Best Linux distros for small businesses

Best Linux distros for small businesses

Introduction

Ubuntu Intro

GNU Linux started as one man's personal project – it's now one of the most popular operating system bases in the world. But unlike macOS and Windows, there's not just one Linux OS. There are hundreds of individual platforms assembled from components and built upon the Linux kernel. Different distributions (distros) can vary wildly from one another.

So what's the best choice for your small business? We've approached this selection with a few criteria in mind. Stability is first and foremost, because if you're putting a distro to work, uptime is critical, and solid support provision comes a close second.

We've also considered practical capabilities, which is why you'll find a couple of non-desktop distributions on our list: Linux is perhaps better suited to managing your behind-the-scenes hardware than it is being put in front of users who may be unfamiliar with Gnome or KDE.

CentOS 7

CentOS 7

Built on the solid foundation of Red Hat Enterprise Linux – and, indeed, officially funded by Red Hat as of 2014 – CentOS is undoubtedly a distro with strong credentials. Its default Gnome desktop is pleasant and reasonably familiar to most computer users, the RPM package management system is widely supported, and it's equally at home on workstations and servers.

It harnesses the open source components of its parent OS, which actually make up the majority of RHEL: only Red Hat's trademarks and a few proprietary components are omitted. Thanks to this unique partnership, updates tend to flow to CentOS only a day or two after they hit its parent.

CentOS is now one of the world's most popular server distros, and is perfect if you want to build serious hardware appliances without paying for a Red Hat subscription. The downside of going free is support. While the CentOS community is brilliant, professional support is the key reason for using RHEL – but with server prices starting at $349 (around £270, AU$465) per year, it could be prohibitively expensive for small business use.

ClearOS 7

ClearOS 7

ClearOS and CentOS are pretty close cousins. Both run many of the same packages inherited from RHEL. But while CentOS is a functional desktop OS, ClearOS isn't really meant for that – it doesn't even come with a GUI. Instead, it's intended primarily as a server platform administered entirely from a web interface. Once it's installed, you won't need a keyboard, mouse, or even a monitor connected to its home machine.

Because of its tight focus, ClearOS is actually easier to use than most server operating systems. That web interface makes installing this operating system's various components a breeze, so you'll be able to quickly get your business protected with a firewall, manage an email server, install a file server or more, all safe in the knowledge that each of these components will (most likely) work perfectly together.

There's support available if you're somehow overwhelmed – it's not the cheapest, but it's there – and a specific paid-for Business edition which includes only highly-tested software packages and patches.

OpenSUSE 42.1

OpenSUSE 42.1

While CentOS is an open source OS based on a paid-for release, this goes the other way – community-developed OpenSUSE provides the basis of commercially-supported SUSE Linux Enterprise. SUSE actually borrows a lot from Red Hat, including its RPM package management system, but don't make the mistake of thinking it's a clone.

OpenSUSE is one of the few distros to default to the graphically-heavy KDE window manager, though it comes with Mate, LXDE and others, so it'll be comfortable on whatever hardware you try to run it on. This OS also has its own excellent package management system, YaST, which provides an easy way to administer systems, and download then install new software.

Each Leap release receives critical updates for 18 months, after which you'll need to upgrade to stay on top of the latest developments – bear this in mind if security, stability and low IT costs are a concern. Try the Tumbleweed release if you're looking for rolling updates.

IPFire 2.19

IPFire 2.19

If you're running a small business, the security of your network should be as important a concern as the behaviour of your employees. IPFire ticks both these boxes at once. It's an all-in-one Linux appliance: install it on a machine which sits between your internet connection and your network switch and it'll do everything from managing IP addresses to protecting you with a firewall, and controlling what sites your workers are allowed to visit and when.

It does require a certain level of knowledge to get IPFire installed, and its unique nature – it's constructed from scratch, not forked from any specific version of Linux – means it won't be quite as easy to extend as other distros may be.

Also bear in mind that this will require at least a machine with two network connections, and it's all controlled from a web interface – this is definitely not a desktop OS. Caveats aside, IPFire is completely free to use with good documentation and paid support available if it all goes pear-shaped.

Ubuntu 16.04

Ubuntu 16.04

It's the most popular Linux flavour out there, but its reputation might lead you to think that Ubuntu is best suited to home users. Not so: Ubuntu's stability and compatibility are very solid, there's a free-to-use Ubuntu Server version to handle your back-end tasks, and its use of Debian packages and the Apt package management system means you'll be able to get the software you need quickly and easily.

