Don't Wait for Office 2010--Get Free Online Productivity Apps Now

I'm looking forward to Microsoft's browser-based edition of Office. While the company isn't leading the trend to cloud-based apps, it's certainly in the middle of the movement. Microsoft's suite will be released next year, but you can save money by accessing online office-style apps right now. In-browser productivity suites are typically free. Plus, I like them for lightweight systems, such as netbooks, where Microsoft's desktop suite feels too bloated for even typing.

Google Docs offers free browser-based productivity apps, with basic features that match the Office apps. While I often use that service, I'm especially interested in the Zoho suite. Its apps include a cleaner interface and a few features beyond Google's options.

The basic Zoho apps are free, but you can pay for more storage and features. A free account nets 1GB of space, which should be ample for most situations. (5GB costs $3 a month, for example.) The free account also includes versions of all of Zoho's apps, including a word processor, presentation app, and spreadsheet. You'll also get more powerful software, including a CRM tool, project manager, and meeting app. But those advanced tools can include an optional monthly fee for certain situations, typically adding support for more concurrent users versus the free edition

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Online Business Server Saves With Monthly Billing

Instead of relying on an Exchange Server, traditional user licenses, and client-side software, InfoStreet's StreetSmart pushes email and essential business tools entirely online. Hosted, cloud-based options could save you money over running an Exchange Server. Plus, you'll be able to connect to email and other productivity apps through any web browser on any OS. Even a lightly powered netbook can tap in, so you can cut weight when traveling.

The software-as-a-service tools include customer and contact management, task management, calendering, email, file hosting, and more. You can customize the tools to your needs, but don't expect them to replace every client-based application you currently need. Instead, StreetSmart strikes at the core of Exchange Server functionality, going a little beyond those basics.

InfoStreet charges a monthly fee per user, starting at $10, hosting everything. Costs scale down with volume, but special support options--including phone calls and web-based training--raise the rate. Since StreetSmart replaces a core part of your company infrastructure, check out the 30 day demo to see if it'll fit your business.

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Online Contract Workers Can Help Any Business Save

Capital can be tight for any business, but startups especially feel the pinch, squeezing as much as possible out of their seed money. Instead of ramping up on-site staff, consider outsourcing as a way to stretch your cash. You'll be able to scale contract costs up or down depending on business success.

8KMiles applies this outsourcing model to a virtual environment. The company helps find skilled workers, letting you make connections across the world, all without leaving your PC.

Workers are initially audited by 8KMiles to give you a sense of their competence. People can offer their skills across dozens of categories; the usual techie experts are available, plus the service manages writers, designers, business consultants, legal pros, accountants, and more.

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Save Money with Per-Minute Cloud-Computing Billing

If you're tapped into cloud networks to offload--and scale--some of your computing needs, you probably think that you're paying for only what you use. But just like your cell phone plan and attorney's rate might charge you for a full increment of time when you roll over the billing period, you might save money by nibbling at cloud services on an hourly basis.

SoftLayer's CloudLayer is great for short bursts of cloud computing needs, scaling to about $.20 to $.80 per hour, depending on your storage and processor requirements. You can initially tap into a virtual server in about 5 minutes, and you can run typical cloud services, with support for SQL Server and access to storage from any platform.

If you'd rather be billed on a monthly plan--no long-term commitment needed--you can choose dedicated hardware instead of virtual machines. Visit the CloudLayer overview to see if its other specifications fit your needs. But if you only need cloud systems once in a while, savings could add up with hourly billing.

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Be Everywhere At Once With Remote Access Software

IT management can be a single, big expense for medium- and small-businesses; it's an easy target to try to save money. Whether you have in-house IT help, you use offsite contractors, or even if you have a savvy employee who doubles as a help desk, just getting to an afflicted PC can be your biggest cost. Techinline Remote Desktop gives access through a browser and quick download so that even if you're manning a backyard barbeque on this holiday weekend with one hand, you can instantly help someone in the office with the other.

The initiating PC establishes a Techinline account, downloads and runs a small utility, and can then invite the remote PC to connect. The connection gets made without knowing or setting IP addresses or any other networking functions, and it encrypts everything through an SSL connection. Techinline works with all recent Windows operating systems--going back to Windows 98--and Internet Explorer or Firefox. (Look for other options if you need other operating systems.)

You'll likely benefit most by using the software to quickly troubleshoot remote PCs; even if a troubled system is in the same building as the IT staff, those quick trips to different desks and floors add into a full day of walking back and forth. And since Techinline shares screen information between PCs, you could also use it for one-to-one presentations with remote clients.

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Platformic Site-Creation Tool Streamlines and Saves

An online, cloud-based tool, Platformic streamlines the website creation process, doing everything from slicing images to managing daily content. Since it stays on the Platformic server, you can access everything from a web browser on any computer, letting you manage websites from anywhere. This accessible approach could save you money versus traditional website building and maintenance.

Platformic creates your site once you have a sense of its design. You upload a layout image and then define links, text areas, and all other content. The CSS is all managed automatically, and you can also activate ad servers, media galleries, RSS feeds, mobile-device redesigns, and other commonly needed functions. Your layout changes can affect templates and then be rolled across the entire site.

Platformic could save you time--and money--in the consuming steps after you define your graphical design. And since most sites are constantly being redeveloped, you'll always be able to make changes on the fly with the online tools.

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Save Time By Scanning Paper Documents

If you've got a filing cabinet--or desk--overflowing with documents, or if you want more thoughtful file management in general, a scanner can save you space, time, and ultimately money.

The basic process uses OCR (optical character recognition) software to digitize documents, typically turning them into searchable PDFs. That software is often bundled with the scanner; just look for a device with an automatic sheet-feeder for big jobs. Otherwise, you'll have to keep manually adding pages.

The scanning process can take a fair amount of work. But once complete, you'll be able to ditch hard copies of some files, and reclaim valuable storage space. (Just be sure to hang onto important originals, such as tax filings.) You'll also be able to search through files quickly, allowing faster retrieval than in physical form.

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