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Category: 559 (page 3 of 5)

The joys of OEM junk . . .

Ok – so I got a phone call from a family friend here a little over a week ago requesting some tech support.  I stop by to take a look at the PC, and it’s in a state that’s not worth fixing.  It’s an older Gateway PC running Win98, and it won’t boot to Windows – just sticks at the Gateway GoBack screen.


So, I convince the friend that it’s time for a new PC, and proceed to order the parts & pieces to build them a nice new Athlon64 / Windows XP Pro / Office 2003 PC.


So, I’m installing the new PC tonight – and slave the old HD into the new PC to pull across what data I can.  I boot into Windows XP, and discover that I can’t access the drive.  Mind you, it shows up in Disk Management, but it won’t let me assign a drive letter, or do anything besides format – which I obviously don’t want to do.


So, I throw a question out to the gang (the SBS MVPs are the best tech support resource a guy could have – primarily because we’re all scarred & jaded after countless ‘Been There, Done That – what a pain in the neck!’ experiences.  Well, Handy Andy comes to the rescue and confirms my suspicions that it has something to do with GoBack.  Basically, GoBack changes the partition type to it’s own type 44 – which Windows doesn’t recognize and thus won’t access.  Andy suggested booting to the old drive, pressing the Space Bar when prompted to access GoBack and disable it.  Then boot into Windows on the old drive & uninstall GoBack.  That’s fine & dandy – but if you remember correctly, I can’t get past the GoBack screen on the old HD – I can’t even get into the GoBack menu to disable it, let alone boot to Windows 98 & uninstall.  So now what?


Ah ha – Google to the rescue  :^)


You can fix this without having to boot to the old drive.  What you need to do is to get yourself a partition editor uitlity.  Luckily, PowerQuest had their PTEdit utility.  Now, Symantec recently purchased PowerQuest, but I was surprised to find out that you can still download PowerQuest’s free utilities from this Symantec FTP site:


ftp://ftp.symantec.com/public/english_us_canada/tools/pq/utilities/ 


So, I downloaded the ptedit.zip, extracted it an ran it.  I selected the drive I wanted, then clicked ‘Change Type’ button to change the partition type from the GoBack type 44 to Fat32 (type 0B).  I saved the changes to disk, rebooted and Voila! I have full access to the old drive. 

How Microsoft Is Going To Win The SMB Accounting Battle

(Disclaimer:  I am part of the Small Business Accounting beta – but all information provided in this post is publicly available from both Microsoft’s web site & various technology ‘first looks’ reports)


If you haven’t already heard, Microsoft is prepping a new accounting package aimed at businesses with up to 25 employees.  Small Business Accounting as it is called will be a key part of a new Microsoft Office edition tentatively scheduled to be released later this year – Microsoft Office for Small Business Management


The SMB Accounting market is pretty fierce, with several key players releasing new versions annually.  With Microsoft being the new kid on the block coming into the small end of the market, you may initially wonder how they’re going to compete against entrenched products like Intuit’s QuickBooks & Best Software’s Peachtree Accounting.  Admittedly, Microsoft has an uphill battle in front of them in this aspect – but Small Business Accounting is going to be a much needed blast of fresh air into this market.


So just how is Microsoft going to win the battle for keeping small business’ books?  Well, there are actually two answers to this question.  First and foremost, they’re giving small business users something they aren’t used to having:  native ODBC access to their financial data.  No proprietary data format, no closed database schema, no having to spend extra money on a cumbersome 3rd party product to access their data.  Since Small Business Accounting uses Microsoft SQL Data Engine (MSDE) for its data store, users have the ability to access their financials from any ODBC compliant application, allowing for advanced reporting and analysis using the entire Office suite, including Excel, Word & Access.  IMHO this in itself is huge.


The second part to this answer is that Microsoft is giving Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) the tools necessary to quickly and easily build a wide array of 3rd party solutions for Small Business Accounting – from add-ins that operate within the Small Business Accounting application itself, to industry-specific LOB applications that directly integrate with Small Business Accounting – allowing the 3rd party solution to focus on the industry-specific stuff while depending on SBA for the accounting end.  So how does this compare to what is available on the market now?  It blows it away – plain and simple.  Sure, Intuit provides a Developer SDK – but it’s very low level, requiring the developer to code most of their own functions for manipulating the data.  Best doesn’t provide any sort of SDK for Peachtree, but MultiWare, Inc.’s PAWCOM has long since been considered the best solution available for accessing and integrating with Peachtree.  PAWCOM is a top-notch product, but the one major disadvantage it has compared to Small Business Accounting is that it is a 3rd party product.  Microsoft’s Small Business Accounting team has built extensibility & accessiblity into the product from the ground up, with a complete .net solution  – with key business logic functions exposed for developers and ISVs to leverage.