Perhaps Ubuntu's strongest feature is its support. The vast user base means there's a raft of technical documentation out there, and its generous community has answered just about every question you might have.

For those times when you need a little more help, the Ubuntu Advantage program offers a reasonably priced support program for desktops and servers. Version 16.04 is one of Ubuntu's LTS releases, meaning it'll get updates and support until 2021 – a system that doesn't need to be regularly upgraded is a great advantage if downtime costs you money.

Manjaro 16.06

Manjaro 16.06

Manjaro is built on top of Arch Linux, traditionally one of the more complex and obtuse Linux distros out there. This OS does away with that complexity, while sharing Arch's streamlined, fast environment, its fearlessness regarding access to the very latest software, and its rolling release schedule.

Basically this means you should never have to install a later version of the software – you'll get the updates as they're released, and your Manjaro machines will upgrade over time rather than being taken out of service.

Manjaro's default desktop is very Windows-like, so your users will likely feel comfortable immediately, and its other improvements over Arch – a better installer, improved hardware detection, repositories full of stable software – make it a solid choice for end-user systems. That's its strong point, mind you. With some work you could probably build a server from Manjaro's NET edition, a stripped-down version you can build from the ground up, but other distros handle that aspect a lot better.

Slackware 14.2

Slackware 14.2

We're entering the realm of more difficult distros here, and we're doing it without the safety net of a dedicated paid support structure, but give Slackware a chance if you're looking to build bespoke Linux systems.

It's the oldest consistently maintained Linux distro, having first emerged in 1993, and as such it doesn't make any assumptions about the way you're going to use it, giving you more control than most other distros.

You're going to need control, though: its package manager doesn't resolve software dependencies, there's no fixed release schedule (Slackware tends to come out when a new stable version is ready, and the last major release was in 2013), and there are no graphical configuration tools.

But knuckle down, edit a bunch of plain text files, and you'll be able to create exactly the package you need for your business, all on top of a lightweight and bloat-free distro.

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Microsoft brings Windows as a Service to smaller businesses

Microsoft brings Windows as a Service to smaller businesses

Microsoft has announced pricing for its Windows 10 Enterprise E3 offering, which will be pitched at $7 (around £5.30, AU$9.20) per seat per month.

The new enterprise offering, which is the lower-end one – Windows 10 Enterprise E5 will boast more features, but pricing for that hasn't been mentioned yet – will be delivered via the company's Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program.

Redmond's idea is to open up Windows 10 Enterprise and make it more accessible and manageable for smaller businesses, with a cheap monthly subscription to a cloud-based service.

E5 extras

Microsoft announced the two new versions of the enterprise flavour of its desktop OS last week. To sum them up, Windows 10 Enterprise E3 is the existing Windows 10 Enterprise renamed, with the E5 version including extras such as Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (this fuller package is expected to be released later this summer, doubtless costing more, of course).

In a blog post, Redmond noted: "CSP partners will be able to provide a subscription to Windows 10 Enterprise Edition as part of a managed service offering, which is ideal for businesses who do not have dedicated IT resources or limited IT staff, and want their licensing and IT needs managed by a trusted and experienced partner."

Microsoft further stressed the security benefits of a move to Windows 10, particularly for businesses with sensitive data, along with easy deployment – it's possible to upgrade from Windows 10 Pro to Windows 10 Enterprise E3 without even rebooting – and a simplified licensing model.

Windows 10 is now on over 350 million devices worldwide.

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Downloads: The best free PDF to Word converter 2016

Downloads: The best free PDF to Word converter 2016

Convert PDFs to Word format

If the precise formatting and fonts of a document are essential, PDF is the perfect format. It requires nothing more than a competent PDF reader for documents to display precisely; everything's packaged in and ready to go. Which is all lovely until you need to extract some of that information.

PDFs, if you're using software like Adobe Reader, are usually a one-way street, consigning you to look and not touch. Unless you possess the original document used to generate the PDF in the first place, editing is going to be out of your reach.

