Nov 5, 2007

Exploring the Blogosquare: Because I Can

This week as I explored the blogosquare (the blogosphere was a little too crowded) I happened upon two topics that are both very pertinent to those wishing to start a business. The first was in a blog by Rea Maor. The post was titled “Linux PCs: The State of the Market.” In this post, Rea discussed the new desktop computer (right) being sold at Wal-Mart for $200, how it runs a free version of Linux customized by Google and how its entry into the market is going to signal competition for the major PC/operating system manufacturers. The second post was in a blog by Gaebler Ventures titled “Alternatives to Hiring Employees.” It suggested some forms of temporary position filling for small businesses that I found to be going out of vogue very quickly in today’s world of digital commerce and communities.

Linux PCs: The State of the Market

This is quite an interesting topic. I think it will continue to gain momentum, driven, as you said, by kids instead of adults. Though there are undoubtedly adults who would agree, a $200 computer is hard to beat, it is the younger, poorer contingent of the population that will really drive the sales of these machines up. Further down the road, however, when people realize that Linux and other open source projects like gOS (screen shot at left) are offering extremely competitive alternatives to the current bipartisan OS domination of Microsoft and Apple, there could very well be a mass movement towards the free operating systems. Part of what will convince people that these open source offerings are the way to go is their ease of use and nearly idiot-proof setup process. Like you said, what better way to bring open source technology to the masses then to spruce up a rock solid (and very popular) Linux distribution with some eye-candy and package it with the means to download for free whatever the user might need – it is the ultimate in simplistic computing.

Alternatives to Hiring Employees

This is a problem that many small businesses can run into. The suggestions made here are all good, however, seeing as how many small businesses are beginning to cater to niche sectors of highly technical industries, the traditional forms of temporary help services and employee leasing options may not be suitable for much longer. Instead small businesses will probably move to contracting and/or outsourcing for talent via online service networking websites. Services like and are two niche examples of the type of online business networking services that companies might employ. Both of these examples put potential employees at the disposal of employers with links to their work and references and ratings from previous employers. The beauty of these kinds of sites is that employers are not limited to talent in their immediate surrounding area, they can outsource all over the world to find the right balance of cost vs. performance for their needs.

Oct 30, 2007

Thin Clients: An Alternative To Expensive Office Computing

One of the biggest costs associated with running a company of any size is that of IT services and maintenance. Companies can spend hundreds, thousands and even millions of dollars every year in purchasing and maintaining IT infrastructure. A relatively new breed of computer known as a thin client (seen at left) has emerged to combat this problem.

A thin client is essentially a stripped down personal computer that utilizes a monitor, mouse, keyboard and local network connection. It runs its operating system and programs from a centralized server through the network and has no internal storage of it's own. In essence, each of these mini-computers provides nothing more than an access point or “node,” that allows an employee to complete their work.

All of the processing for each node (whether there are 5 or 50) is done on a central server. This method of centralized processing has its ups and downs, but when properly integrated, it can provide massive savings (in both time and money) for a company’s IT department.

When compared to the costs of traditional computing, thin clients are a great investment. According to, a Bangkok-based company called Norhtec recently unveiled a “sub-$85 mini-PC” - claimed to be the most affordable thin client ever. With the average workstation running between $800 and $1000 per unit, a thin client deployment could dramatically reduce the overall costs associated with setting up an IT infrastructure.

In addition to the up front savings on hardware, thin clients can also save a company up to 90% on its energy bill over traditional computers. A comparison between business desktop computers and thin clients conducted by noted that the average business desktop consumes about 124 watts of power while the average thin client uses about 25 watts, or about the same as a single light bulb. Such a reduction in per-workstation electricity usage means huge bottom-line savings for a business owner.

The other major advantage of thin clients is when it comes time for system maintenance. In a traditional environment of thick client PCs, a technician has to attend to each individual machine when it has a problem. With an office of thin clients, the technician would only have to attend to a single server, saving both time and energy. Thin clients are also helpful in reducing corporate theft simply by their nature of being dependant on a central server. A thief would not stand to gain much from selling a single thin client without the means to run it.

