Another Top 100 List

Spring seems to be list time.  Earlier this week we gave you a link to the 100 best free software programs according to PC Magazine.  Here’s another list, this time from CNet of the "Webware 100" as voted by their readers.  There are 10 winners in each of 10 categories. 

According to Webware, "Just slightly more than half of all the votes cast in the Webware 100
went to the top 10 vote-getters. Six of these top 10 are no surprise at
all: Facebook, Firefox, Google, iTunes, MySpace, and YouTube."

Thanks to Neville Hobson, at nevillehobson.com for pointing out the list.

The Best Free Software

Pc_magazine
Thanks to PC Magazine for publishing this list of what they consider the best free software.  According to them, if you downloaded everything here you would save $5,183.00 compared to the manufacturers’ list prices.

I doubt that anyone would download everything here, but there are some good ones.  MYOB can’t vouch for all of them, but here are a few of our favorites.  Be sure to check the site for the complete list.

Audacity–If you do any audio recording, this is the software you want.  Easy to use, lots of features including available add-ons.  You can record from a microphone or any in-online audio source and export it to an mp3 file.

Firefox–I use this browser almost exclusively.  Not only is it free but there are literally hundreds of add-ons and extensions (also free) that you can download to customize the browser to suit your needs.

GIMP–PC Magazine says this free software does most of what Photoshop does.  I’ve not used this one but I have downloaded it for testing.

iTunes–What can I say.  If you have an iPod you have to have iTunes.  iTunes recently became the number one retailer of on-line music.

OpenOffice.org–This is a viable substitute for Microsoft Office.  You don’t need both of them, but if the high price of the Office Suite is putting you off, consider this free alternative.

Skype–Not only is the software free, but it lets you make free phone calls to anyone, anywhere in the world who is also a Skype user.  You can even make video calls for free.

Thunderbird–This is the sister app to Firefox.  It’s a worthy email client that you can use with almost all email services.

Google Docs–This is another alternative to Microsoft Office but this time you don’t have to download anything.  The program and your files live on Google’s servers.  That may turn some people off, but it does make it very handy to start a document at work and finish it at home.  You can also share it with others.  Google Docs can work with Microsoft-created documents and vice-versa

CCleaner–This program cleans the junk off your hard drive including temporary files and Internet cache.  Don’t overlook the registry cleaner either.  (It’s on a separate tab.)  But, be sure you back up your registry before you clean it in case something goes wrong.

Google Desktop–Cool but it uses a lot of system resources.

Ditto for Yahoo! Widgets.

Naturally there’s always a difference of opinions anytime the word "best" is used so be sure you check the comments on PC Mag’s list for some other thoughts.  If you have any favorites please share them here.

All the Top Stories

Hopefully you consider Mine Your Own Business  a valuable resource for running your business.  One of our goals is to connect you with items that you can use every day.  One way we do that is by watching other small business reference sites.  Here’s a good one, called Alltop. 

Alltop is short for "All the Top Stories" and their tag line is "We’ve got all the top stories covered all the time." They do it by running more than fifty web pages, each dedicated to a particular subject, ranging from world news to comics, each one updated every ten minutes.  Check here for a complete list of their topics and click here for the story of how Alltop came to be.  The concept is the brainchild of Will Mayall, Kathryn Henkens, and Guy Kawasaki.  (Yes, that Guy Kawasaki; best-selling author of The Art of the Start.)

One of the Alltop sites that I use regularly is one cleverly called "Small Business".  It aggregates many of the sites that MYOB references on a regular basis including Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, Seth’s Blog, Duct Tape Marketing, and as of today, Mine Your Own Business.

Here’s a screen shot of the site.

Alltop_1_2

As you can see, each of the blog listings includes links to the blog’s most recent posts.

If you hover your mouse pointer over a post title, you’ll see the first few lines of the post, making it easy to decide if you want to read more.

Alltop_2_2

For anyone who reads blogs on a regular basis, the Alltop sites are well worth adding to your list of resources.  I’ve added a permanent link to the Small Business site under "Links" in the left hand column.  You can click through to any of their other sites from there.

Try it.  I think you’ll find it a very useful addition to your list of on-line resources.

Love Your Computer–Hate Your Computer

Writing for Marketing Profs Daily Fix, Elaine Fogel writes about her love/hate relationship with technology.  I read her comments with more than a little sympathy, especially since I’m sitting in my office, using my laptop.  I’m on the laptop because my PC is having a brain freeze. 

