Small Businesses Pick the Products of the Year

By SmallBusinessComputing.com Staff | Posted March 31, 2006
Hardware     Security     E-Commerce     Software/Services    
The votes are in, and our readers have revealed their picks for the best small-business hardware, software and services, e-commerce and security products. The most noticeable finding is that our readers continue to rely on — and to reward — small business stalwarts like Dell, HP, Intuit and Maxtor for their reliable products and dedication to the small business market.

It's also noteworthy that as more and more small businesses incorporate Internet-based communications and Web services into their daily computing routines, the more critical it becomes to protect network infrastructure, confidential business and client data. As a top-of-mind concern for all small business owners, security warranted its own category this year.

While we don't have a red carpet, prime-time TV coverage or kickin' after-parties, we do have 23 categories with outstanding products to help small businesses increase efficiency, improve productivity and start the year off on sound technological footing. And best of all: no interpretive dance.

Hardware

Desktop
Dell takes top honors for desktop computing — for the third straight year — with its Dimension 5100C. This winning PC takes advantage of Intel's BTX technology, a design specification that makes computers run cooler and quieter. The result is a muted, space-saving PC that houses a dual-core processor and delivers solid performance.


A very close runner up, the HP DX5150 Desktop PC offers an excellent price versus power ratio that many companies will appreciate.

Hardware
Desktop PC
Dell Dimension 5100C
      Runner-up: HP DX5150 Desktop PC
Notebook PC
Dell Latitude D610
      Runner-up: HP Compaq nx6125
Color Printer
HP Color LaserJet 2600n
      Runner-up: HP CLJ 3000dn
Black & White Printer
HP LaserJet 1020
      Runner-up: Xerox Phaser 3500DN
Multifunction Devices
HP Color LaserJet 2820 All-in-One
      Runner-up: Xerox WorkCentre PE220
Storage
Maxtor OneTouch III
      Runner-up: Netgear Storage Central
Server
Dell PowerEdge 830
      Runner-up: HP ProLiant DL140 G2
Digital Camera
Canon PowerShot S80
      Runner-up: Nikon D50

Notebook
Dell walks away with yet another computing prize, and why not? The company's Latitude D610 provides mobile workers with the rugged reliability they need on the road. The thin-and-light portable also offers a ton of ports and connectivity options and a weight that won't slow you down.

It's déjà vu all over again as HP places a close second with the Compaq nx6125. This value-oriented notebook was built with security, comfort and portability in mind.

Black and White Printer
HP dominates the printing arena in general and this category specifically, collecting its third consecutive win. This year, the LaserJet 1020 earned a landslide victory with 76 percent of the vote. Excellent quality and 15-page-per-minute printing for less than $180 makes this laser printer a top-choice for small businesses.

The runner-up, Xerox's Phaser 3500DN, makes an excellent choice for larger SMBs that print a lot and have a need for speed. This laser's duty cycle is rated up to 100,000 prints per month and outputs up to 33 ppm for less than $550.

Color Printer
It seems our readers are as consistent as HP's print quality. Sixty-one percent of them chose the Color LaserJet 2600n as best in class. It's no wonder this compact color laser stands out — it uses a one-pass design instead of the traditional four-pass, which helps it outlast competing products. And the $399 price tag doesn't hurt, either.

Climbing further up the food chain, readers like the HP CLJ 3000dn for second place. Designed for copious printing at high speeds, the color laser spits out up to 22 ppm and up to 65,000 pages a month for $1,300.

Multi-function Device
The winner and still printing champ, HP crushed the competition by taking 74 percent of the votes for the Color LaserJet 2820 All-in-One. Multi-function devices appeal to small businesses because they pack printing, scanning and copying into one system at a price that's smaller than the sum of its parts — in this case, color printing, scanning and copying for $799. Clearly, HP provides a name they can trust and quality they can count on.

Coming in a distant second with 15 percent of the vote, the Xerox WorkCentre PE220 offers SMBs multi-function (black and white laser printing, color scanning and faxing) capability for $399.