There are, however, some downsides to using thin clients, which limits their usefulness to certain businesses. With the extreme resource and energy efficiencies of these units, certain compromises must be made. Thin clients do not have a dedicated graphics card (pictured at right), therefore their ability to render and display rich multimedia content is somewhat diminished compared to a traditional thick client. Also, depending on the number of thin client nodes that are installed, extremely powerful servers must be purchased to run them and the setup process can be daunting even for an experienced IT technician.

Thin client systems have limited flexibility when it comes to what operating system they run. Users will be required to run whatever operating system is chosen for the host server. This could mean that some employees would have to be trained to use the operating system of choice and/or they may not like using it, which could hurt productivity. Lastly, the very design that makes the thin client system so simple and easy to maintain also lends to its greatest weakness. The entire system is based on an individual thin client’s ability to connect to the central server over a network, if that network were to ever go down, every thin client using that network would be unable to function.

Despite these downsides, thin clients remain an excellent choice for many businesses wishing to cut costs and increase productivity within their IT department. In the event a business opts for a thin client deployment, it is advisable to retain a few thick clients to maximize productivity in the workplace, while still allowing the business to save time and money.

Oct 23, 2007

Instant Messaging In The Work Place: Is It A Help Or A Hindrance

Everyone has heard it, that rhythmic tapping that starts and stops as regularly and sharply as a well-executed Flamenco dance –someone nearby is having conversation on line. Instant messaging, or IM (example of IM window at left), has become an integral a part of people’s daily life as well as one of the biggest Internet sub cultures in existence. Its ubiquity extends beyond the realm of teenage time wasters into the workplace where AOL says that there are currently 135 million people who utilize some form of instant messaging while at work and by 2009 that number is expected to reach 477 million. With so many people using this service in the workplace, it is an issue that many current employers are dealing with and any future startups will inevitably have to deal with. The jury is out on whether or not IM is universally good or bad, however, one cannot argue the fact that if not properly regulated, it provides employees with the means to fritter away countless hours of time during the workday that would otherwise have been productive.

There are obvious benefits to utilizing IM in the workplace. According to Peter Alexander of Business Center, sending an instant message saves both time and effort when communicating brief messages to someone. “With IM, you type a quick message, hit ‘send’ and a few seconds later, your message pops up on the recipient's screen. Along with eliminating the lag in e-mail response time, IM cuts out the necessary "chit chat" of a phone call and often lets you avoid the tiresome game of voicemail tag.” The USC Annenberg School For Communication, for example, uses this feature of IM in its advisement offices. Receptionists alert academic counselors via IM to the arrival of a student in need of counseling. This eliminates the need to walk back to the person’s office or to pick up a phone and dial their extension. Furthermore, by providing IM support to clients or customers, your business gains the valuable aspect of “presence awareness” which can bolster the strength of a company’s client and customer relations.

While the positive aspects of IM might be enough to convince a business owner of its value to his or her company, there are some downsides that should be taken into account. The main one, as noted by Keith of the blog To-Done! is a loss in productivity. “Unfortunately it seems that more than anything else it’s a constant distraction that eats time. The biggest issue, that I can see anyway, is that there is almost no way to triage incoming messages. Sure you can block people, or set your status, but if you have it open and are receiving incoming IMs you have no way to keep from dealing with things that come in.” This leads to employees spending an inordinate amount of time chatting with friends, family and co-workers over nonsense and not getting their work done. According to Peter Alexander, “58 percent of IM users engage in personal chat at work.” This is simply unacceptable in a professional working environment.