Or is it? We're here to look at the solution: PDF to Word converters. These tools will analyse PDF files, extract the text and images, and make the best stab they can at creating a Microsoft Word-compatible file that replicates the source. Results are unlikely to be absolutely perfect – particularly if the text in your PDF has been scanned or flattened to an image. Look for a converter with OCR (optical character recognition) if you do have flattened documents.

We tested using a sample magazine page from our chums at Computer Arts, and opened the results in Microsoft Word 2010. Note that LibreOffice's much looser interpretation of the DOCX standard will likely lead to quite poor results.

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Try Foxyutils online

1. Foxyutils

A wily utility that copes well with unusual fonts

Foxyutils - the best PDF to Word converterFoxyutils' PDF to Word converter takes the top spot in our test for several reasons. First, it was by far the cleverest when it came to picking a font similar to that of our test document, outputting a Word file very close to the original PDF. Second, it did well with the images in our document, recognising that there was more than one and breaking them up appropriately. And third, when you use Foxyutils' tools, you contribute to the company's tree-planting efforts. Isn't that nice?

Try Foxyutils freeThere are slight restrictions – a lack of OCR chief among them - and obviously you'll need internet connectivity to get the job done. But the lack of a dedicated software package to install, Foxyutils' use of SSL, and its promise to delete files as soon as they're downloaded means you could use this in a business situation if required.

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Try Nitro PDF to Word Converter online

2. Nitro PDF to Word Converter

Quick, solid PDF conversion with a couple of niggles

You'd be forgiven for missing the free online version of Nitro PDF to Word Converter when visiting its site, given that it's so smothered in adverts for its paid-for desktop app, but this is a perfectly competent free tool – no OCR though, sadly – suitable for occasional use. Upload your PDF, give it an email address to send the results to, and it'll transform that PDF into Word, Excel or Powerpoint files and vice versa; we wouldn't recommend using the Excel converter for mission-critical work, however.

Try Nitro PDF to Word converter onlineWe were impressed with its attempt at converting our test document. There was a bit of text cleanup required, possibly as a result of the unusual font, but it separated the page's images into individually editable boxes, got the layout perfectly correct, and even managed to replicate the drop-cap, a feature that's often missed. Overall, not a bad job at all – we'd have preferred a direct download rather than it being delivered via email, but that's a small gripe.

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Download UniPDF free

3. UniPDF

Great for batch processing but not compatible with all files

UniPDF is a completely free Windows desktop PDF to Word converter (unless you're using it commercially) but one which fell over for an unspecified reason when converting our test PDF to Word format. But let's not be hasty here: UniPDF happily extracted the raw text, had no problem converting the PDF to a pixel-perfect PNG file, and did an good job of converting that very same PDF to HTML format, which we'll count as at least a partial pass.

Although UniPDF doesn't support OCR (so flattened PDFs won't convert to editable text) we were impressed with its ability to translate our document's mildly unusual fonts into similar examples. It's also an easy app to use if you're doing batch processing – just drag in a folder full of PDFs, hit 'convert' and it'll go through each automatically.

Download UniPDF freeConsidering the long-winded limitations of many online tools, this is a reason to try UniPDF. But if you absolutely must have a Word document? Maybe not.

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Try Free File Converter online

4. Free File Converter

Quick, easy and dirty converter that does more than just Word

Free File Converter couldn't be simpler: upload your PDF, select an output format (everything from doc to ebook formats like EPUB and MOBI) and click the button to get a download link to your converted file. As you might expect, it offers a number of different format conversions besides just PDFs, although there's no OCR to be seen.

PDF to Word conversion was okay, but not exceptional. Some of the text formatting Free File Converter gave us was a bit off, with certain headlines running over from one line to two, and it rendered all of the images on the page as a single background graphic, limiting flexibility.

Try Free File Converter onlineBut there's one huge upside: Free File Converter can handle PDFs up to 300MB in size, so if you've got a huge, simple PDF to process it could be just the trick.

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Try OnlineOCR online

5. OnlineOCR

An OCR specialist – as long as you feed it the right file

Our sole OCR-only tool in this test, but there's a reason: OCR works well in certain circumstances, and very poorly in others. Our magazine page, when flattened and run through OnlineOCR's converter, did not fare well. Whether this is a limitation of the unusual fonts or the background images we're not sure, but the mess it made of the boxes at the bottom of the page suggest it's just not great at this sort of complex PDF to Word conversion.