Digital Camera
The Canon PowerShot S80 emerged the winner in what turned out to be a tightly contested race. The 8-megapixel S80 is about as powerful a compact, auto-focus camera you can get without moving up into the single-lens reflex (SLR) form factor. Its compact design offers a 2.5-inch LCD viewing screen and a 3.6 X optical zoom for high-quality close ups.

If this digital camera race were any closer, we'd be able to work in a photo-finish joke. As it is, the 6-megapixel, digital SLR Nikon D50 earned second place by producing clean, clear images that rival any 35mm film camera.

Storage
Maxtor takes top honors for its OneTouch III, making Maxtor, Dell and HP the only companies to earn three-peat status in our hardware category. In addition to gargantuan capacity and Maxtor's excellent data backup and restore capabilities, the one-terabyte drive is the first consumer storage device to offer RAID 0 and 1 capability for improved speed or data security, respectively. Of course, this will probably be the last Maxtor product we see in our annual awards now that Seagate has bought the company.

Nobody loves a bargain better than small business owners on a tight budget — as long as it delivers. Netgear's Storage Central earned second place by offering SMBs an inexpensive way to expand storage capacity. Buy the $129 box and install the low-cost, IDE drives of your choice.

Server
Dell is tough to beat in just about any computer category, and serves are no exception. Our readers gave the PowerEdge 830 a resounding thumbs-up. Could be due to its combination of a dual-core processor (one processor that essentially acts as two) performance and a starting price of just $699 — talk about small-business appeal.

Second-place honors go to HP's ProLiant DL140 G2, a reliable server that offers a step up the performance ladder with two processors for even more computing power. Pricing starts at $1,299.

Security

System Security
We've given previous editions of the McAfee Internet Security Suite high praise both for quality and for an SMB-friendly price tag. Our readers obviously agree, giving 69 percent of the vote — and top honors — to the McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006. The Suite lets you fully use Internet communications (such as e-mail and Instant Message) while protecting your system and confidential files against viruses, block hackers and spam. Best of all, you can easily update the software to protect your system against the latest threats — all for under $130.

Security
System Security
McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006
      Runner-up: Secure Messaging Service       for Small Business
Wireless Security
Linksys Wireless-G Broadband Router       with SpeedBooster and       SecureEasySetup
      Runner-up: Elektron
Data Back-up
Symantec Backup Exec 10d
      Runner-up: Maxtor One Touch II       Small Business Edition

McAfee also scored second place honors for its Secure Messaging Service for Small Business, a hosted mail-filtering service that automatically routes a company's in-going and out-going e-mail traffic through McAfee servers to guard against spam, viruses, phishing attacks, inappropriate content and denial of service attacks.

Wireless Security
Over the years, we've seen several multi-function devices win an Excellence in Technology Award, and the wireless security nominations follow that trend. Winning with a whopping 90 percent of the votes, the Linksys Wireless-G Broadband Router with SpeedBooster and SecureEasySetup demonstrates how the company dominates home and small business networking by providing what its customers need. This all-in-one product includes an Internet-sharing router, 4-port switch and a performance-enhanced Wireless-G Access Point.

LinkSys' SecureEasySetup (SES) technology is worth highlighting since we're pretty sure it's this type of user-friendly feature that brought in the votes. Rather than forcing you to deal with the details of a router's security configuration, SES lets you configure the SSID and encryption keys on both the router and the client with the press of a button (two buttons, actually: one on the router and one on the client). Coming in at well under the $100 price range ($89.99), it's an attractive wireless security solution, and one we weren't surprised to see taking top honors in the wireless security category.

Elektron, the runner up, is a relative newcomer having announced its first product in early 2005. The server software offers SMBs enterprise-grade security for Wi-Fi networks at an easy-to-take price of $299.

Data Backup
Anyone who's ever suffered through a data loss knows the importance of a reliable, automated and feature-packed data back-up solution. Whether you're hit with a hard drive failure or a worm infestation, if you want your business to survive, you need to access and restore your data — fast.

