Small Businesses Pick the Best Products of the Year

By SmallBusinessComputing.com Staff | Posted February 05, 2007

Hardware     Security     Software/Services     E-Commerce

Some people are most comfortable with consistency and familiarity. Other folks thrive on new and different.

Regardless of which camp you fall into, you'll find plenty to like in this year's Small Business Computing Excellence in Technology Awards. Like things consistent? Well, Dell yet again cleans up in the PC and notebook categories. HP, as always, owns the printer categories. QuickBooks remains unphased by challengers. And Google, not surprising, stills rules the online marketing world.


Looking for a few twists to get the blood flowing? Storage vendor NetApp — best-known for its storage products at large enterprises — takes top honors over the companies typically associated with small business storage. Among an impressive crop of e-commerce services, Storefront provider Volusion steps up to take two e-commerce awards.

That's just a taste of what emerged as the best products and services. Read on to learn which 26 products earned your vote for the best small business products and 26 runners-up that are pretty darn good.

As you review the winners and runners-up, don't be shocked if you don't see your favorite listed. Remember the Small Business Computing Product Excellence Awards recognizes products that were released or upgraded with a specific time frame (in this case between January 1 and October 31, 2006). And if you think your fellow readers simply got it wrong, let us know in our forum.

Hardware

Hardware
Desktop PC
Dell OptiPlex 745
      Runner-up: iMac (MA590LL)
Notebook PC
Dell Latitude D820
      Runner-up: MacBook (2.0GHz)
Color Printer
HP Color LaserJet 2605dn
      Runner-up: Xerox Phaser 6120
Black & White Printer
HP LaserJet 5200
      Runner-up: Samsung ML-2571N
Multifunction Device
HP Officejet 4315 All-in-One
      Runner-up: Xerox WorkCentre 4118 Multifunction Printer
Mobile Device
BlackBerry Pearl 8100
      Runner-up: Palm Treo 700wx
Storage
NetApp StoreVault S500
      Runner-up: EMC CLARiiON AX150i
Server
HP Proliant ML570 G4
      Runner-up: IBM System x3105

Desktop
There's something to be said for consistency, as the saying goes, and Dell clearly understands this concept when it comes to building computers that appeal to small business owners. The Dell OptiPlex 745 snagged 45 percent of your votes to take the top spot — for the fourth straight year. Designed to grow along with your business, the OptiPlex 745 offers a mix of performance, energy-efficiency, remote management and security options that caught your fancy. And the $774 starting price doesn't hurt, either.

In a surprise twist, the iMac — a first-time finalist in our awards — stomped all over HP, Lenovo and Gateway to take the runner-up position with 25 percent of the overall votes. Intel's Core 2 Duo 2.0 GHz processor combined with Apple's renowned style and ease-of-use plus a startling 17-inch display speaks to small businesses that value great design and excellent performance.

Notebook
It's starting to feel like the movie Groundhog Day around here, thanks to Dell and Apple. Yes, Dell once again wins bragging rights as the number-one notebook for the second year running. Chalk it up to the Lati tude D820's lighter, slimmer design, improved mobility, security measures and its all-around snappy performance — 46 percent of you did.

Apple comes on strong again with the dark horse MacBook making an impressive showing to take the runner-up position with 32 percent of the votes, shoving both HP and Gateway out of contention in the process. Apple calls it the "most advanced and affordable Mac notebook ever," with Core 2 Duo processing, wireless technology and a host of multimedia features — and you seem to agree.

Black and White Printer
When you mention printers to a small business owner, chances are good — very good — that he or she will say one of two things. "I have an HP" or, "I want an HP."

You supported that theory with a whopping 68 percent of you pulling the lever for HP's LaserJet 5200. Considering the network-capable machine prints 35 pages per minute and offers features such as double-sided (duplex) printing, wide-format printing and Instant-On technology for a quick start-up, it's a real deal for companies that need fast, high-volume, monochrome printing.