That's not to say it's a poor tool. Far from it; this outperforms a number of competing sites in its class, so much so that we've actually used OnlineOCR here at TechRadar to pull text from magazines so old that their archive discs have crumbled – although this required a lot of preprocessing to improve the clarity and contrast of text.

Try OnlineOCR freeScanned PDFs of black text on white background tend to work perfectly without any fiddling, so if you've got a suitable source you'll get on well with this tool.

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Latest Windows 10 preview looks to extend your Surface’s battery life

Latest Windows 10 preview looks to extend your Surface's battery life

A new Windows 10 preview build landed last Thursday, but then this weekend just gone, Microsoft pushed out another preview hot on its heels – indicating that testing work is intensifying as the Anniversary Update approaches (it's due on August 2).

Build 14385 was unleashed at the weekend with the usual accompanying blog post that noted Microsoft was now "churning out builds like crazy", with a load of bug fixes on board.

Redmond said it wanted to get the build out quickly so as to give the maximum amount of testing to these hundreds of new fixes.

They include improved battery life for those running Windows 10 preview on Surface devices, and the smoothing over of a load of issues with various apps including Spotify random crashes, and errant clipping with Google's Chrome browser, as well as problems with the LastPass and AdBlock extensions in Microsoft's Edge browser.

There were, of course, plenty more fixes than this, and if you want to check out the full list see the post here.

Swift pace

It's likely that we'll see preview builds coming out pretty quickly for the rest of this month as Microsoft tries to tighten everything up.

Another interesting point to note is that this is build 14385, and it scotches speculation that the next build from Microsoft, which was rumored to be version 14384, would be the RTM (release to manufacturing) client.

Obviously, that isn't the case – although clearly we are in the final stretch with testing of the Anniversary Update.

The previous Windows 10 preview build fixed plenty of issues itself including problems with Surface machines being connected to external monitors, and erratic behavior with Bluetooth mice.

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How AI is guarding Wimbledon’s tennis traditions, and its digital future

How AI is guarding Wimbledon's tennis traditions, and its digital future

Wimbledon's famous All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, bedecked in the iconic purple and green and overflowing with Ivy, flowers and generations of tradition might, at first look, seem like a strange place to be contemplating how technology and sport have become such familiar bedfellows.

And yet this most traditional of sporting environs is embracing technology on a whole host of levels, whilst maintaining the dignity and history as the home of tennis.

Mick Desmond, the AELTC's commercial and media director explained that there was an "alchemy" in the balance of seeking what's new and innovative whilst understanding and enhancing what makes this most famous of tennis tournaments great.

"We look at what's true in our brand in terms of the all-white dress code, the grass courts and the strawberries and cream, and as an event we do transcend the sport. We look at the things that make us special and we amplify them.

Wimbledon - instantly recognisable to millions

"But in the digital realm particularly we can be very innovative and push the boundaries… whilst still enveloped in a Wimbledon way."

This intent, according to former England cricketer and academic, Ed Smith, is not as new as many might think - insisting that embracing the latest technology has actually been at the heart of sport's development.

"If you think about sport as we now play it, it's rested on a series of technological evolutions," he insists, taking us on a whirlwind tour of innovation, from lawnmowers to the iPhone via vulcanized rubber and, of course the impact of sport in the media.

Ed Smith

"The year 1923 brought the moment that changed sport forever - a radio station in New York saying we're going to put every second of the World Series on air. And then TV creates a whole new energy for sport - allowing it to become the world's lingua franca. In fact I'd say it is the most important shared culture in the world."

At Wimbledon, IBM is at the centre of Desmond and his team's plan to reinvigorate tennis through data, and create their own '1923 moment' while remaining respectful of those all-important traditions. In the bowels of the broadcast centre, IBM has what it calls a bunker, and it is within these technology-packed rooms that the digital magic happens.

IBM

Sam Seddon, IBM Wimbledon Client and Programme Executive, explains how the now famous cognitive and analytical abilities of the Watson AI is being brought to bear on the reams of data the company is collecting from the tournament, and what impact it has on our social media, our apps, the media coverage and the commentary.

"We start by asking 'how do we help Wimbledon to be the best tennis tournament in the world? How do we help them achieve greatness?' And if you take something like social media the challenge that we're addressing here is 'how do you get a millennial to take an action within a six second window to interact with my social media rather than anyone else's?'.