In addition to this obvious danger in employee productivity, there are also legal and security risks to be aware of. “The number of IM attacks, including viruses, worms and phishing scams, has risen from 20 in 2004 to 571 in the second quarter of 2005 alone, according to a study by the IMlogic Threat Center. As with many e-mail viruses, worms and spyware, IM attacks can steal confidential information from your computer, turn your PC into a spam zombie, and more.” These are serious problems for a company to deal with. Losing private company data to IM hackers could cause irreparable damage to a company’s reputation or industry advantage. As for the Legal aspect, Scott M. Gawlicki of InsideCounsel says that many companies –in both regulated and non-regulated industries- are at risk of civil litigation due to the possibility for sexual harassment via IM in the workplace. In most cases, “the simplest way to avoid the IM risk is to ban its use altogether.”

So what does the future hold for IM in the business world? If AOL has anything to say about it, IM will become an integral part of the business world. The company is offering new products like AIM Pro (seen at right) that are targeted to business professionals touting higher security standards and more “professional” settings. Products like AIM Pro will definitely up standards for security, but the risk of loss in employee productivity still remains extremely high. Any business owner or senior executive should make sure they weigh the pros and cons of this powerful tool before deciding whether or not to make use of it in their place of business.

Oct 8, 2007

To Be An Entrepreneur: Do You Have What It Takes

Starting your own business can provide you with unique opportunities in life, but it can also provide many headaches. A privately owned business can give you the ability to make your own schedule and take days off when you don’t feel like working -it can also drive you mad with inconsistency of income or workload. A very specific personality is required to be an entrepreneur; a personality rich in things like unwavering self-confidence, a burning passion to prove yourself, and a bitter distaste for the mundane finality of a typical “nine-to-five” job. In short, you must be multi-talented and driven to succeed (as can be seen in the image at left).

According to Greg Watson’s blog, DNA of an Entrepreneur, there are many characteristics that comprise the “genetic make up” of an entrepreneur, “one characteristic… is that of seeing or identifying an opportunity.” Without the ability to actively see opportunity in the marketplace, there is little hope of becoming successful in your own business.

There are many people who wonder and ask themselves “do I have what it takes?” Most successful entrepreneurs don’t have to ask themselves this question; they are simply ingrained with the drive to make sure they have what it takes. They usually spend their time questioning things like whether or not they should undertake a venture -if it will be worth the risk and the time investment they put into it.

Once you as an entrepreneur make a decision however, there’s no turning back. You cannot brood on negativity. You must always be confident and optimistic –and at times be overly optimistic. You must “train your mind” turn on your “success thinking” as Romanus Wolter says in his article Proof Positive. This internal locus of control and ability to filter through negativity is the difference between success and failure.

Patience is another key attribute of any successful entrepreneur. You need to be able to fight past problems, barriers and failure. You must be like Thomas Edison (right) when he said; “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

Smart entrepreneurs will always surround themselves with people who know more than they do about specific topics. It is much more efficient to organize teams of specialists than it is to try and master every nuance of your business. Nancy Michaels of BusinessWeek wrote that many small businesses are held back because “they are not hiring people who are smarter than they are in certain areas and not surrounding themselves with a good team… Nobody can do it alone.”

This does not preclude, however, the necessity for you to have a working knowledge and understanding of every aspect of your company. Nothing is more important than for you to be completely aware of why and how everything is taking place. According to Colette Georgii, a successful entrepreneur “knows enough about accounting to do his own accounting or supervise an accountant he has hired… because he must be able to look at the work of his accountant and know that his accountant is doing the job right and the very best job possible for his company.” In most cases, it is simply more expedient to have specialists accomplishing specific tasks, allowing you to focus your efforts on the larger picture.

When you take these things into account and you deem yourself capable and desiring of such a life, there are few things more rewarding than the sense of accomplishment afforded to those who push their way through all adversity and create a successful business. It takes hard work and dedication, but most importantly a burning desire for success and a willingness to go the extra mile to accomplish your dreams.

Oct 1, 2007

Going Green: Why America's Businesses Should Care

Could you put more greenbacks in your wallet by starting an environmentally friendly business or converting an existing one?

The environmental issue has been gaining momentum in the past few years with help from absurdly high gas prices, our good friend Al Gore and The GLOBE Program. These issues have increased the American public’s awareness of how they and American businesses in general affect the environment.

