2008 Awards: The Absolute Best in Small Business

Friday Feb 1st 2008 by SmallBusinessComputing.com Staff
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Who do you turn to for business advice most often? No doubt it's other experienced small business owners. Well, your entrepreneurial compatriots made the call and picked the best software, hardware and services. Take a look at the results.

Hardware     Security     Software/Services     E-Commerce    

The Hollywood writer's strike may have shut down the Golden Globes and could even cause Oscar to stay in for the night, but we're happy to report that we're rolling out the virtual red carpet for the 2008 Small Business Computing Excellence in Technology awards right on schedule.

This year's honorees include familiar A-list performers as well as young breakout talent. We've even added Best Innovation, Site Search and eBay Tool under e-commerce to accommodate the rapid growth in this evolving category.

Long-time darling of the art crowd, this year Apple broke through the small business barricade to win the hearts and practical minds of our voters in two different categories.

A long-awaited, big-budget production doesn't always deliver, but this time it sure did. The much-anticipated release of Microsoft's sequel to its productivity suite was a blockbuster hit. But Microsoft Office 2007 wasn't big only at the box office, it was just as big a hit with voters. Not to be outdone, perennial crowd-favorite QuickBooks also continued to rack up trophies.

If you're looking for total dominance, check out the security category. We won't give away the ending, but someone went 4 for 4, taking home every security award.

Of course, whether it's the Oscars or the best pizza place in town, awards program and debates go hand in hand. If you think your fellow readers got it wrong, let us know in our forum.

Hardware

Hardware
Desktop PC
Dell Optiplex 755
      Runner-up: HP Compaq dc5750
Notebook PC
MacBook Pro (15-inch screen)
      Runner-up: HP Compaq 6820s
Color Printer
HP Officejet Pro K5400dtn
      Runner-up: Xerox Phaser 8860
      Runner-up: Brother HL-4070CDW

Black & White Printer
HP LaserJet P1505n
      Runner-up: HP LaserJet P1006
Multifunction Device
HP Officejet Pro L7680 All-in-One
      Runner-up: Dell 3115cn
Mobile Device
Apple iPhone
      Runner-up: RIM Blackberry 8830 World Edition Phone
      Runner-up: Palm Treo 755p

Desktop Storage
Seagate FreeAgent Pro
Maxtor OneTouch 4 Plus
      Runner-up: SimpleDrive External Hard Drive

Network Storage
IBM System Storage DS3400
      Runner-up: NetApp Store Vault S300
Server
Dell PowerEdge 2970
      Runner-up: IBM System i515 Express
      Runner-up: HP Proliant ML115

Desktop PC
Sure they're sedentary and a bit on the bulky side, but what desktop PCs lack in mobile fitness, they more than make up for in price and expandability. The desktop still reigns as the small business workhorse.

The Dell Desktop Dynasty continues for the fifth straight year as the environmentally friendly Optiplex 755 claims honors as the top vote getter. Dell PCs have always been popular with small businesses, but this Optiplex is not only powerful enough to run the business, its environmental bent reduces the electric bill, saving you money and helping the planet at the same time.

Keeping with the environmental theme, the runner-up HP Compaq dc5750 also offers an energy-saving incentive along with a lower-priced AMD processor for a system that makes both economic and ecologic sense.

Notebook PC
While the sturdy desktop keeps things running strong back at the office, a notebook does its best work on the fly, helping you stay nimble and ahead of the competition. And if you also happen to enjoy a notebook's sex appeal, where's the harm?

Not satisfied with last year's runner-up position, the MacBook Pro (with a 15-inch screen) emphatically shot to the top with 53 percent of the vote and snatched first place away from the PC crowd. This marks the first time that Apple has won a category in our awards. It's easy enough to understand; an unbeatably sleek design, Windows-capable Intel Core 2 Duo processor and an energy-efficient, LED back-lit display add up to a versatile travel companion.