"The limited opportunity window you have with young people on social media [means] that people need to see [the information] there at that point of time and that's where something like the Watson capability helps us, because we're using the cognitive solutions and capabilities of Watson to understand the reasons behind what is happening in the world of social media around sport and particularly around Wimbledon.

Wimbledon

"So the command centre is looking at Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram and saying 'what are the evolving topics of conversation and what are people looking at right now in this moment?'"

And the analysis - being performed at a scale that would be impossible outside of computers - extends beyond just tennis - with IBM understanding that to resonate the conversation needs to look outside of what's happening at Wimbledon to what's happening in the wider world of sport.

Seddon gives an example of Iceland playing in their high profile game against Portugal, and linking it to an Icelandic player playing at Wimbledon, and how you can join those conversations.

Wimbledon site

Of course 'winning' at social media is not the only use for IBM. The company's most visible work at Wimbledon is producing the reams of data that we see ourselves on apps, televisions and that is also being handed to the commentators, broadcasters and the players themselves on a special site that allows them to analyse and watch back each point.

"What we do here - and we've been here since 1990 - is a large, technical data-capture, transformation and distribution project," explains Seddon.

"At the heart of it is capturing information at the side of the court and, to give you a sense of scale, we captured around 3.2million data points last year."

You'd be forgiven for thinking that the sheer scale of this data capture means that it is technology that is doing the recording, but actually IBM's output relies heavily on good old human cognition as well.

"We have a team of highly trained analysts," explains Seddon, "There are technology solutions we can deploy - and in fact Wimbledon have one of their own on the practice courts.

"But when it comes to the speed, the accuracy and understanding the subtleties and nuances between forced and unforced errors it takes a human being, and a very good tennis player at that, to be able to interpret all of that at the speed that we need."

Seddon explains that data, Watson's smart analysis and, of course, the experts, combine to bring us a richer experience of this most traditional of sporting events without ever impacting on the values that have kept it so central to the tennis calendar.

First serves

"The data we capture at the side of the court - like is it 30 love? And was it an ace or not? - is then turned into analysis and statistics like '75% of first serves in'.

"In order to make that interesting information and invaluable to the club and the commentators we have to turn that into insight and that insight is in the context.

"So for Andy Murray you might ask 'when he won in 2013 what was his first serve percentage? What is it now? And how is he performing in this match?' All that information is available not only to the commentators but democratising it so we can get that info out to the fans around the world.

Club

"With apps, and websites that information is becoming increasingly available to anyone from my mum to my 11-year -old daughter. People have a thirst for that information to bring it to life and to make it the best tennis tournament in the world."

And that is at the heart of what the team at Wimbledon are striving for. As Desmond puts it: "the banner of 'in pursuit of greatness' is something we think embodies Wimbledon.

"Everyone is so passionate about the brand that every single year they are looking to raise the bar. We'll never reach perfection but we'll pursue greatness."

Watson may not (yet) truly understand how it is contributing to that process - but IBM's most famous son is certainly now a part of this goal, and although still being aided by a crack team of human experts, the digital future is already pretty well wedded with one of the most traditional past and presents.

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Updated: 10 CRM systems small businesses should know

Updated: 10 CRM systems small businesses should know

Introduction

CRM Intro

Note: Our best CRM software round-up has been fully updated. This feature was first published in May 2014.

Keeping up-to-date with your leads, prospects and contacts is a vital task for any business. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems help by tracking everything related to your customers: contacts, previous emails and calls, visits, the progress of individual sales or deals, and more.

Having all this data to hand helps everyone in your business understand what customers need, keeping them happy, while marketing tools like mass emails and web form support could win you new orders.

CRMs don't have to be expensive or complicated. There are free systems which integrate neatly with Google apps to use the data you've collected already, and spending something like £10-£15 (or $10-$15) per user per month will get you some serious business management power. But whatever you're after, we've put together a list of top CRM systems to help you get started.

Apptivo

Apptivo

Price: A basic plan is free for 3 users. Premium plans start at $10 (£7, AU$13) per user per month. A 30-day free trial is available.

Apptivo is a comprehensive CRM which provides an easy way to manage your contacts, schedules, notes, communications, tasks and more. That's not all: even the free account gets project management tools, invoicing, estimates, basic purchase order tracking, field service management and a helpdesk.

