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What do they think the desktop is for?: Which desktop is best? Mac OS, Win 7, KDE 4? Why desktops are all rubbish except Windows 3.1
I can't wait for the "easier install" of Windows 7: Just how easy is the newest OS to install ? An article on Windows 7 install problems
How To Fix The NHS IT Problem: Why we are wasting billions that just don't need to be spent. Read my article on NHS IT
Facebook - Where Do I Start?: Where it is all going wrong and why doesn't it work?
Firefox versus Chrome: I added an article on what annoys me so much about Firefox, and whether Chrome is the answer.
Couriers: GRR. I am having to hack this site by hand now on an old mac mini instead of using my content generator. Why? My main machine is smashed to pieces. It was packed in the original packaging with every spare millimetre filled with bubble wrap. The box said computer and had a picture of one, and lots of FRAGILE tape. The consignment description was the one word "computer". The courier reckons it was inadequately packed. Yeah, right. Or maybe it wasn't built for five-a-side in the depot? If it was inadequately packed how come they didn't say that at collection? UPDATE they wisely owned up and paid out, but spent 7 weeks or so deciding this.
Databases: I have yet another crazy database job coming up, another one where the client wants a new database without any of the current users knowing about it or using it, but just updating it without realising. I know, there are easier ways but then they couldn't torture me ... About due another article on this cobbled from one that nearly went in a magazine but didn't quite get there somehow
OpenOffice: I added an article on reasons you would have to be mad not to use OpenOffice. Well not mad, or maybe not even deluded, but certainly misguided. Go look at the excuses to see if you can find others, then I can pop them as well!
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The important thing is ease of access to the data, and ease of use for the operator. It doesn't matter if your business runs on bits of cobbled Excel spreadsheets here, Access databases there and downloads from PayPal, it just works.

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Small Business Guide to IT - Top 5 DOs and DONTs


Where to start with IT in the small business, and how to save money doing it.

1: Use open source on the server

For example Ubuntu Server, you definitely dont want anything proprietary there in a small business for cost, performance and security reasons. Most IT people and shops make money on the support end of things, after all they don't make or write the things they sell so have no other channel to make a profit. What needs the most support? Windows. Across the board that makes more money for IT people. All the licenses you have to buy, all the problems you have installing it, all of that is profit. Profit for problems is how you need to see it. Back in the good old days us IT types used to be able to make an honest living putting together systems that did a good job of working. These days, the money is in failure.

2: Use open source on the desktop

For example OpenSUSE or Kubuntu with OpenOffice, you dont need MS Office for anything useful, and can't afford it anyway, Once people see how trouble free and essentially very cheap the open source servers are, they ask about the desktop too. Then they get told that they shouldn't even think about it, and it is years away from being ready if ever. I have been using it ten years now, very happily, in preference to the Windows and Mac desktops I also have. I make those other Operating Systems dual boot with Linux so I have some way to control the machine when I need it. The browser (e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox) is the future and already the present in most cases - the software should probably run from one if it is recent. All the software and more that any business could ever need is already there, years old, tested working and free. Microsoft make almost all their money from the combination of Windows and Office, you only have money to lose in that combination.

These first two choices alone will save you a fortune in cash, time and hassle and cost me money because I can't support problems that aren't there. These damn systems just work day-in day-out.

3: Get a GOOD website made

Get one that actually has some use to your customers, and don't let one of your employees do it - if they had the skills needed on the web today they wouldn't be working for you fitting doors. It needs to look nice, but no it shouldn't use Flash. Seriously, other than playing videos of people falling off bikes on YouTube why do you need Flash? It annoys your customers, and is a constant security risk. If a web company comes in selling on the basis of animations, you don't need to ask them anything else. Goodbye.

If you have products and services, you need them listed, preferably priced (I dont know anyone who rings up to ask a price if they started looking for it on the web, would you?). You need good content around it so the search engines know what you do. You need to make sure your web address is on every business card and letterhead you hand out. If you have a good office IT system, there is no reason that customers can't login to the website and see their invoices etc. quite securely. You want to do it when you go to Amazon for a DVD, why shouldn't your business customers do it? Hopefully they are paying you a lot more than you are paying to Amazon.

4: Backup Everything. Every day.

It costs so little, but your business is stuffed if it all goes missing. Almost free, it just costs a small amount on hardware and consumables. The majority of businesses fail if they lose all track of their work and clients. Have I made it clear enough? Yet almost no-one ever does this.

5: Get someone competent in to make sure you have the right connections, wiring and security.

If you are using more than one machine, and they have internet, do this. Wireless is OK if installed by someone who does it for a living, though I would still recommend wires whenever possible. Any type of network installed by the small business itself, in my experience, has major flaws. Sorting this out should not take a long time, if you have up to ten machines it shouldn't take a day of work to make a good solid network out of them by wires or wireless. Security may mean a small outlay, but then insecurity is the other option, and that can cause you a lot of money and pain.


Some of the biggest problems I come across.

1: Spreadsheets with macros

Spreadheets are OK for accounts, nothing else. Even bankers download data from a database to play with in spreadhseets, not the other way around. (err hopefully! given the state of banks at the moment maybe they don't have much of a clue) Use something designed for the job, CRM Customer Relations Management software is available off the shelf to track clients, use a Database to hold everything in the business from stock, to invoices to correspondence. All are free or at least worth more than they cost in the long run. Don't think short term with this, because once you get it wrong it becomes fixed in stone very quickly and costs a fortune to dig your data back out again.

2: Word processors

These are OK for just writing a letter, but even then you have no easily searchable trace of correspondence. They are definitely no good for keeping lists of customers or details about orders. There is no easy way to flag outstanding bits that other people can come in and see, this is purely a one-person business solution and even then a bad one. Just use them for spell checking the letters and publish them through a Database or CRM system.

3: Having one person left to do all the IT work (not as their main job)

It gets done their way, they have no training in making IT systems, no one else can work their system, they become indispensible, then they leave. At that point someone calls me and says they are up to their neck in it. Sort it out now in advance, make a system any employee can use, with restrictions on bits you dont want them to touch. Use the system from any computer of any type - dont be stuck with a load of files in Office 2007 format that no other machine can read for instance. That way even if you have a backup, when it is restored you need to go buy or borrow something to read it all on.

4: Dont stick everything on a server then lock it up in a hot cupboard with a skylight above it and no air conditioning.

Once you have all your systems in place they make your business run smooth and easily. You get much more done per person. Then one day you realise you treated the server badly and it dies. Everything is now very painful. You did have a backup didn't you? Even so, you need to get new hardware in, and installed, and everything put back, and the business will be in a mess all week. Putting it in a damp cellar prone to flooding is also bad. Both these incidents are genuine.

5: Old software. Something you have been using for years, and is no longer supported.

The company either washed its hands of it, or folded entirely. Your old data is stuck in this format, and you can't run it on the new machines you just bought. Having been there a few times, I recommend having a good hard look at what proprietary (not open) software you are using now, and what ways out of it exist. It really is worth considering running tests on alternatives to see if you can get your data out. It is YOUR data, and if you are not in control of it that is your fault. Many journalists will write about how wonderful the new MS Office formats are, then save all their work in RTF format so that everyone else in the publishing house can actually read it. Desktop publishing programs are probably the worst. Make sure in the worst case those designs and layouts could at least be made into PDFs for archiving.