With 16 percent of the votes, second place honors go to the HP Compaq 6820s for its affordable, Vista-capable, 17-inch widescreen mobility.

Color Printer
You can't talk about color printing for small business without talking HP. Hands down, HP rules this demographic. And our readers are nothing if not consistent (some might say downright predictable). A whopping 64 percent of them chose the HP Officejet Pro K5400dtn as the top printer — a margin that even Secretariat might envy. The printer offers brisk print speeds, wired networking for up to five PCs and duplex printing.

Still, the vote was hardly unanimous and resulted in a tie for second place between the Xerox Phaser 8860 and the Brother HL-4070CDW. Just goes to show, there are plenty of quality options available to cover the various needs of every small business.

Black and White Printer
The HP printing juggernaut kept rolling along as our readers awarded the company both first- and second-place recognition for the best in monochrome.

Again the bragging rights go to HP. The LaserJet P1505n scored 40 percent of our voters' affection for its 24 page-per-minute speed, integrated networking, Powersave mode and Instant-On technology for $249. Hot on its heels in second place comes the HP LaserJet P1006, the company's smallest monochrome laser printer for the home and office.

Multi-Function Device
All-in-one printers, arguably the hardest working hardware in small business, share a lot in common with the entrepreneurs who buy them. After all, it's one tireless machine handling multiple tasks on a daily basis. Sound familiar?

And if you've read this far, it will come as no surprise that HP ranked number one with our readers for the HP Officejet Pro L7680 All-in-One, giving HP a total sweep of the printing categories. The Pro L7680, an inkjet mind you, produces output that rivals more expensive color lasers. Our reviewer gave it a rave review, calling it "the best-performing all-in-one we've ever tested." And a resounding 54 percent of our voters agreed.

The mid-level Dell 3115cn snagged the runner up position with impressive speed and good value for the money.

Mobile Device
A mobile device is, without doubt, one of the top how-did-I-live-without-it technologies for small business owners. It keeps you in touch and on top of issues no matter where your work takes you. Imagine trying to keep a handle on your business without one (shudder).

There's been a whole lot of hoopla about the iPhone ever since its debut, and although it wasn't designed with business in mind, our readers liked it enough to give it the number one spot by a hefty 47 percent. The fact that companies like WebEx are designing business-related applications for it is just the beginning of what's to come.

Both the RIM Blackberry 8830 World Edition Phone and the Palm Treo 755p tied for the runner-up position. RIM's dual-mode Smartphone lets you make calls, send messages and receive e-mails worldwide, while the 755p is the first Palm OS Treo to offer built-in e-mail support for Microsoft's Direct Push technology.

Desktop Storage
Whatever data you have, you have a lot of it — and more on the way. That's why desktop storage products need to have big capacities, fast performance and a friendly approach to working with you.

The good news is that there are a lot of good options in external storage. So many that our readers split the vote and gave the top pick to two different drives from the same company. First place goes to both the Seagate FreeAgent Pro and Maxtor OneTouch 4 Plus.

The FreeAgent Pro offers big capacity and lots of ways to connect, including eSATA, and an online storage account for backing up your data off-site. The Maxtor OneTouch includes utilities not just for backing up and restoring data, but for synchronizing and encrypting it, too.

Fabrik's SimpleDrive External Hard Drive, a relative newcomer, snagged the runner-up position no doubt for combining performance with an online backup account and stylish good looks.

Network Storage
As companies expand, so does the data, and often at an alarming rate. Adding dedicated storage to your network can ease both system performance and efficiency woes, making your work life a bit easier.

This year, 42 percent our readers cast their lot with the IBM System Storage DS3400. The $6,495 system supports 12 hard disk drives for capacity of up to 3.6 terabytes a good match for tasks such as managing databases, e-mail and Web serving.

Last year's winner, NetApp, takes a very respectable runner-up slot for the NetApp Store Vault S300, a $3,000 storage appliance that offers security, scalability, data protection and simplified management.