Symantec scores first place for its Windows security application and its popular backup software, Symantec Backup Exec 10d ($795) and Symantec LiveState Recovery ($938). The two applications combined ensure secure disk-based backup and recovery from any point in time and lets you recover any Windows server or desktop to any other Windows server or desktop, independent of hardware configuration.

In second place, Maxtor set out to make an external drive alternative that would handle server backups faster, easier and for less money than tape-based solutions. While the Maxtor One Touch II Small Business Edition is a simplified success, for basic backup, it couldn't be easier.

E-Commerce

Storefront
Yahoo's Small Business arm had much to be proud of in 2005. Primarily, the company revealed tremendous growth numbers in terms of e-commerce Yahoo! Merchant Solutions Web hosting subscribers. As of August, Yahoo had more than 35,000 e-commerce customers — 5,000 more than they had four months earlier. So it should come as no surprise that our readers overwhelmingly voted Yahoo! Merchant Solutions hosting as the top e-commerce storefront for 2005.

Yahoo's e-commerce solution isn't necessarily the easiest solution to use, and there are still issues with slow customer support response time and its confusing monthly financial statements. However, the company upgraded its outdated shopping cart in August with a new, highly configurable checkout manager. Despite some of the blemishes, it's clear Yahoo Merchant Solutions has plenty of happy customers.

E-Commerce
Storefront
Yahoo's Small Business
      Runner-up: GoDaddy Quick Shopping       Cart
Web Hosting
GoDaddy
Register.com Build-It-for-Me
Customer Service
Register.com
      Runner-up: Interland
Web Analytics
Webtrends 7.1
      Runner-up: NetSuite NetCommerce
Search Engine Marketing
Google AdWords
      Runner-up: Yahoo Search Marketing
Affiliate Program
Google AdSense
      Runner-up: Amazon Associates

Runner-up in our voting is relative newcomer GoDaddy and its Quick Shopping Cart solution. GoDaddy has gained popularity in the e-commerce world due in part to its low pricing plans — which range from $9.95 to $49.95 per month.

Web Hosting
In the category of non-e-commerce Web-site hosting for 2005, we had a tie between GoDaddy and Register.com's Build-It-for-Me.

Starting at $499 per year, Register.com offers the Build-It-for-Me package that includes a domain name, e-mail and a professionally designed five-page Web site. It also includes a Monthly Web Site Fitness Program, which gives customers free monthly edits and updates, search engine optimization services, online form development and competitive analysis reports.

GoDaddy, again, is gaining fans thanks to its $1.99 domains and low-cost hosting plans starting at — get this — $3.19 per month! Backed by catchy and aggressive marketing, GoDaddy has made great strides in the crowded hosting field.

Customer Service
Once again, Register.com scores a victory in the customer service arena. Customer service is king — regardless of the business you're in. Judging by the number of votes received, it appears Register.com gets it.

Interland (soon to be Web.com) earned the runner-up honors in the customer service category.

Web Analytics
It's no longer enough to have a well-designed site and good products. Competition in the e-commerce field is so intense, business owners need to exploit every advantage they can find. One way to really find out what's going wrong (or right) with a site is to employ a Web analytics package. Find out where potential customers are bailing. Find out where your customers are coming from and why. Understanding this data can make or break a business.

Analytics veterans NetIQ takes the prize for Best Analytics Package with its latest product Webtrends 7.1. The latest version hit the streets in early 2005 with three notable improvements aimed squarely at helping businesses reach paying customers. It helps drive higher sales by letting you you tweak online marketing efforts including improved campaign performance, better search engine marketing and detailed audience segmentation.

The three features — integration with ExactTarget, which measures e-mail campaign performance; the WebPosition Gold 3 module, which optimizes search engine page results, rankings and keywords; and audience segmentation, which can easily identify profitable visitor segments and visually compare their behavior and conversion rates — appear to be hits with customers.