Samsung's ML-2571N came in a distant second with 21 percent of the votes.

Color Printer
Things are looking rosy for HP as it continues to flex its muscle in the color printer category. The Color LaserJet 2605dn walked off with 46 percent of the vote. Could that approval be based on the 10 pages per minute color and 12 ppm monochrome print speed, the vibrant color, the photo memory card slots and a sub-$500 price tag? Why yes, yes it could.

We like a good plot twist almost as much as we like a time-tested champion, and this category's runner-up offers elements of both. Sliding into second place comes the Xerox Phaser 6120. It's the first time Xerox has placed at all in our annual awards, and it did so with 33 percent of your votes. Pretty slick move for an iconic company that's better known for its enterprise printers. Will HP be looking over its shoulder in the coming year?

Multi-Function Device
One device that does it all — print, copy, scan and fax — for one low price. That's pretty much the mechanical equivalent of a small business owner. Is it any wonder they're so popular with you, our multi-tasking readers?

Continuing this year's wash, rinse, repeat theme, HP takes the top multi-function spot and Xerox receives a nod as runner-up. HP's Of ficejet 4315 All-in-One pulled in a very respectable 51 percent of the votes. It sells for a mere $99 and offers smaller businesses — that don't require high-volume or photo printing — a compact, easy-to-use tool to handle a variety of tasks.

The Xero x WorkCentre 4118 Multifunction Printer earned 30 percent of the votes and represents good performance and price for companies that need more MFD volume and speed.

Mobile Device
Small business multi-tasking doesn't all happen at the office, and the capability to stay in touch while on the move can help a small business stay competitive.

If you have to stay in touch, why not do it with a little class? With 39 percent of the vote, your preference was the stylishly hip BlackBerry Pearl 8100 — a tasty offering that consists of phone, Internet browser, camera, multimedia player, organizer and e-mail capabilities.

In the runner-up department, 25 percent of you leaned towards the 700wx Treo Palm. The Windows-based smartphone's touchpad screen makes entering data a lot faster.

Storage
In one of this year's biggest upsets, Maxtor (now owned by Seagate) failed to take the top spot in storage, closing the door on its three-year winning streak. Even more surprising, this year's winner hails not from the usual small-business-storage suspects, but rather from NetApp, an enterprise storage vendor that, in 2006, launched a separate business unit to sell storage products to small and medium businesses.

Of course, just like at big businesses, the sheer amount of data at SMBs is growing almost out of control. And, also like big businesses, SMBs are required to store and be able to access all electronic forms of communication.

While not every small business may need server-based storage, it seems that many of you — 45 percent to be exact — have fast-growing businesses that generate a lot of data. Those are the companies that can benefit from the NetA pp StoreVaultS500's capability to scale and store up to six terabytes of data, provide data-protection utilities and let you replace hard drives without having to turn off the appliance.

While we're not quite ready to call this a trend, the fact that the CLARiiON AX150i from EMC — another enterprise storage vendor — snagged the runner-up spot makes us wonder if the major players are finally creating products that make sense for small business. The AX150i helped itself to 22 percent of the votes leaving small business stalwarts like Maxtor, Iomega and Buffalo to fight over the scraps.

Server
This category offered up the tightest race this year, with HP and IBM narrowly placing first and second, respectively. What does this mean for small business? Whether you're ready to invest in the first server for your business or need serious server power, you've got good, solid server options available from top-notch companies.

Case in point: HP's Proliant ML570 G4 racked up 27 percent of the votes and offers the largest number of drives and PCI slots of any ProLiant server. It's not for every small business, but if your company runs demanding applications such as databases, supply chain management, customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning, the G4 is a winning pick.

IBM's entry-level Syst em x3105 server earned 26 percent of your votes, and targets a slightly different SMB demographic by offering a serious, sober server at desktop prices.