Server
The heart of any small business network, a server can consolidate a multitude of business tasks from the basics of file and print sharing, Web hosting and database management to advanced chores such as load balancing and virtualization.

Dell's PowerEdge 2970 powered past both the HP and IBM entries to win the small business server vote this year with 39 percent of the tally. The AMD-based, general-purpose server is designed to handle database applications, network infrastructure, Web applications, messaging/groupware, Web serving, file and print sharing and virtualization. Configurations with that kind of power and capability start at $5,600 and range up to the $20,000 mark.

A tie in the runner-up department indicates that there's a server for pretty much any small business out there. IBM designed the System i515 Express for SMBs with fewer than 40 employees and offers a per-user pricing model. Pricing starts around $8,000. Companies with less-demanding needs and tighter budgets should consider the HP Proliant ML115. Pricing for this entry-level server starts at $499.

Awards by Category:
Hardware     Security     Software/Services     E-Commerce    

Hardware     Security     Software/Services     E-Commerce    

Security

PC Security
Protecting your business means protecting the data on your desktop or laptop PC from viruses and other malicious digital threats. The Norton line of anti-virus products is a well-known and respected brand - and last year's winner, to boot --so it's no surprise to see Symantec Corp.'s Norton 360 take top honors in the PC Security category.

This software provides top-notch anti-virus protection and incorporates features like online and local backup as well as PC maintenance tools, which traditionally, have been sold separately from the anti-virus solution.

Security
Network Backup
Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery 7.0 Server Edition
      Runner-up: HP StorageWorks D2D Backup System
Network Security
Symantec Endpoint Protection 11.0 Business Pack
      Runner-up: Trend Micro Client Server Messaging Security 3.5
PC Backup
Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery 7.0 Desktop Edition
      Runner-up: Norton 360 (Symantec Corp.)
PC Security
Norton 360 (Symantec Corp.)
      Runner-up: McAfee Total Protection 2008

McAfee Total Protection 2008 snagged the runner-up honors for its combination of desktop security features and data backup options.

Network Security
Our voters were just as consistent about how they protect their networks with the majority choosing Symantec Endpoint Protection 11.0 Business Pack with antivirus, antispyware, firewall, intrusion prevention and device control. The application not only defends your network on these various fronts, it's easily managed by one administrator using a single management console — a feature we're sure that helped move this product into the number one spot.

Runner-up Trend Micro Client Server Messaging Security 3.5 provides easy-to-mange protection for PCs, notebooks and servers against multiple Internet threats, including spam, spyware, root kits, viruses and other malicious threats.

PC Backup
Small businesses know that backing up their office computers is a critical function, yet they're often uncertain about how to put a good back-up plan in place. The top vote getter, Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery 7.0 Desktop Edition, takes away the confusion and does the hard work for you. It captures recovery points of an entire Windows system -- including operating system, applications, system settings, configurations and files — and letting you to restore your PC to an exact point in time prior to a failure.

You might be surprised to find Norton 360 as our runner up in the PC Backup category. But this program not only fights against digital threats, it discovers new files and automatically saves that data to a secure online backup service or to a local CD, DVD, or external drive device. This means busy small business professionals need fewer products to manage their overall system protection.

Network Backup
For companies affected by regulatory acts such as HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley, backing up and retaining data brings new challenges to an already critical management issue.

Winning a majority of our readers' votes (and a total Symantec sweep of the Security category), Symantec's all-in-one backup solution Backup Exec System Recovery 7.0 Server Edition offers a centralized view of system backup and recovery activity across multiple systems and supports all Windows Operating Systems as well as Windows Small Business Server 2000 or 2003, Windows Exchange Server 2003, and Windows 2000 Professional, Advanced Server.

Our runner-up in this category, the HP StorageWorks D2D Backup System offers reliable protection by automating and centralizing daily backup operations and it allows you to consolidate backups for up to four servers onto a single, self-managing device.