The combination of open data access and ease of integration for ISVs is going to be the primary catalyst for Small Business Accounting.  ISVs will be more likely to develop add-ons and vertical market solutions for SBA than other accounting applications because with SBA being based on open technologies such as .Net and SQL, ISVs will have a diminished learning curve.  That combined with the presence of already exposed business logic functions will result in a significantly shorter development time thus resulting in lower development costs which in turn makes their solution more profitable.   Users already familiar with Office will appreciate the familiar, intuitive interface.  Admittedly, many users may not realize the benefit of having and open data store, but I would think that most advisors (accountants and IT partners) would bring this to the small business owner’s attention.


One things remains certain:  whether you love or hate QuickBooks or Peachtree (or other SMB accounting applications), the introduction of Microsoft’s Small Business Accounting is going see a flurry of competition that the market hasn’t really seen in a very long time – which can only be good for the small business customer.


For more info on Microsoft’s Small Business Accounting / Microsoft Office for Small Business Management:


Office for Small Business Management:
http://www.microsoft.com/office/editions/prodinfo/smallbusiness/accounting/default.mspx


PCWorld.com – First Look: Microsoft Small Business Accounting:
http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,118495,00.asp


The .NET Show: Small Business Accounting Platform:
http://msdn.microsoft.com/theshow/episode048/default.asp

Microsoft Small Business Accounting:
http://www.sbadeveloper.com/

Poor Man’s CRM available for download

Ok – I promised I would make this available – it’s just taken a little time to get it done.


http://sharepoint.laytonflower.com     u:  wssdemo    p:   wssrocks!


The Shared Documents library has a new zip file I’ve uploaded, which contains two files – readme.doc and companywebcrm.fwp.   The readme file provides basic steps for installing Poor Man’s CRM onto a new Sharepoint site.  At this time – I only have a FrontPage backup available – which is the companywebcrm.fwp file.  As a result, you’ll need FrontPage 2003 to complete the process.  I should have a site template available in the near future as well.


This is the InfoPath version of the site, and the InfoPath forms have been updated to point to http://companywebcrm as their source for Sharepoint lists.  As a result, you’ll want the new website you create to have a host header value of companywebcrm, and also create a new alias (CNAME) record in your internal DNS for companywebcrm that points to the machine it resides on.


And don’t forget about my TS2 presentation in roughly 4 hours . . .    :^)

Coming to a web browser near you . . .

Event Name:     Wednesdays on the Web with TS2:
                         Conversation with a Partner


Event Date:        Wednesday, March 16th 2005


Event Time:        4:00 P.M. CST  (GMT -6:00)


Duration:            60 Minutes


Description:       Join us as we talk with Chad Gross, SBS-MVP
                         about using Windows Sharepoint Services as a
                         business application development platform to
                         increase customer satisfaction and efficiency
                         while providing additional revenue for partners.


To register for this event:  http://www.msreadiness.com/eventregister.asp?eid=1692


*****
The challenge for me with this event is that I’m actually being constrained by a time limit.  And anyone who knows me knows that once I get started talking, it’s pretty darn difficult to get me to stop.  Case-in-point:  about a month ago I presented on WSS to the Washington, D.C. SBS Parnter Group.  I had been down ill for a few weeks leading up to this presentation, which included a 10 day stretch with no voice whatsoever.  I had only regained my voice a couple days prior, and advised everyone that I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to last.  Well, we ended up cutting it off after 3.5 hrs because it was getting late :^)


My goal with this presentation is to hopefully open some partners’ eyes.  Sharepoint is billed as a collaboration tool – and admittedly does a great job filling that role.  However, how can small businesses (and I’m talking 5-20 users) take advantage of WSS when they really don’t need it for collaboration?  I mean let’s face it – with a small office of say, 10 users all in one physical location (and many times most of which in one large room with their own desk) – you really don’t need much of an intranet / collaboration tool.  It’s just more natural to simply ask Jane what the status of xxx is versus logging on to see   :^)   What is great about WSS is that with a little imagination (and not a lot of effort) it can solve other business problems for these small clients – making them more productive, more satisfied customers – and giving the SMB partner additional customization revenues.  Want details?  Well – you’ll have to register for the event!  :^)


I did want to share that since I am pressed for time with this event, that I thought it would be appropriate to supply supporting materials.  SO – I am working to make the InfoPath version of my “Poor Man’s CRM” WSS demo available for download both as a site template and as a complete site that you can drop in and start using  :^)

Thanks Tucker!