It started innocently enough.  I was running a report for someone when the software that connects me with the company’s main computer crashed.  Oh oh.  That’s never good.  So I tried all the usual tricks, but no luck.  The thing is that the software was working just fine Friday afternoon when I left for the weekend.  What gremlins had gotten inside the metal box while I was gone?  Could it be the same ones that brought down the Green Bay Packers?   So I went to plan "b", call the IT department.

I know.  You probably don’t have an IT department.  I should quit whining.  Really, I’m not whining.  I consider myself lucky to have an IT department and a second computer to work with.  Without the laptop, I’d be cleaning my office or some other equally unpleasant chore.  The only people suffering from my PC’s current illness are the two people waiting for reports I promised them.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the right software on the laptop to get those particular jobs done.

No, the only reason I even bring this up is because I read Elaine’s post while my PC is just sitting there taunting me and I don’t know of anyone who uses a computer that doesn’t have war stories to tell.  It makes me wonder how an entire industry, especially one that we all depend on so much, can position itself as a supplier of products that are almost sure to fail–not once, but on a fairly regular basis.  Yet we keep coming back.

Imagine yourself in the same position.  "Yes, Ms. Customer, I know you’ll be happy with your new (Insert your product here).  It’s the state-of-the-art and probably won’t fail for at least a few months, although it’s not unheard of for it to fail almost immediately.  But, not to worry.  If you spend a few hours on it you should be able to figure out how to fix it yourself.  You can always refer to the instruction manual, but I doubt if you’ll be able to understand it."

"If you’re really stuck, you can call our customer service hot line.  You’ll be connected to our Midwest service center (or maybe it’s our Middle Eastern service center).  Anyway,  someone who almost speaks English will be glad to help you.  Hopefully you can get understand each other well enough to find a solution.  Chances are you’ll be told that your problem is the fault of some other product that you’ve connected to our product.  Then you can call the other company and try to get help.  But don’t be surprised if they try to blame our product.  You just can’t trust some people.  Oh, by the way, you’ll be paying for the call."

You have to give the computer guys credit.  They’ve put together a brilliant business plan–sell undependable products, force the customer to repair them himself, build in a fail-safe method for denying responsibility ("Sir, the problem must be with your printer, not with our computer."), then charge the customer for help delivered by someone in a third world country who works for two dollars per day.)

Of course there’s an alternative model, the one I hope you use.  Sell a quality product.  Educate the customer on its use.  Then stand behind it if something goes wrong.  You may have to work a little harder, maybe make a little less profit on each sale, but being able to sleep at night is well worth it.

But before you turn in, be sure you run a backup.

Simple Explanations

Thanks to Chris Brogan (chrisbrogan.com) for pointing out a blog called Common Craft.  Common Craft’s mission is to explain things using a simple format and real world stories, making sense of complex ideas.  I wish I’d found this site before I posted earlier this week on blogs and RSS feeds.  Two of their videos, "Blogs in Plain English" (watch it below) and "RSS in Plain English" do an excellent job of explaining the concepts.

Some other videos you might want to check out on the Common Craft:  "Social Bookmarking in Plain English" and "Wikis in Plain English".


Microsoft Small Business Show

Here’s something you might want to check out next week from the Microsoft Small Business Center. If you can’t make it on Wednesday, these things are usually repeated.  You can check it out here.

Microsoft_show_2

Oh My Gosh, I Think I’m a Geek!

Granted I spend a lot of time at the computer but until this morning I would never thought of myself in terms of geekdom.  But, as I walked into my office a little while ago, I realized that I have no less than five digital devices running on my desk at the same time.

I have my PC, which is always on.  I have a laptop running to keep track of the 196 blogs I subscribe to.  I have another laptop running, sending faxes for one of our sales divisions. My PDA is connected to its charger and my iPod is hooked up to the laptop, collecting podcasts for later listening.  Yikes!  Maybe I am a geek!

Last week I went on retreat to a Trappist monastery.  Surprisingly, though they don’t watch television or listen to the radio, the monks do have access to the Internet for a few hours a day.  Guests, however, have to go cold turkey.  There’s no WiFi at the abbey; not even a dial-up connection. I could only get my cell phone to work from a few places on the property, all of them requiring me to climb a hill.  The only place I could get more than one bar was on top of a 900 foot high mini-mountain.  It was a very peaceful week.  Of course, I had about 800 emails waiting for me when I got back to reality.