Security

Desktop Security
As in previous years, McAfee and Norton faced-off for top honors in PC Desktop Security category. This year the award goes to Symantec for its Norton Internet Security 2007 suite, which took in 42 percent of your votes. This latest version of Norton provides protection for up to three PCs and lays out the protection framework for spyware, viruses and worms while also offering protection from hackers and identity theft. The complete Norton Internet Security 2007 package is also small-business-budget friendly with a price of $69.99, which includes a full year of updates.

Security
PC Security
Norton Internet Security 2007 (Symantec)
      Runner-up: McAfee Internet Security Suite 2007
Network Security
McAfee Total Protection for Small Business
       Runner-up: Trend Micro Client Server Security 3 for SMB
PC Data Backup And Recovery
Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery Desktop Edition 6.5
      Runner-up: Maxtor OneTouch III, Turbo Edition (Seagate Corp.)
Network Data Backup And Recovery
EVault Small Business Edition
       Runner-up: Seagate Mirra Sync and Share Personal Server 320 GB

McAfee Internet Security Suite 2007 earned the runner-up award. This application offers eight valuable PC protection services in one package including protection from viruses, hackers, worms and spyware — but it also offers back-ups for important files and warns you about Web sites that may install adware and send out spam. The software, plus the standard one-year subscription package, also costs $69.99. You can also purchase a version with a three-user license for $89.99.

Network Security
For small businesses looking for a single solution to protect a network of PCs and servers, there's myriad software and hardware products available. While our Network Security category consisted of both hardware and software products, our winner and runner-up this year are both software solutions.

Taking in 40 percent of your ballots, the winning network security product this year is McAfee Total Protection for Small Business. This package integrates tools to protect PCs and servers from a total of ten threats including viruses, spyware, hacker attacks, adware and other malware threats. Daily-automated security updates are available through McAfee's software-as-service program. McAfee Total Protection for Small Business costs $175 for five licenses and $3,000 for 100.

Our runner-up, Trend Micro Client Server Security for SMB 3.0, protects PCs and Windows servers against viruses and hackers. It offers simplified management, and its Automatic Threat Protection eliminates the need to manually deal with malicious threats. The software also includes a personal firewall, and a single console offers remote management and troubleshooting from any PC with an Internet connection. A five-user license with a two-year maintenance package costs $186. A 100-user license sells for $3,200.

PC Data Back-Up & Recovery
While we (and a whole bunch of other people) emphasize regularly backing up company data, this year's winner puts the focus on complete system backups as well. Symantec's Ba ckup Exec System Recovery Desktop Edition 6.5 offers small businesses an efficient way to recover from a system failure by using hard disk imaging, which lets you manually create recovery points or set up an automatic backup schedule. With all the automated options and a $69 price tag, it's easy to see why Backup Exec System Recovery 6.5 took first place.

Coming in a close second, Maxtor's OneTouch III, Turbo Edition offers small businesses a terabyte of storage space on a desktop and lets you set up the drive in either RAID 0 or RAID 1. You also get data backup and restore capabilities including automated backup scheduling, historical file versions, an easy-to-use wizard interface for restoring files or complete systems and the ability to recover a complete system to a specific point in time. The Maxtor OneTouch III, Turbo Edition offers three connection interfaces: FireWire 800, FireWire 400 and USB 2.0, and costs $899.95.

Network Data Back-Up & Recovery
It's not surprising to see managed backup and recovery services gaining popularity with small businesses given how many of them lack in-house IT resources. In this category we had five finalists, and the winner, EVault Small Business Edition, offers small businesses with 15GB or less server data a complete off-site backup and recovery service. EVault offers compliance with several industry standards, including SEC, HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley, and it provides your business with a Web-based management console allowing you to access your data whenever and wherever you need it. Best of all, as a managed service, it's a worry-free, low-maintenance options for small businesses.