Awards by Category:
Hardware     Security     Software/Services     E-Commerce    

Hardware     Security     Software/Services     E-Commerce    

Software & Services

Software & Services
Accounting / Finance
QuickBooks 2008 (Intuit)
      Runner-up: Microsoft Office Accounting 2007 Professional
Productivity
Microsoft Office 2007
      Runner-up: Adobe Creative Suite 3 Design Premium
Customer / Sales Management
ACT by Sage 2008
Salesforce Group Edition featuring Google AdWords       Runner-up: NetSuite CRM
VoIP
TalkSwitch 240 VS
      Runner-up: RingCentral DigitalLine VoIP
Collaboration
GotoMeeting v3.0
      Runner-up: WebEx WebOffice

Accounting / Finance
When it comes to running a small business, accounting software is as much an office staple as, well, a stapler. Tracking receivables, payables and cash flow is core to any business, but for small companies with little margin for financial error, the right accounting software is crucial.

It's hard to imagine a piece of software more linked to small businesses than QuickBooks. Apparently, you agree as Intuit's accounting package continues to dominate the small business finance market and this year captured 57 percent of vote. While we had some qualms with the upgrade policy, there's no denying the popularity of the 2008 version, which lets you track billable hours from within Microsoft Outlook. You can now send e-mails directly from QuickBooks via Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express, allowing you to more easily distribute invoices, receipts and reports.

While you have to admire QuickBooks' lead in the accounting race, Microsoft isn't taking its foot off the gas. Its Microsoft Office Accounting 2007 captured 20 percent of the vote to take runner-up honors, moving past last year's runner-up, Peachtree.

In addition to being able to sell through eBay, Microsoft Office Accounting now features more precise access control, better-integrated point-of-sale features, improved synchronization with Outlook and the capability to track and forecast inventory.

Productivity
The word "Productivity" covers a lot of territory and so does this year's winner. It was no surprise to see Microsoft Office 2007 win, but its margin of victory was a bit surprising as it dominated the category to take nearly 60 percent of the vote. The new version of Office sports a new interface, which no doubt has caused many Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Access veterans to shout, "Why?" The adjustment to the new, cleaner Ribbon interface is worth the effort.

Claiming the runner-up spot — in a bit of a surprise — is Adobe Creative Suite 3 Design Premium, which nabbed an impressive 31 percent of the votes. This powerful graphics suite doesn't come cheap — its $1,799 estimated street price is a jaw-dropping figure for many SMBs. But for a business with demanding graphics needs, that price includes a complete library of software including InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, Acrobat and other applications in an integrated suite.

Customer / Sales Management
The first rule of sales is to know your customer. And that adage has taken on new meaning in the age of customer relationship management and business intelligence. The capability to know more about your customers and potential customers has paved the way for a slew of new products to collect and manage information. But this year's winners and runners-up are familiar names.

After a year in the runner-up chair, ACT by Sage 2008 celebrated its 20th anniversary by recapturing the crown, or at least a share of it. This year's version of ACT touts customizable Reporting and Activity Dashboards among other new features.

Salesforce Group Edition featuring Google AdWords tied for top honors (Salesforce.com won last year). In a move aimed squarely at small and mid-sized businesses, Salesforce replaced Salesforce Team Edition with Salesforce Group Edition featuring Google Adwords in 2007. Google's Adwords technology now comes with Salesforce Group Edition, allowing for integration of Adwords into the CRM aervice as well as sponsored placement within Google.

Earning this year's runner-up award is NetSuite CRM, another Web-based pioneer, with 17 percent of the vote and momentum on its side for next year.

VoIP
VoIP is no longer a curiosity for small businesses. It's now a proven money-saver that offers the added benefit of helping little guys look much larger to their customers.

"Large" certainly fits the field of VoIP products currently available to SMBs, which makes choosing one a difficult decision for small businesses. It was also a difficult decision in this year's voting: In one of the most closely contested of our 25 battles for supremacy, TalkSwitch 240 VS 323 edged RingCentral DigitalLine VoIP by six percentage points, 32 to 26 percent.

