery, then a screen protector, then a stereo Bluetooth adapter, now you are up to a different case for each day of the week.  We have more than 30 apps install that we don’t use or simply don’t need; I don’t need an app to help me find my car every morning, or calculated a tip at a restaurant.  We have an alarm setup to tell us when to do everything in our day. We cut back on things we need in order to afford a 100 plus dollars phone bill.  We read about our phone on our phone.  If we drop it on the floor we feel like we drop a child. When we feel our pockets and don’t feel our phones our hearts skip a beat in terror at the thought that we just lose it.  An the last place on the planet where you were save and totally alone is no longer available because yes you use your phone in the toilet as well.

For something that is not physical the invisible spider-web has the strongest grip, brutal if you will.  We are the architects of our lives and we have traveled into popular cultural bliss without thinking twice.  And for those of you who have not gotten there yet I’m sure the GPS on your phone will lend you a hand.

Getting the Job Done Without Microsoft Office

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When dealing with small business owners one has to walk a fine line between giving them what they want while saving them the much needed cash. They also often ask me if there are products out there that would allow them to either perform the same tasks as you would on Microsoft office 2003, 2007 or 2010. My answer is usually yes depending on the specific needs of the client.

While is true that most businesses use Microsoft Office to create their documents and spreadsheets there are other software products out there which would allow you to create the same types of documents for pretty much nothing and I mean nothing as in paying $0.00 dollars for these alternative office suites.

One such product is Open Office which has about 90% of the capabilities of the 2003, 2007 version of Microsoft office but not 2010. Open Office is free of charge and is available for all major operating systems, Windows, OSX and Ubuntu/Linux(bundled) . Open office allows you to create word processing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, formulas, databases such as Access and even Visio type diagrams although not as robust.

There is also another free solution from IBM called Lotus Symphony which is based on the Open Office engine with a more refined look in terms of user interface. Lotus Symphony has all the features of Open Office but behaves more like Microsoft Office 2007.

There is also another office suite from SoftMaker software called Office 2010 which is non-free and has some of the features the 2007, 2010 version of Microsoft Office has but at a much more affordable price; You can also save your documents as Open Office format(.odt) which will allow you to move to either platform(Open Office or Lotus Symphony) if you ever need to.

All of these office suites have the capability to save documents to the Microsoft formats and can read them as well although in some cases the conversion of extreme complex Microsoft documents is not 100% but more like 90 – 95 %. The way I see it; If you don’t required all the whiz bang of the 2010 version of Microsoft Office and you want to save some much needed cash or spend that cash on something else such as additional PCs, a Fax or any other piece of software you may require then give either one of the office suites a try since they are free and you have nothing to loose but a bit of time.

As far as the paid versions of SoftMaker Office 2010 they have a trial you can download for 30 days and use all its functionality. SoftMaker has pretty good tech support and can answer any questions you may have, Lotus Symphony does too. If you require tech support or have any questions about Open Office you can find most of your answers here (http://support.openoffice.org/).

You can download each version of the office suites here:

The MAC OSX and Freedom of Choice

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I read an article this past weekend which refers to Steve Jobs as some kind of dictator. The author out of all things is trying to or actually intends to switch to Ubuntu/Linux. The author of this article is basing his decision on not having freedom of choice. I believe that if you run a business and you use your computer(s) to keep that business running then you should always have the freedom and choice to move to a different platform. However in this case I believe that the author of the article may not be doing it for the right reasons.

He claims that Apple is putting restrictions on his operating system and that Steve Jobs most likely will not continue to develop the MAC OSX any further or that at some point it will become stagnant. He also credits Microsoft for having a great OS in Windows 7 but also says that this OS is also too restrictive; And that all of Apple’s development will most likely go into the iPad/iPhone.

