Oct 312008

LogMeIn – This is one of the greatest freebies on the Internet in my humble opinion. This gem of a service was around for a long while before I ever became aware of it. Some smart people at my favorite restaurant point of sale company turned me on to this. LogMeIn is a full featured, well implemented remote access program that is both easy to use and readily accessible. Included in the free version is the ability to remote control any machine running Microsoft Windows, OS X, and as far as I Linux, too! The paid versions of this program include outstanding print redirection capability and file transfer features.

Google Analytics – Easy to install and use, Google Analytics makes it easy to see what kind of traffic is being driven to your website.

Bomgar – This is the remote support software I use to provide support for my clients. I chose a hardware solution as opposed to using a software-as-a-service solution such as LogMeIn Rescue or GoToAssist. While a hosted solution is an enticing solution, offering a fixed cost for access to the latest in remote control technology, I opted for the Bomgar appliance, as there are no long term costs beyond purchase of the hardware. Given my business model, it should be some years before there is another mainstream operating system widely used that the current technology does not support. Given a bit of luck, it won’t blow up anytime soon…

MobileMe – While Apple has some work to do in refining the MobileMe service, I have found the synchronization capability of the MobileMe service to be well worth the annual fee. MobileMe can be used to synchronize a variety of data types including contacts, calendars, and a number of third party applications. For a consumer or small business user that has a business model compatible with the OS X environment, MobileMe can be used to implement a super simple disaster recovery protocol.

Hosted Exchange – Individuals and small business users can greatly benefit from having the same capabilities available to enterprise users with a hosted Exchange solution. In its’ simplest form, Exchange server can be used to synchronize Microsoft Outlook between multiple computers. This can be very useful for a user that checks e-mail on a desktop computer as well as a laptop. Mobile device synch is also an invaluable feature if you have a phone capable of connecting to Exchange, such as the iPhone. Presently, I use SherWeb for my Exchange hosting service provider.

Cellular Internet – Internet access is critical to my business. Without access to remote networks, I would spend much more time driving, and a lot less time supporting my clients. Anyone with a need for Internet access away from the office should take a close look at cellular Internet service. Monthly fees for access has dropped by approximately 25% over the past three years, and the local 3G connect speeds are faster than a T1 circuit in most areas. Having been a CellularOne customer, I presently use AT&T for cellular Internet service.

Oct 262008

While I use a combination of iPhone apps, web based applications and OS X software to run my business, the applications most critical to daily operation are Windows based. So, in no particular order, here is a list of the Windows based software that I use on a regular basis:

Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 — I use Outlook in conjunction with hosted exchange. While I also access my e-mail on my iPhone and on my Macs using Entourage 2008, most of my e-mailing is done through Outlook in order to take advantage of the Outlook/Act! integration of the ACT! 2009 software. All incoming messages from e-mail accounts that can be linked to clients are automatically attached to the history tab of the corresponding client. Likewise, all outgoing messages are also attached to the history of the appropriate contact record automatically.

Microsoft Office Word 2007 — I think I actually preferred the interface of the 2003 version. I’m still getting used to the ribbon, and the integration with third party applications isn’t as tight as earlier versions of Word. I suspect this is due to the additional time it takes to open the software. Word will remain my primary word processing application , until such time as Sage develops ACT! to work with an open source office suite such as Open Office.

Microsoft Office Excel 2007 — Again, I prefer the 2003 layout to the current version. I only use simple Excel spreadsheets to facilitate the daily import of call log data, SMS log data, and time sheets into the ACT! database.

Microsoft Office Visio 2007 — I use Microsoft Visio to create diagrams of all the networks supported by Network Services.

Microsoft MapPoint North America 2004 — I’m a little behind the times on this one. The 2009 version is now available, but I probably won’t update this any time soon. I simply use this to plot routes when work takes me away from the Cape & Islands area.