Settling for second place with just 4 percent fewer votes than the EVault Small Business Edition is Seagate's Mirr a Sync and Share Personal Server, 320 GB (ST3320833ET-RK). Like a typical NAS product, the Mirra is an external storage device that connects to your network via a 100 Mbps Ethernet port. Unlike typical NAS products however, the Mirra is a specialized device that also provides remote access to (and sharing of) data with easy-to-use Mirra software. While dual-functions of the Mirra Sync and Share Personal Server surely made it popular with you, its Web-based remote access and no ongoing subscription fees are also attractive features. The 320 GB Seagate Mirra Sync and Share Personal Server sells for $499.

Software & Services

Productivity
When it comes to business productivity, server software means a more secure and efficient network as well as better-managed computers, printers and other resources. That technical reality explains Mi crosoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2's run-away win in the Productivity category. OK, some people might argue that server software doesn't qualify as productivity software, but when it comes to better management of files, print services, backup and so on, we think it does mean productivity. And since the Small Business Server 2003 RU easily cruised into the top-honor spot, doubling the vote total of its closest competitor, it's clear that you think it's productivity-minded, too. In the R2 version, Microsoft introduced what its calls the "green check" of software health." The feature is designed tell you at a glance the health of your network, anti-virus software, firewall and other server elements. Microsoft also slashed 13 percent off the price of its Premium version server software.

Software and Services
Productivity
Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2
      Runner-up: FileMaker Pro 8.5
Accounting and Finance
QuickBooks Premier 2007 (Intuit)
      Runner-up: Peachtree by Sage Premium Accounting 2007
Graphics and Multimedia
Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0
      Runner-up: Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo XI
Sales and Customer Management
Salesforce.com
      Runner-up: ACT by Sage 2007
Collaboration
Citrix GoToWebinar
      Runner-up: Central Desktop
VoIP
Skype for Business
      Runner-up: SmartVoice Plus (Accessline Communications)

FileMaker Pro 8.5 caught our attention last summer when it added a Web twist to database management software. Apparently it caught your eye as well, seeing that you voted it the runner-up in the Productivity category. Version 8.5 lets you treat Web-based objects as dynamic records. For example, you can see just about any type of content in the Web Viewer that you could see in a Web browser: HTML, PDF, QuickTime, Java applets, Flash, SVG charts, PHP charting classes, fillable forms and more.

Accounting and Finance
In the world of small business accounting, the stakes keep getting higher as Microsoft and Peachtree continue to make runs at QuickBooks. The problem for those capable competitors is that QuickBooks is showing no signs of letting down its guard.

If there we any doubt about who rules the roost, you made your feelings known as Quick Books Premier 2007 sailed to the best Accounting and Finance award. In fact, it collected more votes than the other finalists combined. While service-oriented businesses appreciate QuickBooks Premier 2007's new Web-based time-tracking capabilities, and retail and manufacturing firms are drawn to the new unit conversion features, this year Intuit stepped beyond finance to add a touch of Google to QuickBooks.

You can now perform Google searches from within QuickBooks to look for invoices and other documents within the program. You can also list your business with Google Maps so that it comes up when local customers search for related products and services. If you like, you can even offer coupons. QuickBooks comes with a $50 credit to try out the Google AdWords service, which can potentially bring your ad up when customers search on related products and services.

Pe achtree by Sage Premium Accounting 2007 claimed the runner-up position. Its newest version features a dashboard, called the Business Status Center, which offers an overview of your business and displays various real-time information about your company through various indicators and measurements. It also offers stronger links with Excel and Outlook.

Graphics and Multimedia
Adobe retained its title in the Graphics and Multimedia category as Photoshop Elements 5.0 beat out Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo XI. Last year, Adobe Creative Suite CS2e — a higher-end design and publishing product — took top honors with small businesses. This year, Adobe's entry-level image-editing software earned your votes. If you use a digital camera for marketing or sales collateral, Photoshop Elements lets you edit and manage those images. The $99 ($79 for a upgrade) product lets you touch up photos and adjust elements such as color and lighting. It wasn't surprising that Adobe pulled out the win, but what was surprising is how thoroughly it dominated the category: It captured 67 percent of the vote.

