Windows 7 And The SMB

September 3, 2010

I have been going through the process of upgrading the PC Workstations of our Software Development, Multimedia, and Program Development teams.

As these teams do fairly compute intensive tasks we chose to replace the old machines with new 64 bit engineering class workstations, with Microsoft Windows 7 pre-installed.

Overall, 64 bit Windows 7 has impressed us, with a few little caveats.Windows 7

Manipulating large graphics and other types of rich media is significantly faster. By faster I mean seconds, rather than minutes. That has been the major benefit – worth the price of admission right there.

I had minimal issues with some older software we use such as Microsoft Office 2003, and Visual Studio, but found that versions of Adobe Acrobat earlier than version 9 are not compatible. So we were forced to upgrade a few version 7 and 8 licenses.

An upgrade of my backup software is also being required.

My largest frustration is that we have many remote workers accessing our network via a Cisco Systems VPN (Virtual Private Network) device, and for that, a small piece of software has to be installed on each machine.

The older 32 bit versions of that client  software had a feature that we relied on very heavily, which was the ability for the remote client computer to log in directly to our Microsoft Windows Domain. This allowed login scripts to provide access to resources, automatic user authentication to our Microsoft Exchange Server etc.

The 64 bit version of the VPN client has lost this functionality (at least as of this writing) which forces extra training for remote users on how to manually access resources, and training on how to properly authenticate (the name and password) for resources such as e-mail.

If you are a smaller business using some ancient piece of home built software built circa the mid 1990’s, you will most likely find that it will no longer work.

The SMB Takeaway

Overall, for compute intensive tasks, I believe you will find an immediate benefit to Windows 7. Testing all your older applications is a mandatory chore first.

Have you found major applications that gave you grief with Windows 7?

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Software Installation

For B2B vendors that are in the business of selling software, One common method of driving customers to your product is providing a time limited, demonstration version of that product.

This can be a great way to let prospects try before they buy. When done correctly and simply, It can give prospective customers a real world look at the basic features and functionality of your product.

While there is nothing wrong with providing demonstration versions of your software;

If you don’t do it right, don’t bother!

A story of the the demo that can only be used by experts.

I have been looking for a particular software tool for my organization. The market and vendors in this tools competitive space has hundreds of products, so it is not as if there is zero competition. In my research I found one vendor that had a product that looked to have the features I was looking for, and it also had a demonstration version of the product. My first thought was great!

I downloaded that demo and then looked on their web site for installation instructions. None.

I extracted the downloaded package and searched it all for installation instructions. None.

I called their sales team for instructions. None.

Let me give a little bit of background, this tool is not a stand-alone product that you double click the SETUP file and follow the bouncing ball until it tells you to click FINISH.

This software is a departmental tool that can be configured to use a few different Web Server products for the front end portions that people interact with, plus several different database products for the back end data storage. The installation and configuration of this type of software gets a little more complex as you have to get the pre-requisite components  (web server and database server) properly configured and set up first.

What happens?

I start the application installation, then get some cryptic error message that kills it dead.

Now, unlike my my previous rant about graphics and tutorials, at least software and servers are in my skill level!

So I have been able to overcome the errors and blow ups one by one to determine what is happening after the installation dies! I fix that one piece, try again, it dies again, I track down that reason, try again….

You get the idea. frustration. Hours of time wasted and I am not even at the stage where I can actually evaluate the product!

Would everybody keep doing this trial and error install? For a demo version of software? Probably not!

Who is the audience of your demo?

If the target market of your demo software is senior marketing, sales, or operations staff. Would they be able to try it on their own? Do they even have an IT team available for the hours of what I went through?

Or will this type of frustration have them just saying forget it?

The three choices; easy, difficult, and the hard way

The easy way to provide a software demo is to ensure that it is entirely self contained, no external dependencies at all. Everything your software needs is installed automatically.

A little more difficult is acknowledging the dependencies mentioned above, but at the minimum having explicit warnings and instructions on what is required, and what will be expected.

The hard way is the trial and error that I have been going through.

If you are planning your demonstration software the hard way – you probably have killed any benefit of your demo!

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Photo Credit Doug Becker via flickr

Unfortunately this is all to common, you have that new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software or some other software tool.

You make the capital investment, go through a long and painful installation, configuration and training process and then;

Finished right?

Maybe not!

Once the software is installed the change requests start coming in.

Some of these changes will be great – they will add value, or improve decisions. But some of them won’t.

Every change has a cost. Both in time, and possibly work flows and training. Not to mention Quality Control and testing.

Do you manage these changes?

Do you understand the value equation in these change requests?

If it takes ‘x’ hours for one particular change, is there value there to be received?

One small change may not seem like much – but add them all up and the costs start to rise.

And when it seems that money is already spent – it can be difficult to see these operational cost leaks.

The SMB Takeaway

Nickles And Dimes

Nickles And Dimes

You have spent money, and time on that software implementation.

But you can’t consider it ‘complete’.

Put all changes through the same value ringer that the initial project went through.

As the old saying goes; Watch the nickles and dimes, then the dollars take care of themselves.

Photo Credit stargonautone via flickr

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Technical staff can often be the worst at this – but how often has the comment: “who reads the manual?” been heard? That is a mistake. I have seen many instances where a need exists for a particular technology asset, either hardware, software or both. With the best of intentions, a solution is identified, and a few more dollars leak out of your A/P.

Have you looked to see if you already have something that will do the job? If the manuals for existing tools had been read – you might find that the capability to perform that task already exists.

This article on Managing Inventory for Profitability by Ellen DePasquale at Inc.com demonstrates that many accounting packages can already deal with inventory management. Ditto for Purchasing Managemement.

An Asset Management system I have used did a reasonable job of performing Help Desk management as well. And in a fairly extreme case, Captain D. Michael Abrashoff Author of; It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques From The Best Damn Ship In The Navy (see The Bookshelf) Describes a communications rating who actually read the manual and identified a key communication system that no one knew existed.

So you may already have something that will do the job.

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