I mention my possible geekiness and my visit to Gethsemani to make a point.  When monks start surfing the web, I’d say it’s pretty much taken over.  If the brothers are on line, you can bet your customers are too.  The question is, "What are we going to do about it?"  We’ve been posting recently on the various types of social media, and that series isn’t finished yet.  Just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on what’s available they (whoever "they" are) either improve something or introduce something entirely new.  The Internet and its users are definitely a moving target.Computer_monkey

One thing is sure, computers, and especially the Internet, have changed the way we all do business and we’ve barely scratched the surface. The big winners are going to be the retailers (and manufacturers) who can get ahead of the  technology curve.  At MYOB, as your intrepid geek blogger I’ll do my best to keep you up to date.

UPDATE…….10/18/2007 3:26 cdt

Thanks to Six Pixels of Separation for the link to this video.  It’s only 5:28 long, but it’s very interesting and ties into this post.  Enjoy.

Yipes! Skype

VOIP.  No, it’s not the sound of a dripping faucet.  (voip, voip)  Skype

VOIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol.  And that means FREE phone calls, even long distance.   As long as you and the person on the other end both have the Skype software installed on your computers along with a microphone and headset, you can talk to each other all day at no charge.  If you both have web cams, even video calls are free.  Reviewers say that the voice quality of Skype is equal to or even better than regular phone service.  Of course, one variable is the quality of your hardware.

What if both parties don’t have Skype?  You can make Skype calls to any phone in the United States for a monthly charge of less than $3.00.  International calls are charged at as little as 2.1 cents per minute. 

One word of warning.  Skype service recently went down for two days causing some serious inconvenience for many businesses that had switched all their phone service to the VOIP provider.  A complete switch is a risky move, as many found out.  But, as a supplement to traditional providers, Skype is a good choice.  For example, if you have family, friends, or business associates who are a long-distance call away, no matter how good your current carriers rates, free is always better.

The good news is that the software is free, so you can try it out with absolutely no risk.

Read more about Skype on Wikipedia.

Teenage Entrepreneur

If there’s one thing we know about the Internet it’s that we have no idea of its potential.  Based on past performance, there are new uses for the web on the horizon that we can’t even imagine today.  The only limit is our imagination.

For example, here’s an interesting story by Katherine Yung of the Detroit Free Press about a seventeen-year-old who’s parlayed an $8.00 investment into a million dollar business.  In 1998 Ashley Qualls of Southgate, MI borrowed $8.00 from her mother to purchase the domain name Whateverlife.com.  Qualls is a graphic designer and admitted "computer geek".  (She spent seven hours building the computer she uses in her business.)  The site offers free designs for MySpace pages and a social network for teenage girls.  Revenue comes from ad sales.

Whateverlife gets more visitors than Oprah.com and ranks number 825 out of 20.3 million web sites according to Quantcast, an Internet ratings service.  The site had 2.4 million visitors last month.  Last year the teenager bought herself a new house with the proceeds of the business.  Otherwise, most of the cash coming in stays in the business for future growth.

Speaking of the future, Ashley has big plans for the site and intends to stay with it.  She recently turned down a $5 million offer to buy the business.  Like I said, the potential of the Internet is only limited by our imagination.

IBM Lotus Symphony

On Friday we mentioned that IBM has come out with a new office suite to compete with Microsoft Office.  Since that post, we’ve had a chance to download and test the new product.  To repeat Friday’s disclaimer, We aren’t endorsing Lotus Symphony.  This post is for you information only.  We’re not professional testers.  We downloaded the software and created some samples.

Having said that, here’s what we found.  Symphony lacks some of the features of Microsoft Office.  It also uses an interface that is somewhat different than we’re used to.  The changes aren’t substantial, but they would require a long-time Office user to relearn some things.  Sometimes change is good.  Sometimes changes are made to avoid violating others’ intellectual property rights.

Documents, spreadsheets, and presentations can be saved in Lotus’ format, or in Microsoft format, making them usable in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint.  When you save a file from Symphony to one of the Microsoft formats there is a warning (which you can turn off) that some formatting might be lost.  We did lose some formatting in our spreadsheet test, but the document that we saved retained all the formatting that we had applied.

On the official MYOB PC, Symphony seems sluggish.  So much so, in fact, that we would have a hard time making the switch from MS Office.  Of course, the IBM suite has one big advantage over Microsoft.  It’s free.  Compared to the $200.00 or so street price for Office, that’s a nice savings.  On the other hand, for regular business use, speed and familiarity are probably more important than cost savings.

While we wouldn’t recommend switching to the new software, it would be worth considering for a home machine, especially one that doesn’t get heavy use.  You could create a document or spreadsheet at home and open it on a machine equipped with Office later.

It doesn’t look like Microsoft has a lot to worry about from the new competition, at least not yet.  But for a first effort, Symphony isn’t bad and has the potential to be a big player in future editions.