Earlier this week, we were contacted by a prospective client who wanted us to check out their relatively new SBS install and make sure that everything was up to snuff, and get Exchange working.  Now, when Steve relayed to me that we needed to get Exchange working, that bothered me – because this was supposed to me a Dell OEM install – and even after the infamous 15 minute install, Exchange works.  I feared that the box had been set up entirely wrong by someone who didn’t know what they were doing . . .   and I’ve been doing more and more of these type of SBS cleanups lately . . .


So anyway, something new happened to me this morning.  Amy & I arrived at the client’s office, and we do our introductions.  Tucker (the client), shakes my hand and says that he’s really glad to meet me, as he feels like he knows me already.  Mind you, I’ve never met Tucker before – so my initial reaction was ‘Gee, I hope that feeling doesn’t have anything to do with VooDoo dolls & full-moon rituals!  ;^)    But seriously – he tells me that he found my blog and has been reading it.  Yep – this very blog.  He’s the very first person I’ve met who has read the blog before I met them.  Granted, I know there are many out there that fall into this category, but Tucker was the first . . .


And I want to thank Tucker – not for reading my blog, but for being an informed individual.  It turns out that his SBS is actually in very good health – there’s a few scattered errors in the Event Logs, but nothing major by any means.  Tucker deserves kudos because he read up enough on SBS to know about it’s wizards and integrated install – so that when the IT Service Provider he was using was trying to install the various SBS components manually, Tucker made them go back and use the wizards . . .   If he hadn’t his server and network would be in considerably worse condition.  Tucker had the quote of the day – he mentioned another provider who had provided them a bid for a few hosted services as well as remote monitoring of their LAN.  Tucker said that they didn’t go with them because from what he’s heard, “[they’re] worse than carpenter ants.  Once you let them in and they get their VPNs set up, you’ll never be able to get rid of them.“  :^)  


And as for Tucker’s Exchange not working?  It’s not that it isn’t working – it’s just that they aren’t using it yet  :^)  One of the first tasks on our To Do list will be to get everyone’s PSTs pulled into Exchange and get them rocking with shared calendars & OWA – then move on to Sharepoint and Remote Web Workplace  :^)


What concerns me the most with Tucker’s experience is that it is far from unique, with the exception of the client putting the provider on the right track.  And that’s the problem.  There are great small biz IT providers out there.  They do exist – I know several . . .  and I’d like to think we fall into that category.  However, there are apparently many providers out there who are far from qualifying for this category – and that is what we need to change.


I think the single most important piece of techno-mis-information that the average small business subscribes to is the concept that cutting-edge technology is for the big guys, and the small guys take the table scraps and piece something together.  In reality, the exact opposite is true.  Small business is much more agile – the big boys are trying to turn the Titanic, while we’re running around on Jet Skis . . .  Also – small businesses have the most to gain from embracing technology and making it work for them.  However, small business usually doesn’t have the necessary expertise in-house, and thus require the assistance of an IT Service Provider.  The unique challenge for the small business is to find a provider who can become a trusted advisor – a firm that has the necessary business skills to anticipate future needs, analytical skills to evaluate potential solutions, communication skills to relate the pros & cons of each option to the business owner and the technical skills to implement and maintain the solution.  In the end, small businesses need and deserve an IT Provider who can align themselves with the organizations needs, and always keep that organizations’ best interests at heart.


The biggest problem facing the small IT shops is a combination of pride & fear.  Too many small providers are too proud to ask for help from others.  Let’s face it – there’s way too much information out there for us to know it all.  If a client has a problem that isn’t your strong point – don’t make the client suffer while you hack and try to figure it out yourself.  Finding someone who has the knowledge and experience in the problem area who can help will be much more rewarding in the end – and the customer will be much better served by having their issue resolved as quickly as possible. 


The answer here is very simple – focus on doing whatever it takes to meet the customer’s needs.  Work to give them every advantage possible, and always keep their best interest at heart.  Only once we all start doing this will we be able to finally break down the misconceptions of our industry and be able to truly help our small business clients excel and succeed beyond their wildest dreams! 


And thanks again Tucker – this time for reminding me why I love this business – there’s nothing better than being able to truly help a small business by taking their percieved IT liability and make it an undeniable IT asset . . .