QuickBooks Premier – Accountant Edition 2009 — Prior to 2004, I used Peachtree Accounting to manage the business. Since most CPA firms and small businesses I have had contact with use QuickBooks, it made sense for me to switch. At this point, I would never go back to Peachtree. In my opinion, there are two elements of QuickBooks that make the program far superior to Peachtree. First, QuickBooks does not force you to close and purge your books every two fiscal years. This allows for much better reporting from QuickBooks. Second, while Peachtree requires that you define your accounting method (cash based vs accrual) when you setup your company data file, QuickBooks lets you toggle back and forth when viewing financial reports. This is much preferred when viewing a balance sheet or profit and loss statement. Note: I prefer the Accountant Edition, as the general ledger entry screen shows more the one transaction at a time.

Customer Payment Analyzer (untested with QuickBooks 2009)— This is a handy little inexpensive tool that gives some pretty good reporting if you want to get a snap shot of your slow payers. I had previously used a program that used the QODBC driver to parse the data. The old program gave me a more polished report, but took much longer to run, and support from the developer was nearly non-existant. Note: This developer has a number of handy QuickBooks add-ons that may be worth checking out.

PaperSavePlus for QuickBooks — I recently purchased and deployed this software. The developer had to send me a patch to get it to work with the 2009 version of QuickBooks, but it was definitely worth the wait. This software uses SQL Express 2005 to manage a database that syncs with your QuickBooks data file. The database contains all of the transaction data from QuickBooks, and allows you to scan and store any document in .pdf format. Each scanned document is linked to the corresponding transaction in QuickBooks for easy retrieval. Now I can scan and shred all of my old bills, etc! Note: When I first set this up, I was apprehensive that the software would not perform well, or would somehow slow down access to my QuickBooks data file. After using this regularly, I am pleased to announce that not only does it work very well, but that there is no noticeable impact on the performance of my system.

BRC IIF Transaction Creator — This is another QuickBooks add-on from a developer that has a number of very useful QuickBooks tools available. I don’t use this software every day like some of the other apps listed here, but this program is extremely useful for porting data from spreadsheets into QuickBooks. I have used this to import a great deal of data into my personal QuickBooks data file, and have found it useful from time to time in assisting clients in cleaning up their QuickBooks data files, when the ledger is not setup properly.

ACT! 2009 Premium for Workgroups — ACT! has been the mainstay of my business since version 5. ACT! is one of the most versatile CRM programs that I have worked with, and is easily customized for just about any industrial use. Since any document format can easily be attached to a contact record, and then synchronized to a remote database (Premium versions only), document management is very easy. ACT! has a multitude of third party snap-ins and add-on software available that make it a very versatile and useful program. It is so feature rich, that it can be rather difficult for new users.

qManage — qManage is an easy to use help desk style task management program with good ACT! integration. This program is used internally by the company (London Computer Systems) that developed it, so the company is constantly improving the program. The program is inexpensive, and tech support from the developer is very good. I used this program very heavily prior to setting up the online trouble ticket system on my website, so most of my qManage use is for tracking internal projects now. I would highly recommend this program for anyone looking for a simple to use task management system with great ACT! integration.

Stonefield Query — Stonefield Query is the definitive reporting add-on for ACT! that is an absolute must-have for any serious ACT! user. I have used this program since migrating from ACT! 6 to later versions of ACT!, as the customized history reports I have created are for more flexible than the ones built into ACT!. Note: Stonefield Query is another application that I would highly recommend, based on my experience with the company. This company takes good care of its’ existing customers, having assisted me with modifications to my reports in the past. I had one report that I could not program myself, and the support team finished it for me for free. They could very easily have charged me to make the change, but did not. Also, when you need to move the program from one computer to another, support personnel are easy to reach via telephone or e-mail, and also very quick to respond — great company to deal with.

Companionlink Pro — If you have a smartphone other than the iPhone and you wish to sync your ACT! data to your phone, look no further. Companionlink is an extremely versatile program that gives you a great deal of control to define exactly what data you wish to sync.

