Jonathan Stoddard's blog

Take Your WiFi With You

Even with the promulgation of smart-phones, browsing the web away from your home or office tends to be difficult.  Perhaps you will find a local coffee shop that offers free WiFi, but unfortunately even the small latte can get expensive if you have to buy one every time you want to use 'free' wifi.      Additionally, I know that I can only browse the internet for so long on my smart-phone before I tire of trying to read text on the tiny screen and realize the information I need can wait till I get home.

Well, Verizon has recently announced a device call the MiFi.  This small device (about the size of three credit cards stacked atop each other) that provides users with their own WiFi bubble.  The device connects to the Verizon cellular network and then uses that internet connection to provide a WiFi hotspot within the vicinity of the device.  The WiFi is protected by a access key and will allow up to 5 people WiFi access.

What is so cool about this device is that is it easy to use and allows your computer to connect to the internet wherever you are.  Imagine being able to sit in a park enjoying the great weather and catching up on email from your laptop.  For people who don't like being tied to their desk, but need internet access this device would be worth looking into.

Open Source Software Helps the Lean Startup

 

The lean startup is a term used to describe many startups that, unlike in the dot-com days, are frugal with their money.  Instead of racking up large bills and loans before they make even a penny, the lean startup seeks to spend as little as possible.

Fortunately, open source software can help a lean startup keep cash in their pockets.  Within my business I have a graphics editor, a customer relationship management (CRM) database, automated backup system, firewall and VPN (Virtual Private Network) for remote access, online payment and registration system and a email marketing system.  How much did I pay for all this software?  $0.00  Sound hard to believe, well that is the wonder of open source software.

I have no doubts that if I used traditional software vendors like Microsoft and Adobe it would have cost my business several thousands of dollars to have the same software capabilities I have now.

It is truly amazing the depth and breadth of open source offerings.  For any small business I bet that you can find open source software to meet 95% of your software needs.  Additionally this isn't junky software, but much of the best open source software is being adopted an many Fortune 1000 companies.

 

Learn why open source software is a good choice for new businesses.

 

If you want to learn more about open source software options be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.  My next issue will cover some of the best free software available for small businesses.

Google Apps allows greater integration in corporate environment

This past week Google announced the ability to sync Google Apps with a LDAP (lighweight directory access protocol).  Simply put, LDAP is a electronic directory that often stores user information.  In corporate environments an LDAP is helpful because you can manage user accounts from one location.  For the users it is also helpful because it allows you to use a single login ID for various corporate applications and websites.

While this functionality is beyond the needs of many businesses with under 10 users, it adds to the reasons why businesses with more than 10 users want to consider Google Applications for their email and calendar system.

Don't assume your next business computer needs to be a PC

I have long been a champion of practically and simplicity.  In the past this meant that I would recommend most companies use PCs for their workstations and Linux and other open-source products for their servers.  Well, the times are changing.

I ditched my PC in 2006 when Apple starting making computers with the Intel chip.  In the roughly three years I've used my Mac I've found that I could always find the software I needed to perform my tasks.  I've also found that it is really easy to run windows on a Mac for those occasions when I need to test something out (like to make sure my business website looks normal in Internet Explorer).  I can get all my work done on a Mac, but one of the greatest benefits to my Mac is how stable and easy to use it is.  It never locks up, I don't get all kinds of unwanted software running on it and its always seems to run pretty quickly. 

Now in the past these were great reasons for why a single user should go with a Mac, but for a business, where many computers need to work together, adding a Mac to the mix was asking for problems.  But now I feel like we have reached a point where Macs can work well on corporate networks. 

Google applications is one of the best email and calendar solutions for small businesses, and guess what?  It works just as well on a Mac as on a PC.  I also use many open-source software products, like email marketing and customer relationship management that all run through a web interface.  These work just as well on a Mac as on a PC.  Finally with Samba, the open-source file server, you can access shared files with your Mac just like you would on a PC. 

So, if you are looking at purchasing a new computer, there might be advantages to considering an Apple product.  It isn't the best fit for all offices, but it might just save you or your employees from facing that ubiquitous blue screen of death again. 

Not convinced yet?  Read InfoWorld's "Eight Reasons Your Next Computer Should Be a Mac."

Military Looks to Open-Source Community

I wrote last week about the military using iPhones instead of expensive custom mobile computers.  I just read another article that talks about the military teaming with the open source community to build software.