Environmentalists have been putting more and more pressure on businesses around the country to cut back on pollutants and to decrease their reliance on non-renewable energy sources. Some high profile cases of environmentalists putting pressure on large companies are those of Apple Inc., one of the country’s largest computer manufacturers, and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., perhaps the largest retail store chain in the world. Apple Inc. came under criticism for not recycling enough of the computer waste that it generated and was subjected to protests in front of its Cupertino, CA based headquarters. Wal-Mart has likewise been under pressure to reduce the impact that its manufacturing has on the environment.

Apple Inc. responded to these criticisms in the form of an open letter to the public from its CEO, Steve Jobs. In this letter, Mr. Jobs addressed the issues of the toxic chemicals that are used in computer manufacturing such as Lead, Hexavalent Chromium, Arsenic and Mercury. He pointed out that “Apple completely eliminated the use of CRTs in mid-2006.” CRT, or Cathode Ray Tube monitors are one of the industry’s leading sources of Lead waste. The average CRT monitor (as can be seen to the right) “contains approximately 3 pounds (1.36 kg) of lead,” by eliminating their use entirely, Apple is contributing significantly to the reduction of hazardous waste in the community. Jobs also promised that by 2010, Apple would be recycling approximately 19 million pounds of e-waste every year.

Wal-Mart has responded to its critics by saying that it is going to “push its 60,000 suppliers worldwide to lower the amount of packaging they use by five per cent, start an aggressive program to require its fish suppliers to use "sustainable" stocks, and slash energy use.” By doing this Wal-Mart believes they can “stop millions of pounds of trash from reaching landfills and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere by 667,000 metric tons.”

Another industry that is going green is the commercial construction industry. Companies like the Turner Corporation –“the worlds largest construction company”- are building environmentally friendly buildings like the Hearst Tower (right). These buildings contain materials that are less harmful to the environment, like formaldehyde-free desks. They also use less raw materials then comparable eco-unfriendly structures. According to an article in Popular Mechanics, the Hearst Tower “requires 2000 tons less steel than a conventional office building.” However, the benefits are not all in the environment. George David, CEO of United Technology Corporation, says that some benefits of these “green” buildings include reduced electricity and water costs as well as “documented boosts in morale and productivity from workers.”

So are all of these measures really needed? How bad is the state of our environment? According to the Environmental Defense website, more than 400,000 square miles of Arctic sea ice have melted in the last 30 years and by 2030 U.S. Geological Survey predictions say that Glacier National Park will have no glaciers left. These are rather compelling numbers and more than enough reason for American businesses to focus on ways to reduce their impact on the environment. However, could going green do more than help the environment? Could it also increase a company’s revenue potential?

In a BusinessWeek article, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott said they could save $52 million a year with just a one-mile-a-gallon improvement in gas mileage for its huge fleet. Furthermore, their recent request for a reduction in the amount of packaging from their suppliers “will not only enable Wal-Mart to ship 497 fewer containers a year at a savings of $2.4 million but also will spare some 3,800 trees and save more than 1,000 barrels of oil.” In the airline industry, response to a better, more fuel-efficient design has caused Boeing’s orders for their new 787 Dreamliner jet to skyrocket “from 56 in 2004 to 235 in 2005.”

In addition bottom line financial numbers, having a green image holds immense possibilities in the form of advertising and public relations. Any logical consumer, when presented with the choice to support an environmentally friendly company, that also makes a competitive product, will choose to support that company- if not to save the environment, then simply to improve their own self-image.

The most common misconception that most people have about turning their companies green, is that the costs will outweigh the benefits. What they fail to take into account, however, is the tax incentives available for being environmentally friendly. Also, the bottom line benefits as well as the image and reputation benefits are often overlooked when deciding if green is the way to go.

As many American businesses are proving day in and day out, it can be more profitable to go green. The benefits extend much farther than to just their wallets; they reach out into the world, helping to make it a better place for everyone to live, one innovation at a time.