This year's winner TalkSwitch offers hold, transfer and conference calls, voicemail, auto attendants, music on hold and ring groups. But you also get advanced features such as voicemail to e-mail, multi-lingual prompts and remote extensions for $695.

Announced last fall, RingCentral's DigitalLine VoIP allows the company's customers to place and receive calls via landline, mobile and VoIP as needed. And like TalkSwitch it excels at helping small operations looks much larger over the phone.

Collaboration
It's a familiar theme with small businesses everywhere. You have a partner here, a remote worker there, a key vendor somewhere else. You need to work with all of them — sometimes just a few of them — altogether in real-time. That's why many of you are turning to collaboration services.

Taking top honors with 37 percent of the vote is GotoMeeting v3.0. The latest version of Citrix Online's popular service features, among other things, integration with Microsoft Office 2007, Google Talk, Skype, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger. It also provides a free conference call service.

Taking the runner-up award with 27 percent of the vote is WebEx WebOffice. No stranger to the Small Business Computing Excellence in Technology awards, the hosted suite added Web-based e-mail featuring antivirus and spam guard, live search and 1GB storage for each mail box.

Awards by Category:
Hardware     Security     Software/Services     E-Commerce    

Hardware     Security     Software/Services     E-Commerce    

E-Commerce

E-Commerce
Affiliate
Google AdSense
      Runner-up: Amazon Associates
Best Innovation
Like.com
      Runner-up: TheFind.com
Online Marketing
VerticalResponse
      Runner-up: Google AdWords
Site Search
Google Custom Search Business Edition
      Runner-up: Google Mini
Storefront
Volusion 5
      Runner-up: Yahoo Merchant Solutions
Web Hosting
Go Daddy
      Runner-up: Network Solutions
EBay Tool
eBay to Go
      Runner-up: Auctiva
      Runner-up: FotoShare

Best Innovation
Over the past year, personalized search engines, widgets and mobile applications ushered in an era in which doing business online no longer just means paid and organic search optimization.

Given these trends, we added a Best Innovation category this year, with nominees including iPhone applications (iRibbit), widgets (PopShops), a do-it-yourself video ad site (AditAll) and two next-generation search engines that placed first and second.

Specialized search engines are an affordable and easy way for e-tailers to reach new customers, so it's no surprise they captured the top spots. Like.com wins the category, with 32 percent of the vote. With its formidable formula — combining visual search with celebrity fashion — the search engine is poised to capitalize on the public's appetite for trendy apparel and accessories. And since the search engine automatically trolls eBay listings and welcomes stand-alone Web store feeds, links and affiliate programs, it's easy for e-tailers to like Like.com.

Not far behind with 29 percent is TheFind.com. "Discovery" search, or offering shoppers more guided queries resulting in personalized results, was pegged as a hot trend for 2007 by Forrester Research, TheFind seems to be proving it true. TheFind.com crawls the Web to rank more than 150 million products from more 500,000 stores, based on market supply and demand indicators. The result is that any search will return a custom-catalog that consumers can browse.

Online Marketing
Online marketing encompasses many things, pay-per-click campaigns, surveys, social commerce initiatives such as customer reviews and blogs and maintenance of your organic search indexing, and, of course, e-mail marketing. This year, VerticalResponse, which offers self-service e-mail marketing tools on the Web (as well as direct mail services) takes home the gold.

This past fall, the company began offering Google Analytics integration to its clients. The majority of its customers are small e-tailers and they seem to be happy — VerticalResponse won by a large margin with more than 66 percent of the vote.

Last year's winner, Google AdWords, places second this year, with close to 30 percent of the vote. In 2007, AdWords made news with its mobile and print extensions, and naturally there were a lot of new features added, such as version 5.0 of the AdWords Editor.

