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

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/

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

Microsoft Tags, what could this be?

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Finally Microsoft has done something which could put them on the map to catch up to Google in terms of bringing relevant information to users all over the world.

Microsoft Tags (http://tinyurl.com/3x3ts9g) is a service which the company has recently released and get this “it is a free service” to use. It works by placing tags in the real world such as a billboard or any landmark then people with mobile devices can access this information. This means that if for example you are in the realty business and you place these tags on some of the properties you are selling you could access more detailed information about such properties on your mobile devices.

This reminds me of the Minority Report (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0181689/) which would scan people’s eye retinas to serve them personalized ads (I see this coming very soon to the U.S). I believe that such a technology already exists in Japan and it could make its way on to the U.S.

However this being great and all that Microsoft has finally done something innovative. I wonder if this service/technology will only be available to Windows 7 mobile phones. I really doubt folks with Android phones will be able to use it. I somehow don’t see Microsoft sharing or allowing other mobile devices accessing this information. So lets not put our hopes up on this one folks.

It would be great if they did make it available to everyone just think of the possibilities in terms of how much information people would be able to access on the spot. Think of it in terms of students conducting research studies or if your at a museum or at a historical landmark and being able to get all the information about a particular piece of art or place.

This is the kind of innovative technologies Microsoft should be focusing on instead of trying to keep its tight lock on the world with its Windows/Office products.

I would be great if they would make it open source with a GPL license.

The DOJ knocking on Apple’s iron closed doors

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Recent news that Apple has surpassed Microsoft for the King of Technology title (http://tinyurl.com/38oxxjz) has stirred up some additional controversies with regards to the DOJ(Department of Justice) wanting to start an antitrust investigation into Apple’s iTunes music monopoly and everything else.

It seems that Apple has been making shady deals with the music labels (http://tinyurl.com/354mssu) to only release their new titles on iTunes before any other major on-line competitors such as Amazon or Walmart. Amazon and Walmart only account for 12% of on-line music sales while Apple’s iTunes accounts for 70%. Well this 70% is whats got the DOJ knocking on Apple’s iron closed doors.

Now lets add to this that Apple has recently announced that they will be launching an advertising platform (http://tinyurl.com/ybfdwrk) which will compete against Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and wait for it Adobe’s ad platform (http://www.gigya.com/public/Content/Widget.aspx). This explains their recent rejection of flash no matter what Steve Jobs tells the press or how many letters he writes about Adobe Flash being too resource intensive and not performing up to part on the iPhone or iPad. Steve Jobs claims do have some merit but is not an excuse to dump Flash period.

The DOJ is also looking in to the fact that Apple only wants to have developers use their very own development tools to develop applications for the iPhone, iPod, iPod Touch and the iPad. This means that you must buy a Mac and sign-up for a developers account through Apple’s website. Developers can’t just say well “I’m going to use Eclipse (http://www.eclipse.org/) to develop my applications” no you must have a Mac. The one thing that’s got me puzzled is why would Apple do this when they provide an SDK for these devices. Developers should have a choice in writing their applications in whatever IDE they see fit.

Take the Android OS for instance; It lets developers use whatever tool they want and across a variety of platforms/operating systems. This could be due to the fact that Android is open source and has no specific platform which is trying to push. This could also explain the recently high numbers Android’s got in sales (http://tinyurl.com/2b2yrvu).

This leads me to the conclusion that Apple is worst than Microsoft when it comes to vendor-lock in schemes. Not only do they make you buy a Mac so you can create software for their devices but also lock down these devices so that they only function with a Mac/iTunes.

So yes I say let the DOJ have their way with Apple and I hope that they bring that iron closed door down. Because if this happens it will benefit us consumers a great deal.

On a side note there were some rumors that Steve Ballmer would address developers at WWDC

on how they can write/develop applications for Apple devices through Visual Studio 2010. Is Visual Studio 2010 not a third party tool; If this is true why can they do this but not any other small tech firm who sells third party development tools?

No matter how much reorganizing gets done nothing can stop the downward spiral!

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Over the years Microsoft has always given us mediocre products such as Windows(yes this means all versions including 7). Yet for some reason consumers buy these products; to me this does not make much sense. Why buy a product that breaks and you constantly have to call your tech support team(this means your geeky family member or geek squad). Now don’t get me wrong most people use Windows and its family of software because they have to not because they want to.

Microsoft since its early beginnings came across a wonderful business concept(sarcasm) called vendor-lock in. Every single product this company sells has some type of vendor-lock scheme. From Windows servers and home operating systems to their office products all 100% vendor-lock. So what does this mean? That there is not a chance in the world that you can safely move to a different operating system without loosing some data or not being able to move it at all. Yes this utterly sucks I know.

So now the giant wants to reorganize its gaming and mobile divisions(http://tinyurl.com/36bpk25) to catch up with the current trends. Oh yes sure that expensive new mobile phone(http://tinyurl.com/y7ktelj) they recently launched will do the job. This new gadget will get us all on Twitter and on Facebook. But wait a minute we are all there now and we all can use our not so expensive mobile devices. So again a little too late. As far as their gaming division goes, well lets just say it bleeds money and to think that this is the best division they have within the company. So if this division is loosing money(So far billions of dollars) what does this mean for Microsoft?

It means that their old way of thinking has got to go and that as a company it has to adapt to current trends pronto. No this does not mean lets wait and see if this or that becomes a trend. Apple (no better than Microsoft) has taken chances with new products and sure they failed a bunch of times. At one point the company was on the brink of going belly up but they hung in there. Microsoft needs to take a look at Apple and apply that formula to their products.

Here at the office we had an Xbox 360 for our gaming sessions. Guess what? Yes you guessed it we got the three red lights of death after an Xbox update(sounds a lot like the Windows blue screen of death). So we got ourselves a PS3 . Now we can game on-line and not pay a single cent. So now we have a better product while saving on a monthly fee.

Oh but wait I don’t know about you but I’ve been burned so many times by Microsoft products that I don’t think I could ever go back to purchasing or using them. Just look at what happen to IBM they too had this mentality back in the early 70’s and 80’s and now although the company is still in business it does not command the type of power it once had. And all because it forgot about what got them there in the first place us consumers.

So no matter how much reorganizing Microsoft does to their divisions they will achieve nothing that will be beneficial to us consumers unless they change their way of thinking and how they treat their customers and their competition. A little more innovation and smarts would not hurt either. Bang! Bang! Let us know what you think will ultimately happen to Microsoft’s mobile and gaming divisions.