I was often shocked how much the military would spend on software that was buggy, expensive, and not very user friendly.  During my first deployment to Iraq I setup what was effectively the database for the department of motor vehicles for Haditha, Iraq.  This database ran all on open-source software (mySql, apache and php) and was accessible via a web interface.  While I could have tried to follow the traditional routes of procuring software, we didn't have the time for that.  Using the free open-source software I was able to create a powerful and useful database to track all vehicles used within the Haditha region.  While this was very useful to my unit, I know that at the time, it didn't follow the proper protocols for software use within the military.  I'm glad to see that the Department of Defense, is starting to realize they could save a lot of money and get more useful software by harnessing the power of open-source products.

Twitter passes incorrect information just as fast as accurate information

It is hard to read the technology or business section of a newspaper and not see at least one article about Twitter. While I am still working to understand the different ways Twitter can help businesses one thing is clear.  Twitter has the ability to spread information at alarmingly rapid rates.  For instance, I read one columnist who was curious about an orange glow he saw in the distance from his bedroom window.  While it looked like a fire, he wasn't sure how close it was.  The website for his local paper didn't have any info about a fire, but when he checked twitter he got information letting him know the there was a fire, but it was many miles from his house.

So even though Twitter can pass news very quickly, it relies on us to be the editors of the content.  And we can do a really poor job of ensuring that the information passed along is accurate.  Foreign Policy has an interesting article on how Twitter helped add to the worry about the current Swine Flu outbreak.

Trying to convince someone you need an iPhone for work? Don't let them read this.

A recent survey of 600 smartphone users showed that 73% of iPhone owners used their iPhones primarily for person reasons.  Now compare that to the 59% of other smartphone users to use their smartphone primarily for personal reasons. Perhaps this finally proves that users of Apple products really do have more fun. 

Now I could go on and debate if it is wrong or not to use a business phone for personal use, but I have to warn you I am biased.  I just bought an iPhone for my work phone a couple weeks ago.  Am I using it for business or pleasure? I don't think I should answer that question.

iPods for the Troops

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have certainly caused the military to modernize much of the communications infrastructure.  Unfortunately, when I was serving in the Marine Corps, I also felt that the military was often getting ripped off by the prices they were paying for new gadgets to help us fight.  I remember once there was a big push to provide all the infantry battalions with PDAs that Marines would carry around and could use to send messages and take notes.  The PDA was simply a Compaq iPaq that had heavy duty plastic molded around it so it could be called ruggedized.  The PDA actually worked worse than if I had purchased one from Best Buy because the  manufacturer had also added an extra battery so that it would work longer on battery power.  The only problem was that if the battery ever drained completely it would cause the PDA to lock up.  The only way to get it turned on again was to send it back to the manufacturer.  Oh, and the great thing was that the military was paying upwards of $1,500 for this device, when I could have bought one from Best Buy that worked better for a little over $300. 

So I'm glad to see that the military is using commercial off the shelf hardware and software.  This is saving them lots of money, and they are probably getting a more functional product.  Best of all it isn't a Microsoft solution, I mean certainly our enemies will have to be a little jealous when they see Soldiers and Marines walking around Afghanistan with iPods at their sides.

Apple Ranks Highest In Customer Support

While I didn't find it surprising that Apple was recently ranked highest in customer support (I mean what other company has an army of hip techsters waiting at your local Apple store to provide free one on one support.)  I was surprised to see how far behind the other major PC makers were.  Hewett Packard scored a 64%, while Dell limped in at a 58%.  It surprises me that only Apple seems to have realy figured out that computers are made for people, not the other way around.  While I'm sure these other PC makers say they believe the same thing, they haven't seem to translate that thinking into how they make their products.  Let me tell you, adding features and complexity doesn't make a product easier to use.  In face I would argue that stripping away uneeded features and making something simple is the best way to make it user friendly.

Additionally, these findings pose problems for Microsoft who is desperately trying to feel more people friendly.  That is going to be awful hard when the computers that Windows run on rank so low in customer support.

KTG Featured in Denver Business Journal's Startup Column

After the interview with Greg Avery a staff writer for the Denver Business Journal, I thought that my article would be tucked away on one-half a page in the paper.  When the issue arrived  I was completely surprised to see my face plastered across nearly one-half of the page followed by a two page article.  The article is really well writen and I'm thankful to Greg Avery for picking me for his startup column.  I'm also grateful for all the calls I've recieved from people thanking me for my service in the Military.  Once I get an electronic copy of the ariticle I'll publish the full version on my website. One word of warning to anyone who does get an article published, beware of that many phone calls and emails you will recieve from people offering to make you a copy of the article in a beautiful frame or perhaps on a gold plated plaque.
 
Read the online version of "Entrepreneur Baked Idea in Iraq." (Required registration to see full article.)

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