Tony is principal analyst with the Bradley Strategy Group, providing analysis and insight on tech trends. He is a prolific writer on a range of technology topics, has authored a number of books, and is a frequent speaker at industry events. More by Tony Bradley
Microsoft unveiled Office 2013 and the new Office 365 a couple months ago and launched a public beta to give everyone an opportunity to test it out. There were still two big question marks, though: “When will it be available?” and “How much will it cost?” Now we know the answer to one of those burning questions.
First, let’s just cover the basics. Office 2013 Home & Student will cost $139.99, Office 2013 Home & Business is $219.99, and Office 2013 Professional will retail for $399.99. Each of those packages is for the locally-installed version of Office, and the license is valid for just a single PC or Mac.
Managing and prioritizing tasks is key to meeting business obligations. Almost every business professional has a method of managing small projects and effectively collaborating with others to get the job done. But can yours be improved?
I recall one client who proudly showed me his task management system: He neatly printed each to-do item on a sticky note and slapped it on the bezel of his computer monitor. When a task became high priority, he moved the paper higher on the side of his monitor and shifted the other notes lower. When he was very busy, the notes overflowed to his desk, marching in two regimented lines down each side of his monitor to his keyboard.
Sadly, his home-grown project management system crashed one night. A new office cleaner came in and diligently cleaned his monitor and desk. The next morning he found all his precisely arranged stickies stacked in one neat pile by the phone. He spent half an hour resorting his task priorities.
All businesses need to invoice their customers for products and services supplied. Invoicing is, of course, available in accounting packages that also track accounts receivable and handle many other chores such as financial statement preparation. But if you don't want the hassle of installing full-fledged accounting software and keeping your records up to date, you can use an online service that handles just the billing and collection services you require.
That's the appeal of Zoho Invoice, part of a growing suite of online business services from Zoho. Zoho Invoice lets you invoice customers by e-mail, track receivables, and collect payments online.
The flexibility of Zoho's suite design means you can share common data with other, extra-cost Zoho services, such as Zoho CRM (customer relationship management) and Zoho Projects. You may also export data to accounting apps in CSV, Excel, and other formats. But if invoicing is all you need, you can use and pay for just that.
In a business with just a handful of employees, it's easy for the manager to distinguish the worker bees from the drones. But as a business grows and adds staff members who no longer directly report to a single person, managing employee performance reviews becomes more complex.
That's where SuccessFactors can help out. It's an online human resource management service that can help a company of almost any size handle performance reviews and better manage its employees. (Note, however, that it does not handle number-crunching HR tasks such as payroll processing and tax deductions.)
While large enterprises have long understood the benefits of managing human resources, the tools to do so can be expensive and difficult to set up and use for a small business. SuccessFactors is an online service, so there's no software to install. It includes templates and examples in an extensive library that helps someone who isn't an HR professional manage the performance review process.
Do you need to keep tabs on what online news makers say about your company, products and competitors? Online media monitoring is now easier and less expensive than ever.
Filtrbox offers an affordable and easy-to-use Web service for tracking what online news makers say about topics of interest to you. It cuts through the online content clutter to focus on what you find relevant: Think of it as Google Alerts (e-mail updates of the latest Google results for your chosen search terms) on steroids.
Filtrbox, which recently emerged from beta testing, isn't quite as ambitious as RelevantNoise, a similar service I wrote about earlier this year. Filtrbox doesn't currently measure the demographics of the bloggers it tracks, nor does it assess psychographics (that is, whether the opinions expressed are positive or negative), though support for the latter is planned for the future.
All businesses need to keep track of their PCs and software, and several products already help small businesses with this chore. Now a new service, Paglo, leverages the expertise of a small but growing community to help you manage your networked hardware and software.
The service is unusually flexible and can be configured to suit the needs of a wide range of businesses, from a small outfit with a simple ten-computer network to a sophisticated midsize business with a thousand systems.
Managing a fleet of PCs has always been difficult for smaller businesses. They can't afford the high-end tools from Tivoli and others that are aimed at large enterprises, but because they are typically short on IT staff, they need automated help to monitor their computer network assets and resolve problems.
Today Adobe launched the free public beta version of Acrobat.com, a Web-based supplement to its popular PDF document creation application. The new site offers an array of services to help businesses share and collaborate on documents. It also supports basic Web conferencing (including desktop sharing) and limited free conversion of documents to PDF format.
Acrobat.com works well with the beta version of Acrobat 9 (also announced today), which includes menus for sharing and collaborating on documents.  (See our First Look, "Acrobat 9 Aims to Reinvent PDFs"). The final version of Acrobat 9 is scheduled to ship in July, along with a new version of Adobe Reader.
But even if you don't use Adobe's desktop apps, you can get a lot of mileage from Acrobat.com if you work with others to create documents. I was able to test most of the beta Acrobat.com features last week, and found them to be an excellent mix of services for remote collaboration.