Storefront
Mirroring last year's close race, Volusion once again edged out Yahoo Merchant Solutions to win the Storefront race. Volusion 5 earned 37 percent of the vote, with Yahoo placing second with just shy of 34 percent.

Volusion added some 40 new features in its latest version. Volusion 5 comes with stronger product and category management tools, advanced order processing and shipping features and new CRM tools. Some of the notable improvements include new shopping cart features that let you view carts in real-time and collect contact information, "per product" dimensional shipping support that allows you to enter a product's dimensions and then calculate charges based on size and weight, an upgraded newsletter system that lets you manage and send commercial e-mail to promote goods and better Excel and QuickBooks integration.

For its part, Yahoo Merchant Solutions added two significant new features: The Merchant Solutions cross-sell tool automatically recommends complementary products when customers place items into a merchant's shopping cart, or when they browse product pages. Second, the new Keyword Finder feature helps sellers improve both search engine optimization and online marketing campaigns by highlighting keywords that have helped lead shoppers to their online stores and to make purchases.

Affiliate
For the third year in a row, Google AdSense and Amazon Associates take top honors, respectively, in the Affiliate category. Google AdSense garnered 52 percent of votes cast, with Amazon coming in with 20 percent.

In the past year AdSense revamped the look of its ad formats and introduced an ad placement tool, while also making it easier to oversee, optimize and experiment with accounts with better management features. In addition, Google launched such features as video units, AdSense for mobile content, and referrals 2.0 to bring in new revenue streams, as well as an Ad Review Center.

Showing that it keep up with the marketplace, Amazon Associates last fall Associates launched Amazon Widgets. These mini-applications allow you to feature products from Amazon on blogs, Web sites and social networking pages. Also notable from Amazon Associates in 2007: five new customization tools for the affiliate program's aStore.

Site Search
This year we added a Site Search category to reflect the trend of specialized search systems and products catering to e-commerce sites. Though relative newcomers such as SLI Systems, EasyAsk and Baynote's Community Guided e-Commerce all made impressive inroads this year, Google's offerings took both first and second place. Google Custom Search Business Edition won, with Google Mini following.

It's tough to beat Google in the search game, especially when it is rolling out specialized versions that appealed to small e-tailers. Last summer, Custom Search Business Edition was announced. The hosted service is designed to offer a simple and inexpensive way for small businesses to add Google search to their Web sites. Custom Search Business Edition starts at $100 a year for searching up to 5,000 pages and at $500 for 50,000 pages.

In second place is the more-expensive Google Mini appliance. Early last year, of Google Mini upgrades included added features designed to improve search efficiency for a small business's public Web site or e-commerce operation. For example, Google Mini searches are now be integrated with Google Analytics so you can track traffic and navigation patterns.

Web Hosting
As we outlined in our Web Hosting Primer article, when shopping for a host, you should look for companies that cater to online stores, and this past year more and more hosting providers rolled out plans specifically designed for small e-tailers.

Despite the maturing market, Go Daddy, appears to be the grand-daddy of this sector. The perennial favorite won this year with 40 percent of the vote. Go Daddy continues to attract new business with its budget plans, beginning at a mere $3.39 a month for 5GB and going up to about $13 to $15 a month for 200GB.

Coming in second is Network Solutions, with 27 percent of the vote, which narrowly beat out perennialy placers Yahoo Web Hosting.

eBay Tool
Proving that 2007 was indeed the "Year of the Widget," eBay to Go took the checkered flag for "Best eBay Tool." Here's why: It's easy to use, it's free and it can help generate more sales — especially if others pass it along.

Sharing second place are Auctiva and FotoShare by FotoTime. Auctiva is a free eBay seller management application including templates, scheduling and image-hosting. FotoShare hosts photos and videos for eBay auctions.


To request an .eps version of a Product of the Year Award logo click here.

Awards by Category:
Hardware     Security     Software/Services     E-Commerce    

Vangie Beal, Michelle Megna, Dan Muse and Lauren Simonds contributed to this report.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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