I feel that most users don’t care about freedom when it comes to a computer or software; to them they see it as a dishwasher or a refrigerator. If your not a geeky techie type then you really would not care about this and actually pay as much as you can for a piece of hardware/software regardless of what freedoms it may or may not offer you. Well if you are a business owner you should really pay more attention to this kind of freedom and stop looking at your computer as some piece of appliance equipment because it actually holds valuable information and it is an extension of you, yes an extension. Most PC user keep tons of personal information in it such as pictures, music, movies, documents etc… So what happens if and when you do decide to switch to a different operating system such as Windows or Ubuntu/Linux? Well on the MAC I think is fairly easy to move as it does not seem to have too many restrictions like on a Windows platform. Although anything like movies you’ve downloaded or anything that you have not created yourself maybe a bit hard to transfer over due to DRM (Digital Rights Management – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_rights_management / http://www.defectivebydesign.org/what_is_drm) restrictions.

The MAC OSX is actually a great operating system. The only issue is that is extremely expensive although some might argue that you are actually paying for quality which I tend to agree to a point. As far as freedom goes you have the freedom to do what you like with your own personal stuff that resides in that computer but like Microsoft you don’t really own the OS, you are merely renting it since you can’t make any modifications or anything like that and that is fine because most users don’t care(although they should).

So I wonder why is this particular author complaining about the MAC OSX since he knew from the start that the OS had its terms of agreement and he agreed to it when he purchased his MAC book pro.

Steve Jobs will not make the OS stagnant specially since the MAC is gaining so much market share and most Windows users seem to be switching over. I will also point out that they are not just moving to the MAC OS but also towards Linux(mainly Ubuntu). If you have no issues with renting an OS and not being able to tweak it as much as you like then the MAC OSX gives you freedom enough to the point were you can move your personal stuff in and out of it as long as you play within Apple’s rules and the same goes for Windows (DRM anyone).

The one thing the author was 100% correct was that at some point you will eventually be totally locked in on either platform(MAC OSX or Windows) and also claims this is the reason why he is moving to Linux, I will closely follow his progress and see how it goes.

But again if you don’t care about your OS freedom the MAC OSX is a damn good system.

Article: http://www.salon.com/technology/dan_gillmor/2010/06/20/from_mac_to_linux/index.html

Dell to upgrade its Ubuntu OS

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On our last post we discussed operating system security and how Linux is much better at handling user permissions and its complexities. Well Dell also thinks that Ubuntu/Linux is more safe to use than Windows for regular home user and business users alike.

This page http://www.dell.com/content/topics/segtopic.aspx/ubuntu?c=us&cs=19&l=en&s=dhs&~ck=anavml shows you what you can and can’t do with Ubuntu and it also gives you a comparison between Windows and Ubuntu. Looking at the comparison it looks like your average home user can use Ubuntu with no problems. So why aren’t more of you using the system.

Lets see we can think of several reasons:

  • Windows Specific software requirements
  • Don’t know about Ubuntu
  • PC accessories incompatibilities such as web cams, microphones, scanners, wireless routers or digital cameras
  • PC hardware not supported

All of these reasons are invalid with the exception of two. Unless you require Windows specific software then you have an excuse not to switch over or use it in a virtualized environment such as VMWare (http://www.vmware.com/) or Virtual Box (http://www.virtualbox.org/).

With Ubuntu you can use your PC accessories as they have drivers available for them in fact on most of those items we mentioned above you can just plug them in and they work. Unless the item has just been released within the past 48hrs then we say you might have an issue due to the fact that the developers have not had a chance to implement the driver into the operating system or is a very obscure product. But we say is pretty safe to say that your accessories will work say about 80% of the time out of the box.

As far as PC hardware is concern Ubuntu works with most market hardware in fact the darn thing works on a MAC and that is truly an accomplishment; try installing Windows on a MAC hardware and your in for a world of hurt as Windows drivers are not available for MAC hardware components.

Now we think is pretty safe to say that the reason as to why most people don’t try Ubuntu besides the Windows only software requirement is because they don’t know about it. Well if this is the case head on over to the Ubuntu web site (http://www.ubuntu.com) and see what it has to offer. We think that if Dell which is the third largest PC manufacturer in world offers it then it means that is pretty good. Looking at those Dell comparison it makes no sense for home or even business users to spend a ton of money on software for Windows when they can get the operating system and its 20,000 plus catalog of software for free right from the OS it self. This means no need to run out and get and install cd/dvd or download software from some obscure site. We have been using it for a couple of years now and we recommend it to our clients all the time as it is safer and more reliable than Windows.

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