Happy Turkey Day!

Here in the US, the 4th Thursday of November is always our Thanksgiving holiday.  I had a great day with my family.  My immediate family alternates from year to year, one year we’re with Dad’s extended family, and the other year we’re with Mom’s.  This year we were with Mom’s family, and it was the first time in a few years that the entire family was together, including my aunt, uncle & cousins from Illinois.  We were especially thankful for our newest addition – a new cousin Gracyn who was born a month ago.  She’s the first baby we’ve had in the family for over 19 years, and my cousin Amanda is still pouting about losing her place as the baby of the family :^)   But seriously, this little girl is going to be so spoiled by her aunts, uncles & cousins that it isn’t funny . . .  :^)   I finally got a few photos with her.  There’s this one, this one, and finally my favorite . . .


I’m also thankful for the truly great people that I am so honored to be able to count among my friends.  They inspire me and amaze me all at the same time.  I’m thankful for the SBS community – the amazing people that make our community the gold standard . . .


So wherever you are, and even if you aren’t in the US – take a moment to count your blessings and convey thanks to those people in your life who make a difference.  As for me, I’m starting to make my Christmas list for Gracyn . . . sure she’s a newborn, but you can never start spoiling too soon . . .  :^)

Anyone up for some Office Automation?

Ok, I’m going to try to make this quick.  After I left the office this afternoon, I stopped to check out the new Best Buy that opened up close to home.  While I was there, I picked up the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (great movie – but the book was WAY better.)  I want to watch it yet tonight, but I’ve gotten caught up in some email, and I want to get this post out since it’s been in my head all day.  So . . .


I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Microsoft Office is probably one of the most under-valued application suites in the small business space.  Come on – just take a look at all of the functionality available under the hood.  You can do more with Office than most small businesses could ever imagine.  Let’s take Excel as an example.  We’ve all seen what most small businesses use Excel for – it can usually be boiled down to lists of some form (maybe for a mail merge), or using the built-in functionality in Peachtree or QuickBooks to dump a report to Excel and sort it differently.  You do have a few that may use some basic formulas to sum columns, etc. – but not much else.


There is SO MUCH we can do with Office that it isn’t even funny.  I myself am an Access junkie – and spend a lot of time messing around with VBA in both Access & Excel.  I’m working with one client where we’ve built some reports in Excel that save them so much time & effort it isn’t funny.  I’d normally do something like this in Access, but they had a previous solution that was using Excel, and that’s what everyone was used to.  They upgraded their accounting system, which required that the solution be recreated since the entire underlying data connections weren’t valid anymore (and the previous individual who created the original solution had key functionality embedded in XLAs that were locked down and inaccessible to edit – and he was long gone).  This particular client has extended the functionality of their accounting software by creating a Project Status Report (PSR) template.  Whenever they are awarded a job, they enter their itemized breakdown of cost & revenue estimates, and also list each subcontractor with the subcontractor’s contract amount.  The PSR also allows for Change Order information to be added.  One of the custom solutions we have pulls all of the job data out of the accounting solution and organizes it according to their job designations.  This results in a single Excel workbook with multiple worksheets – one for each job class (A Jobs, B Jobs, C Jobs, etc.), one for only the active jobs for each class (A Active, B Active, C Active, etc.) one for each Project Manager, and a summary sheet that provides statistics by Project Manager (total projects, % of total revenues, markup estimated, markup earned, etc.  In addition, as this custom workbook is built, as it is processing each job from the accounting system, it looks to see if there is a PSR for that job.  If so, it opens the PSR and updates all of the individual line items (cost incurred to date), and updates the total billings from each subcontractor for that job.  If a subcontractor’s total billings exceed their contract amount, another workbook is opened with adds a worksheet for that subcontractor and builds a custom Account Ledger for all activity for that subcontractor / job, and adds the job, subcontractor, total contract amount, total billings amount and total overage amount to the summary sheet.  They have a lot of data, so it takes this about 7-8 minutes to run.  (70% of that is due to the lackluster performance of the ODBC driver for their accounting application).  When it is all said and done, they have up-to-date performance numbers for each of their Project Managers, PSRs give an exact picture of how a job is evolving, and the subcontractor workbook gives a single report of all subs who have overbilled their contract, as well as a custom ledger for each subcontractor showing exactly the information / activity our client wants to include to help their sub reconcile the discrepancy . . .   Cool huh?   And it’s all thanks to the built-in functionality of MS Office.

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