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TechsForBiz | Technologies for Business | Business IT Challenges and Solutions

I have been using Windows 7 on a daily basis now for several months, and overall I am very pleased with it. Compared with Vista, it is much, much more stable and the Aero user interface is just plain gorgeous.

Speaking of the UI, Microsoft built in some really cool keyboard tricks that can make your life a lot easier and amaze your friends. Check these out (all of these involve pressing the ‘Windows’ key on the keyboard, followed by a second key–similar to the Shift or Control keys):

Win+Left Arrow: make the current window use only the left half of the screen.

Win+Right Arrow: make the current window use only the right half of the screen. (combine the Win+Left Arrow and Win+Right Arrow to quickly put two windows side-by-side)

Win+Up Arrow: Maximize the current window

Win+Down Arrow: “Restore down” the current window (make it smaller)

Win+Shift+Right/Left Arrow: if you have multiple monitors, this moves the current window to the right / left monitor, depending on which arrow key you press. Very cool.

Win+P (this is my favorite): bring up a list of available projector and display options. For example, you can quickly choose to send the video output to a projector, or extend the desktop onto a second monitor, etc. This is a much simpler way to accomplish this task than earlier methods, which generally were manufacturer-specific (e.g. Fn+F8 on certain Dell laptops)

Win+Home: Minimize all extra windows other than the currently selected one. You can also do this by “shaking” the window (clicking on the top of the window and quickly shaking it back and forth).

Win+{1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0): automatically launches (or brings to the front if running) the first ten icons in the “quick launch” section of the task bar; for example, Win+1 automatically launches the first icon, Win+2 the second, Win+0 the tenth, etc. Note that it’s possible to drag-and-drop the order of the icons in order to put the desired icons in the right places.

And, last, but certainly not least, there is now a button on the extreme right side of the taskbar that, when clicked, immediately minimizes all windows and gives you an unfettered view of the desktop.

Stay tuned for more Win 7 tips and techniques!

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Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS, is one of the biggest trends in business today. The notion of simply subscribing to a business application rather than purchasing and maintaining software and hardware is a compelling one. Companies like Salesforce.com and Google have built very successful businesses around the SaaS model, and today there are literally hundreds–perhaps thousands–of SaaS vendors.

Intuit, best known for Quicken and Quickbooks software, has a couple of SaaS offerings, including Homesites, a quick and easy way to launch and maintain Websites, and Quickbooks Online, a SaaS version of their well-known accounting software.

I have been running my business using Quickbooks Online for the past several months, and by and large have been very pleased with it. Granted, my needs are simple, mostly related to accounts payable and accounts receivable, but nonetheless I have become very dependent on the service to run my business on a day-to-day basis.

Intuit suffered an outage beginning around 7pm on Tuesday June 15th that continued for around 24 hours that affected the online versions of Quickbooks, Turbotax and Quicken software. Users, which by and large are small businesses, could not process credit cards, send checks, issue invoices, and do payroll. This outage had enormous impact on their customers.

The only notification users received was a sticky note on the Quickbooks website that said something to the effect of “We’ll be back soon…”  After the service was restored, Intuit put an apology up on the website, along with a lame explanation of what happened:

“Our preliminary investigation indicates the outage occurred during a routine maintenance procedure Tuesday night. An accidental power failure during that procedure affected both our primary and backup systems, taking a number of Intuit websites and services offline. While power was quickly restored, we’re working diligently to validate our systems and bring them back into full operation.”

This, in my opinion as a seasoned technology professional, is completely unacceptable. If a company is going to provide business-critical applications via the SaaS model, it had better be 110% sure that problems like this cannot affect all primary and backup systems at the same time. While details as to the exact mechanics of the failure may never come to light, I for one am seriously considering taking my business elsewhere–and recommending that others do the same. Intuit is obviously not ready for SaaS prime time!

Those of us that have worked for large companies enjoy one big advantage when it comes to getting your job done: a dedicated IT organization that is available to rapidly fix any problems that prevent us from using technology. Be it phones, computers, or the applications that we need, their main objective is to keep the business humming.

This level of support, of course, comes at a cost. IT people and tools aren’t cheap, as any small business owner can attest. The notion of having a dedicated IT person is out of reach for virtually all small businesses until they get to a certain size (generally North of about 50 people–less for some company types, like technology companies).

The question that many small business owners are faced with is: “how do I keep my business technologies running without hiring someone full-time?” The answer is generally to find someone that can help out on a part-time, contract basis. It’s harder than you might think to find someone like that. The world is full of cousins and brothers-in-law who “know a little sumpin about computers” and who, while they mean well, can often make things worse.