DoubleLook — DoubleLook is one of the most important programs I use on a daily basis. DoubleLook, developed by the folks at CompanionLink software, runs on my laptop to sync my ACT! database with Outlook in realtime. Contacts and calendar items are synced both directions. This allows me access to contact data contained in the notes or history tabs (from recent jobs) of my ACT! database on my iPhone! Additionally, thanks to exchange server, I can add tasks and meetings on my iPhone and have them automatically sync to my ACT! database with no effort!

CRMADDON’s Import for ACT! — This is one of my favorite programs, for sure. This ACT! add-on allows for the import of data from a great many sources (in my case, from Excel spreadsheets) into the ACT! database. It would not be possible for me to have the level of accountability that I do without this software. On a daily basis, I import all call-log data from my iPhone, SMS data from my iPhone, and also time sheets from an iPhone application. When I have needed help in the past, I have found the developer easily accessible, and an absolute joy to work with. Since the developer is in Germany, he often returns my calls and e-mails immediately, even when it is late at night for me. Did I mention I love this program…

Project KickStart 4 Pro — I had looked at Project Kickstart a few years ago for use as a project management solution. While ACT! is great for all around CRM, I wanted something that would allow me to manage bigger projects easily. At the time, integration with ACT! was very weak, so I ended up use the ACT! sales process to accomplish what I was looking to do with marginal results. Recently, I took another look at the software and the integration is much improved. The program allows for the import of all users and contact records from ACT!, so assigning personnel to projects is very simple. Additionally, the finished project can be exported to ACT!, whereby a task is automatically created for each task item included in the project. The developer did an excellent job with this, as there is no additional configuration required to make it work. Simply select your ACT! database and enter your user logon and password, and the data is automatically ported to ACT!. Even better, when you make changes to the project in Project Kickstart, such as marking a task as 100% finished or changing the date of a task, you can rerun the export, and the tasks created in ACT! will automatically be updated to match the changed records. A few years ago, I found the developers easily accessible for questions, but I have no experience in dealing with their tech support. The installation and use of the program is so easy, that there has been no need to contact them

Scansoft Paperport Professional 11 — Paperport is a program that I have used for many years. I never really used it to its’ full potential as a document management system, though I have a few clients that have done so with good results. Personally, I like the interface for manipulating .pdf files and combining them (as opposed to doing this with Acrobat). I’d like to see Nuance build a program like this for OS X.

Bomgar Representative Client — The Bomgar support client software is used in conjunction with the Bomgar appliance in my office. It is integrated with my website to allow help-desk style support and remote control of client computers and some handheld devices. I have used this for about three years and chose it over a hosted solution such as LogMeIn for general use.

Diskeeper 2008 — While Windows Vista has disk defragmentation built-in and Windows XP has an on-demand disk defragmenter, Diskeeper is a much better ‘fire and forget’ solution. This software is a must for any Windows power user.

Firefox — Firefox is a must have for any Windows user, and the multitude of add-ins available make it my browser of choice, wether I’m working in Windows or OS X.

Foxmarks ad-in for Firefox — Foxmarks is the add-on that allowed me to retrain myself to use Firefox as my primary browser. Just as exchange server allows you to access your mail on any machine, foxmarks allows you to easily synchronize your Firefox bookmarks on all the computers you use with minimal effort.

Ipswitch WS-FTP Professional 2007 — WS-FTP is my favorite FTP client for Windows. It has some advanced scheduling and automation features that are handy for backing up data to and from FTP servers.

QuickTime Player — I use the QuickTime Player on Windows to listen to the voicemails (in .amr format) that have been saved and attached to history records of my ACT! database. While it’s great to have a record of messages in the database, it’s even better to be able to retrieve them and listen to them later!

Symantec Anti-Virus 10.1.5 — I have used Symantec Antivirus Corporate edition for my network, and those that I support since version 7.6. I have always preferred the corporate versions of Symantec Antivirus to the consumer versions due to the smaller footprint, and less intrusive nature of the program. Sadly, I hate the latest release of their product, Symantec Endpoint Protection 11, so I will be looking into a better, less intrusive anti-virus solution in the near future.