The popular NetSuite NetCommerce analytics and CRM package is this year's runner-up.

Search Engine Marketing
The other battle among e-commerce businesses is taking place on the search engines such as Google and Yahoo. A site's placement in a search engine can be the difference between a couple of sales per day or hundreds of sales. In the "good 'ole days," optimal search engine placement could be had by stuffing a site's pages with popular, random keywords. However, search engines have become a lot smarter and employ secret, complicated formulas to determine where a site comes up in a given search.

One way to beat the "organic" search game is to pay for sponsored ads on a search engine (also known as Pay-Per-Click campaigns). With PPC campaigns, you can pay to have your ad come up on a search results page based on the keywords typed in by an online shopper. Effective PPC campaigns can drive tremendous traffic to your e-commerce site.

It should come as little surprise to our readers that the two most popular search engines — Google and Yahoo — battled it out for having the most popular search engine marketing tools. Well, "battled it out" might be an overstatement. Google's AdWords service outran Yahoo Search Marketing (formerly known as Overture) by a 3-to-1 margin.

We're not terribly surprised since Google done a great job in winning mindshare and keeping its name in the news on an almost daily basis (and, no, the $400-plus stock price hasn't hurt, either). We're also fans of the ease with which you can create a PPC campaign in Adwords, as opposed to the complicated process you have to trudge through with Yahoo's Search Marketing.

Note to Yahoo: improve your Search Marketing interface and you just might make it to the top next year.

Affiliate Program
Another way to cash in on the Web without opening your own store is to place ads on your site and get paid by bringing in sales leads or clicks to other vendors. Affiliate programs have become extremely popular the past few years — earning savvy Web site owners plenty of extra cash.

While effective use of any affiliate program can reap rewards, our readers picked Google's AdSense as the Best Affiliate Program for 2005. A snippet of code placed on your site is all you need to have targeted text-based ads that bring in a few cents to a few dollars per click (those ads, by the way, come from Google's AdWords program). That's the main advantage AdSense has over the other popular affiliate programs that mostly pay out based on actual sales.

Another long-running program —Amazon.com's Associates — came in second place this year. Amazon Associates gives Web masters innumerable options to advertise Amazon's millions of products — from banners to creating your own virtual storefront. Generous commissions normally begin at four percent of sales. A tiered structure gives successful Associates the opportunity to bump that percentage over 7.5 percent.

Software/Services

Productivity
Let's be honest, Microsoft Office won't be giving up its stranglehold on the small business productivity software market any time soon. However, that doesn't mean there isn't room for alternatives. And that's where WordPerfect Office shines. Last year, WordPerfect Office 12 cruised to an easy win in productivity category. This year saw the release of WordPerfect Office 12 - Small Business Edition, which added Paint Shop Pro 9 for photo and image editing, a new e-mail client (WordPerfect Mail), Norton Internet Security 2005, a slew of templates and the new Task Manager for $349. With all that, it's no surprise that WordPerfect's reign continues in the productivity category.

Software and Services
Productivity
WordPerfect Office 12 - Small Business       Edition
      Runner-up: Open Office 2.0
Accounting
QuickBooks Premier 2006
      Runner-up: Microsoft Office Small       Business Accounting 2006
Graphics
Adobe Creative Suite CS2e
      Runner-up: Corel Paint Shop Pro X
Sales/CRM
ACT! by Sage 2006
      Runner-up: Salesforce.com
Collaboration
WebEx WebOffice Workgroup
      Runner-up: Kerio MailServer 6.1
Web-based tool
Google Gmail
      Runner-up: NetSuite

WordPerfect Office also offers compatibility with just about any Microsoft Office document you have and continues to offer top-notch PDF creation and export capabilities.

One theme that ran through the small business community last year is an increased interest in open source applications. Like last year, Open Office took runners-up honors. However, by receiving about a quarter of votes in the productivity category, Open Office 2.0 showed that it's more than a mere curiosity.