The $10 (£7, AU$13) Premium account offers much more storage (3GB per user, up from 500MB for the business), and plenty of valuable extras: bulk email, a mobile CRM app, e-commerce integration and Google Drive, Calendar, Tasks, PayPal and Dropbox integration.

This kind of power comes with a little complexity, especially if you're new to this type of package. It doesn't take long to master the basics, though, and the system is so configurable that you'll soon have it set up to suit your requirements.

Batchbook

Batchbook

Price: Starts at $19.95 (£15, AU$27) per user per month for unlimited users. A free trial is available.

Every CRM needs great communications management, and that's an area where Batchbook has a lot to offer. Build up a customised contacts database, extend it with the details you need, track calls, emails, your customer's tweets – it's all here.

Colleagues can add comments when relevant, you're able to set individual to-do's, or build lists to group related information together. A mobile view gives access to your data anywhere, and email and SMS notifications ensure nothing gets forgotten.

The system can seem expensive – automated workflows, Gmail integration and even email templates require the top $39.95 (£30, AU$54) per user per month account – but if you're more interested in tracking communications then it's still a smart choice.

Bitrix24

Bitrix24

Price: Limited plan available for free. Plus plan available from $39 (£30, AU$52) per user per month.

Like Apptiva, Bitrix24 provides a vast suite of powerful business tools: collaboration, instant messaging, telephony, project management, document handling, scheduling, employee management, and more.

If you prefer to keep things simple then you can concentrate on the excellent CRM, which is a capable system all on its own. Contacts and communications are logged, leads assigned to sales managers, emails sent, calls recorded, quotes and invoices issued. Detailed reports keep you up-to-date and there's convenient access via the mobile app.

Bitrix24's unusually generous free account supports unlimited users and includes 5GB storage, but if you need more, the Plus account starts at $39 (£30, AU$52) per user per month.

Capsule CRM

Capsule CRM

Price: Basic plan is free. Professional plan is £8 ($10, AU$14) per user per month. A free 30-day trial is available.

While some of the competition tries to win you over with the length of their feature list, Capsule CRM is different because it concentrates on the basics: contact management, collaboration, sales pipeline, scheduling and tasks.

These are all well implemented with some useful features. You can track your customer's social media, attach documents and emails to their records, tag contacts or organise them in lists, create tasks and view your schedule in the calendar.

Capsule CRM doesn't offer much more functionality itself, but the Professional plan does support lots of valuable integrations – Google Apps, email tracking, telephone and VoIP services, job and time tracking, contracts, proposals, accounting, helpdesks and more.

Capsule's free account is too basic to be useful (maximum 2 users, 250 contacts, 10MB storage), but if you only need the business fundamentals, the Premium plan deserves a closer look.

HubSpot

HubSpot

Price: Free

HubSpot CRM stands out immediately for its pricing model. There are no unusably limited 'free' plans, no vast matrix of other accounts to browse – instead the core CRM is entirely free, and you only pay if you need to add extra sales or marketing modules.

That's an appealing prospect when budgets are tight, and HubSpot handles the CRM basics reasonably well. You're able to build contact and company databases, log emails, assign tasks and track deals, and the system supports as many users and as much storage space as you need.

It's not all good news. HubSpot's reporting tools are only average and you may need to integrate with the free version of HubSpot Sales to begin to get the functionality you'll find elsewhere. But there's also a lot to like about the service, and it's certainly one of the best free packages around.

Insightly

Insightly

Price: Free for 2 users. Basic plan from $12 (£9, AU$16) per user per month. A free trial is available.

Insightly is a powerful CRM with a strong focus on project management. As well as managing sales pipelines, you're able to set milestones, set and assign tasks, attach files and notes, define a schedule, produce reports, and more.

If you're more interested in sales management, that's not a worry – there are plenty of supporting features. Insightly offers good contacts management, with social networking integration and mass email support. You get tools to collect leads and track sales opportunities, and the system can be viewed and administered from a mobile app.

Pricing is a little complicated, with no less than five plans, each with their various limitations. The free account is likely to be too restrictive for many ('mass' emails are limited to 10 per day), but it's better than most of the competition, and the Basic $12 (£9, AU$16) plan is an excellent product.

InStream

InStream

Price: Free for 2 users, basic plan from €8 (£7, $9, AU$12) per user per month.