Techs4Biz was founded on the premise that small businesses should be able to call on true professionals who can get the job done. We’re a small business too, so we’re in the same boat. I have worked for and owned small businesses most of my career, starting with a TV repair business when I was in middle school, followed by a programming business in my late teens, and a software company in my early thirties. I founded a marketing consulting company in 2006 called EhrTech, and I have now founded Techs4Biz to provide those badly needed IT services to small businesses.

So how am I proposing to do that? First off, I plan to run and grow this business organically. That means that I refuse to go into debt. Much of the company profit will be funneled back into growing the company, and all expenditures will have a definitive return.

To paraphrase Chef Duff “Ace of Cakes” Goldman, I plan to hire the best people in the business that I know–my friends–many of whom I have worked with for decades. Eddie Holub is one of them. He is highly talented, very bright, and learns fast. Most of his IT knowledge was obtained from the school of hard knocks–he worked his way up from a sales guy to running the IT for the company he worked for, and he is a master at figuring things out. In my experience, the best IT guys are just like Eddie. While they may or may not have degrees, they have a certain aptitude and drive that makes them who they are.

We’re starting small. We just launched our first packaged service, which is a $149 “PC Rebuild” package that is guaranteed to take a machine that has been crippled with Windows Arthritis (I invented that term!) and return it to “showroom fresh” condition by rebuilding it from scratch. We save and restore all of the user’s data and applications during the process, assuming that the machine hasn’t been decimated by viruses and other malware to the point where data has been lost. We reinstall all user applications, plus anti-malware like anti-virus and anti-spyware. As an added bonus, we also create a system restore disc that allows the customer to put the disc in the computer, reboot, and restore it back to the same pristine state that it was in when we return it to them, complete with all of their data and apps. Take your PC to Geek Squad and ask them for the same service, and they’ll charge you $300–and they don’t create a restore disc.

So, if you know someone that could use our PC Rebuild service, or any of our other small business IT services, please send them our way. I’d really appreciate it, and I promise that Techs4Biz will deliver what we promise, on time and on budget. These days, that’s pretty much the golden rule of business, and I plan to stick to it. Thanks for reading!

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I have worked for small businesses for most of my career, which is slowly creeping up on 30 years. Yikes. I’d better look out – I’m rapidly turning into an old tech guy!

Over the years, I have discovered that many small businesses suffer from the same IT issues. When a business first gets off the ground, technology is usually deployed only on a must-have basis. In other words, the focus is on building the business, aka surviving, and not on purchasing and deploying the right blend of technologies for the business. As the business grows, this practice tends to continue, and as with many bad habits, things don’t tend to change.

At some point, the business (hopefully!) gets large enough that it is highly dependent on technology. This seems to generally occur when the business hits about a half-dozen key (aka revenue generating) employees. The business typically has a real office (or least an appearance of one), and key technical needs include the ability to securely store (and share) documents and data, a website, secure remote access for employees, collaboration software (like email, instant messaging, shared calendar, and maybe even a shared Web portal), plus an infrastructure to support all of this.

The problem that tends to occur is that these types of businesses still aren’t big enough to afford a full-time “IT guy” to make educated decisions as to what type of technologies to purchase, how to put it all together so that it all works, and to keep everything running. Many businesses make the mistake of hiring someone to do the first two items (which many times involves purchasing a dedicated Microsoft Small Business Server, which provides many of the technologies mentioned above), plus a virtual private network (or VPN), which provides secure remote access, etc, etc. While this works well to begin with, as soon as the “IT guy” is no longer in the picture, things begin to break.

This is a serious problem. PCs and servers can become infected with malware (like viruses) or begin performing poorly. Network connections can break. Hardware can crash. If a solid backup plan is not in place, valuable business documents can be irretrievably lost. And the business principals often try to take all of this on themselves instead of running and growing their business.

Techs4Biz has become involved in a number of these scenarios over the past few months. The process generally involves scoping out what technologies the business has, meeting with the principals to determine what their objectives are, and then mapping out a plan to get them where they need to go. In some cases, we simply stabilize the environment and then provide on-going support. In other cases, we have aided companies remove most of their on-site technologies in favor of virtual services like Google Mail (Gmail) and Google Docs.

If you are in this situation, or know someone who is, please let them know what we’re available to help: www.techs4.biz . Thanks for reading!

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