Accounting
For years, Intuit's QuickBooks has been synonymous with small business accounting. It still is. QuickBooks Premier 2006 received 58 percent of the votes in capturing its third straight Small Business Computing Excellence in Technology Award. The Premier Edition includes everything you'd expect to find in the Pro version of QuickBooks, but adds capabilities to build and track inventory assemblies, create custom pricing levels, remotely access QuickBooks data, track job costs, create and customize business plans, create sales and expense forecasts and assess company performance trends.

While there is no denying that last year was another strong year for QuickBooks, there's a new player in the game and it made its presence felt. Released in September (after almost a year in public beta testing), Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting 2006 burst onto the scene and captured almost a quarter of the votes. Touting tight integration with Office and Outlook, it will be interesting to watch the year unfold in the small business accounting market.

Graphics
While there were no changes in the accounting and productivity categories, we have a new champion in the graphics category. While Adobe Creative Suite CS2e may not come to mind when you think of small-business products, design firms, printers and service bureaus typically are small businesses themselves, and they turned out the vote this year to support Adobe's suite.

The Creative Suite CS2 software is available in a Premium Edition and a Standard Edition, for $1,199 and $899, respectively. That price does preclude the casual graphics user, but for any business with serious graphics, design or page-layout needs, you can't beat the products offerings and integration offered in this suite.

Both versions include Photoshop CS2, InDesign CS2, and Illustrator CS2. The Professional Edition adds Adobe Acrobat 7 Professional and GoLive CS2. In addition to these upgraded applications, both packages include Version Cue CS2 to coordinate and synchronize projects being worked on by multiple people; Adobe Bridge, an enhanced file browser; and Adobe Stock Photos service, a service that provides searchable access to royalty free images.

Corel Paint Shop Pro X made a strong showing with 30 percent of the vote. For small businesses with a tighter software budget, Paint Shop (last year's winner in the graphics category) is still among the best values out there.

Sales/CRM
In one of the most tightly contested categories, ACT! by Sage 2006 edged Web-based software stalwart Salesforce.com by just three percentage points — 41 to 38 percent. A pioneer is the contact-management field, ACT! now allows you to organize contacts into companies and groups. A new "tree" view graphically depicts contact and company relationships and hierarchies. At a glance you can see divisions, employees and individual contacts. Also, you can now add contacts to multiple groups and companies. Sage also now boasts that third-party companies have created some 40 new ACT add-on solutions to extend the program's capabilities and perform specialized marketing, shipping and synchronization functions, to name a few.

Collaboration
In 2005, WebEx acquired Intranets.com — an Excellence in Technology finalist last year. The first small-business product to emerge as a result of the acquisition was WebEx WebOffice Workgroup, which is designed for small businesses with five or more people.

In its move to broaden its repertoire beyond Web-based meetings, WebEx added an online document manager, group calendar, database manager, task manager and other tools. WebOffice Workgroup pricing starts at $59.95 for five people. You can add Web meetings for an additional $49.95 per month. The Personal edition — well-suited for home-based businesses — is $49.95 a month, which includes Web meetings.

Taking runner-up honors is Kerio MailServer 6.1 with 28 percent of the vote. This alternative to Microsoft Outlook and Exchange has two things going for it: It supports Windows, Linux and Mac e-mail clients, and it costs $499 for 20 users.

Web-based tool
In the broadly defined Web-based tool category, it might be seem unlikely that one product would rise dramatically above the others, but that's what happened as Google's Gmail dominated the category. In April, Google doubled the storage available to users of its free, Web-based e-mail product. At the time, Gmail's product manager told Internetnews.com that the right thing is "to keep giving people more space forever." We like that concept, and apparently so do you.

The runner-up was a distant second to Gmail in terms of number of votes, but the success of NetSuite — a Web-based all-in-one accounting, e-commerce, CRM service — may be a harbinger of things to come in terms of how software is delivered.

Vangie Beal, Devin Comiskey, Eric Grevstad, Eric Griffith, Dan Muse and Lauren Simonds contributed to this report.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!


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