InStream is a "relation management platform", according to the developer, and that's not just sales hype. The system offers detailed contacts management, social media integration helps you stay in touch with customer tweets, and calls and emails can be logged so you're always up-to-date.

This is often quite easy to use, in particular because of its integration with other systems. Plug in your Gmail account and InStream will automatically download contacts and manage your email history, while syncing your account with Google Calendar keeps your tasks and schedule in one place.

InStream's free account gives you all of this for a maximum of two users. InStream's basic account adds "full support" for €8 (£7, $9, AU$12), and the relatively expensive €16 (£14, $18, AU$24) per user per month plan introduces sales funnel management and extra reporting.

Nimble

Nimble

Price: Business plans start at $15 (£11, AU$20) per user per month. A free 14-day trial is available.

As the social butterfly of small business CRM, Nimble aims to help users manage social, team and customer contacts on one screen. All online conversations, including email, Twitter, Skype and Facebook, are easily visible with Nimble's lightweight platform.

This isn't just some overwhelming mass of data, either. A search tool locates the data you need, searches may be saved for speedy recall, and Nimble's Signal technology filters out the noise to help you concentrate on the fundamentals.

Nimble also provides extensive task management, sales and marketing tools, and many integration options: Google, a host of popular third-party apps, and management tools for Android, iPhone, Outlook/Office 365, Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

Streak

Streak

Price: Limited plan is free, Starter plan from $19 (£14, AU$25) per user per month. A free trial is available on request.

Streak is a lightweight CRM, a little simpler than most of the competition, and for many people that could be a good thing. There's no need to spend an age learning a whole new way of working because the system runs inside Gmail, giving easy access to the contacts, emails and files you have already.

That doesn't mean Streak is short on features. In a click or two you can group or view related emails, add and track customer status, notes and more. 'Boxes' help you define where you are in sales or other pipelines, and it's easy to keep everyone in the business up-to-date on your progress.

Other CRMs offer more for your money than Streak's commercial accounts, but the free product could be a smart choice for very small businesses. Worth a try.

Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM

Price: Basic package free for 10 users. Standard plan starts at $12 (£8, AU$16) per user per month. A free trial is available.

Zoho CRM is a flexible solution with a lengthy feature list: leads, contact management, social media integration, tasks, marketing and sales automation, web forms and more.

If that's still not enough, the system can be integrated with many other Zoho products, including customer support, project management and web forms.

Zoho's mobile apps give access to this data, and also help you collect it. There are tools to locate leads on maps, log calls, take voice notes, record your customer visits, and more.

Zoho's free plan is appealing, with handy Google Calendar/Tasks integration and support for up to 10 users, but be sure to read the full product comparison. There are lots of limitations, and to really compete with the other products here you'll need to spend $12 (£8, AU$16) or maybe $20 (£15, AU$27) per user per month.

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Microsoft on the verge of finalizing Windows 10 Anniversary Update

Microsoft on the verge of finalizing Windows 10 Anniversary Update

Microsoft has released a new preview build of Windows 10, complete with a load of bug fixes and tweaks, and apparently this will be the last release before the RTM version of the Anniversary Update is finalized.

At least, that's the scoop according to a source who spoke to Windows Central, who reckons that the RTM (release to manufacturing – in other words, ready to be deployed) version will be build 14384 – and this just released preview client is 14383.

In its blog post announcing the release of build 14383, Microsoft itself noted that the desktop build number watermark was gone in this incarnation, because "we're beginning to check in final code in preparation for releasing the Windows 10 Anniversary Update".

So this really is the final stretch, then.

Tweaking aplenty

What exactly is new in this fresh version 14383? Of course, there are no sizeable changes as the addition of new features was frozen a little while back, but some of the tweaks include a change to the keyboard shortcut for Cortana (it's now Win + Shift + C), and the link to get extensions in the Edge browser now takes users directly to the Windows Store where they can grab the add-ons they desire.

A large number of bugs have been squashed, predictably enough, and these include erratic behavior from some Bluetooth mice, an issue with the Surface Book being hooked up to an external monitor, and a problem with the LastPass extension in Edge whereby some sites caused a memory leak.

The anniversary update is due to land on August 2 – just a few days after the free upgrade to Windows 10 offer expires – but testing will continue on the OS after that date, carrying on in the same vein it has previously, because Microsoft believes the system is working well as it is.

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