• United States

A critical eye on recent offerings

Mar 11, 20043 mins

* Which are hot, which sure to be flops?

One business cycle you can count on? Enterprise vendors discovering the SMB market – again. Corporate executives who’ve never skipped a payday just don’t understand how tightly the cash-flow belt can squeeze. Some offerings are too pricey, others don’t fit a small business, and some require too much back-end support.

So let’s go through some recent announcements aimed at our market. I’ll tell you if I think the idea is hot or a flop. You tell me if you agree, and which you want me to beat on in the lab for a couple of weeks.

Gateway recently announced its new Professional Services group will bring “enterprise-class service” to organizations, especially small businesses that need more than occasional service visits but can’t afford an IT department. The first offering is OS Migration Services, such as Unix to Linux conversions, the announcement says. My thoughts: Gateway has a service group? A group that expects small businesses to migrate from Unix to Linux today? Flop.

Avidian Technologies announced its Prophet 2004 Server Edition, sales management software integrated into Microsoft Outlook. The server edition relies on Microsoft’s .Net platform “thus increasing efficiency,” etc. Microsoft’s .Net? With that back-end overhead? With server application software and five (only five) client licenses for $1,495? Flop.

Nexsan Technologies is targeting its new ATAbaby disk-to-disk back-up storage unit (which replaces autoloading tape drives) at SMBs. While it might be wonderful, the ATAbaby starts at $5,995. When I praised Intradyn’s RocketVault, many of you winced at its price – $1,495. Can Nexsan sell units four times more expensive? Not to smaller businesses, that’s for sure. Flop.

Dell recently sent Gaskin Computer Services or “current resident” (me on both counts) a catalog for resellers. But its “white box” (no Dell name on the PC) reseller program caught my attention. It includes acceptable business systems (2.4 GHz Intel Celeron, 128M-byte RAM, 40G-byte disk) for $359. Cool part? It includes FreeDOS, not Windows, making it a name-brand system ready to run Linux without paying the Microsoft Windows tax. Hot.

Speaking of hardware, Linux distributors have teamed with hardware vendors to sell boxes preloaded with various flavors of the operating system. For instance, has a laptop partner offering systems for $818 as well as desktop PCs under $200. Lindows and KooBox offer a package of computer (AMD Duron 1.4 GHz, 256M bytes RAM, 40G-byte hard disk), flat-panel LDC monitor (14.1 inches with 1024×768 resolution), and Lindows including OpenOffice for $449. Really Hot.

Speaking of software, the three desktop Linux distributions I’ve been playing with this year continue to amaze. Lindows, Lycoris and Xandros all cost between $39 and $99. But to compare this to Windows, you have to include the cost of Windows XP Professional ($170 and up) as well as Microsoft Office XP Standard ($350). Most desktop Linux packages include OpenOffice, making this pair a close match to Microsoft’s for 80% of all users. Definitely Hot.

Let’s not forget wireless. I’ve been testing the firewall/router features of Netgear’s new WGT624 108M bit/sec Wireless Firewall Router. It has strong firewall and router features and a better administration interface than most in its class, for a retail price of $90. I haven’t cranked up the wireless portion yet, but so far, so good. Hot.

Reviewing this list, I see a trend. When a company rolls out an “enterprise-class” product to the “eagerly waiting” SMB market, I turn thumbs down. When a company rolls out products to fill SMB needs at an affordable price, I turn thumbs up. Let me know where your thumb points.