Small Business News Briefs

Friday Aug 1st 2003 by SmallBusinessComputing.com Staff
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Microsoft Business Solutions releases enhancements to its retail management software, an Arizona-based IT consultancy offers a Linux-based server priced to please small-office and home-office networks, and Dell delivers a small-business-friendly PC for under $450.

Microsoft Delivers Upgraded Retail Management Product
Microsoft Business Solutions this week released enhancements to its retail solution, developed specifically for small, independent retailers. The 1.2 release of Microsoft Business Solutions Retail Management System (RMS) offers enhanced functionality designed to facilitate a retailer's ability to better manage, control and plan the growth of a single- or multi-store retail operation.

Specific enhancements to Microsoft RMS 1.2 includes:

  • Improved customer service with new payment processing and service features.

  • The ability to simplify processes and help safeguard business information and transactions.

  • Deeper integration with financial applications.

  • The flexibility to customize the solution for maximum efficiency.

As a result of an existing business relationship between Microsoft Business Solutions and Citibank Merchant Services, Microsoft RMS 1.2 now supports integrated debit card transaction processing.

Brendan O'Meara, product unit manager with Microsoft Business Solutions Retail Management Systems, said RMS 1.2 will pave the way for independent retailers to transform their retail operations in ways that work best for them, on their own timeline and at an affordable cost.

"Tighter integration with business applications, debit card payment processing, enhanced features and strong working relationships with our industry-leading partners will open up a whole new world of possibilities and opportunities for our customers," O'Meara said.

Microsoft RMS is available in the U.S. through a authorized resellers; pricing begins at $1,290 for a single-lane license.

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Linux-Based SOHO Server for Under $700
Based in Arizona, Resource Strategies is a leading IT consulting firm that provides networking and communications solutions for small- and medium-sized businesses. This week, the company debuted its new entry-level network server, appropriately dubbed SOHOServer. With built-in anti-virus and anti-spam software, the SOHOServer offers small businesses powerful networking capabilities at faction of the cost of a comparable Microsoft-based solution.

The SOHOServer can handle file sharing, e-mail, Internet and Web hosting for smaller businesses, and act as a print server. It features free firewall, anti-virus and anti-spam software for secure collaboration and sharing of documents across the network, while still protecting valuable data from hackers, viruses and worms. Robust support for the Microsoft computing standard ensures further collaboration opportunities. SOHOServer seamlessly integrates with Microsoft Windows on the desktop, including full e-mail capabilities with Outlook, Netscape and other POP3 and IMAP e-mail applications.

John Hofferth, operations manager at Pinal Feeding, is using SOHOServer to support 25 employees across its three Phoenix-area locations. Hofferth said the small company was looking for an effective and inexpensive way to host its corporate e-mail application and landed on Resource Strategies' SOHOServer as the best solution.

"SOHOServer provides us with everything we need in one small, self-contained box," Hofferth said. "In fact, its built-in anti-virus software has enabled the server to virtually pay for itself, as we no longer need to pay the high per-user license fees of our prior third-party solution."

SOHOServer is the latest addition to Resources Strategies' StrategyServer family of low-cost network servers based on the Linux operating system. Specifically designed to meet the needs of small businesses and home offices, SOHOServer is a combined hardware and software solution that comes pre-installed and configured for file sharing and storage, Web access, as well as e-mail and hosting services.

Jeff Coleman, Resource Strategies president and chief executive officer, said the SOHOServer provides small businesses with easy entry into a networked environment without the cost and hassle inherent with more mainstream solutions.

"Small businesses, start-ups and home offices often don't have the resources to pay for elaborate Microsoft-based networking solutions," Coleman said. "Now, with SOHOServer, they have the option to use a comparable solution for the one-time cost of an entry-level desktop computer."

In addition to its anti-virus, anti-spam and built-in firewall, the SOHOSever features a secure Web management console and remote system monitoring. The server can be configured to support data backup — in the form of hard disk storage — through a simple graphical user interface.

In order to maximize efficiency and minimize costs, the SOHOServer leverages the Linux open-source operating system. Since it's not subject to licensing fees, Linux makes the SOHOServer a cost-effective networking solution for smaller businesses. However, there can be additional costs involved for those small businesses that do not have an internal IT department. These businesses would need to utilize outside IT consultants or agencies for supporting and maintaining the SOHOServer.

SOHOServer is available immediately for a limited-time at the introductory price of $699. Regular retail pricing is $799. There are no user license fees and updates for the pre-installed anti-virus and anti-spam software are free for the life of the server.

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Dell's New Small-Biz-Friendly Desktop PC
For years now, Dell Dimension desktops have been positioned as a top choice for consumers, while OptiPlex desktops were geared toward larger businesses with networked environments. This has left small businesses with a difficult choice — invest in OptiPlex, which has a higher acquisition price than Dimension but lower total cost of ownership — or take advantage of Dimension's lower acquisition price at the expense of OptiPlex's computing power.

A business-friendly desktop becomes increasingly important as a small business grows, so Dell recently introduced the OptiPlex 160L, a desktop for small businesses that prioritize a low acquisition cost but have their goals set for future growth.

The OptiPlex 160L, starting at $449, offers a choice of Intel Pentium 4 or Celeron processors and comes with integrated Broadcom 10/100 networking to enable remote systems management capabilities. The 160L can be configured similarly to other OptiPlex systems, but by limiting configuration options to those most relevant to small business, the acquisition cost is kept comparatively low and the customization process is simplified.

Technical Features of the OptiPlex 160L include:

  • Intel Pentium 4 processors up to 2.66GHz or Intel Celeron up to 2.2GHz.

  • Integrated Broadcom 10/100Mbps Ethernet remote wake-up.

  • Up to 2 GB of 333MHz shared SDRAM.

  • Six 2.0 USB ports, two front and four rear.

  • Up to 80GB 7200 RPM ATA/100 hard drives.

  • Three PCI expansion slots, one 3.5-inch external diskette bay, two 5.25-inch external diskette bays and two internal drive bays.

  • CD-ROM, CD-RW, DVD ROM and CD-RW/DVD ROM combo drives are available as add-on items.

"The fiscal realities of small businesses frequently compel them to purchase PCs not optimized for a networked environment because the acquisition cost is lower than so-called 'big business' systems," said Indraj Gill, worldwide marketing director for Dell OptiPlex. "The OptiPlex 160L delivers a capable, reliable, network-optimized system at a lower cost than traditional managed PCs."

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