Taking runner-up honors was Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo XI. In the latest version, Corel added, among other features, a new Color Changer tool that lets you change the color of solid and textured objects — such as clothing, a table, carpets or an area in a photo — with just a few clicks. While the software had to settle again for runner-up status, the $99 image-editing product boasts professional-level features and remains a great value for small businesses.

Sales and Customer Management
How far has software-as-a-service come? Far enough for Salesforce.com — arguably the poster child for Web-based applications — to unseat ACT in the Sales and Customer Management category. You could almost see this one coming last year when, in one of our most tightly contested categories, ACT by Sage 2006 edged Web-based software stalwart Salesforce.com by just three percentage points. This year it was Salesforce.com's turn for a close win as the popular CRM service beat out ACT 37 to 31 percent.

Whether winner or runner-up, AC T is still a favorite with small businesses after all these years. The 2006 version added integration with Microsoft Outlook as well as new password and security features. For example, you can set rules for access passwords such as forcing users to change passwords every so many days and not allowing them to recycle recently used passwords. You can more easily make notes, history, activity and opportunity records private directly from a Contact record.

Collaboration
Citrix Systems is becoming — if you'll forgive the pun — a go-to guy for small businesses. The company, known to small businesses for its GoToMyPC, GoToMeeting and GoToAssist applications, walked away the winner in the hotly contested collaboration category, capturing 31 percent the vote with the newest entry it the line: GoToWebin ar. The on-demand, collaboration tool is designed to let small businesses schedule and host Webinars for up to 1,000 attendees per event.

Taking second place is Centr al Desktop, a browser-based instant workplace. The company's fall release lets you select from a variety of templates to create shared, online spaces instantly. The product is built on a wiki engine, and allows people to collaborate on pages the same way a traditional wiki does.

VoIP
According to a statement by Skype executives in 2006, 30 percent of its 75 million customers use the Voice over IP service for business. Most of those businesses have fewer than 10 employees, the company said. So it's not surprising that Skype for Business dominated the VoIP category capturing a whopping 71 percent of the vote. The service lets you use one account to buy Skype credits in bulk and automatically distribute them — along with SkypeIn numbers and Skype Voice-mail —to all the people in your company. The Skype Toolbar for Outlook lets you integrate your Skype and Outlook contacts.

AccessLine Communications' SmartVoice Plus took runner-up honors in the VoIP category. The hosted service keeps all the application's features (voicemail, find/follow, fax, conferencing, auto attendant and so on) on its servers, which are located in key urban locations across the U.S.

E-Commerce

Storefront
In a tight race, Volusion edged out Yahoo by two percentage points (40 percent to 38 percent) to earn the top spot in the Storefront category. As a beta tester of  Google Checkout and with the client-friendly move of offering free Live Chat, Volusion continues to keep existing e-tailers happy while garnering new business by staying on top of industry developments. Other significant offerings this year included One Page Checkout, FastTraffic (a PPC service) and a new batch of design templates.

E-Commerce
Storefront
Volusion
      Runner-up: Yahoo Merchant Solutions
Web Hosting Provider
Yahoo Web Hosting
      Runners-up: GoDaddy and Verio
Customer Service
Volusion Live Chat Premium Edition
      Runner-up: Live Person Pro
SEO/SEM/Web Analytics
WebTrends
      Runner-up: Omniture
Online Marketing and Advertising
Google AdWords
      Runner-up: Constant Contact
Affiliate Program
Google AdSense
      Runner-up: Amazon Associates

Meanwhile Yahoo Merchant Solutions wasn't sitting still, either. It underwent a relaunch dubbed "Open for Business" that was released in staggered phases and aimed at making its 40,000 members, as well as newcomers, successful online ventures. The plan includes a new set of wizards that sit on top of the existing e-commerce platform and are designed to guide vendors through the process of set-up, payment, taxing, shipping and marketing, with the latter ones to be ro lled out early this year.

Web Hosting Provider
When choosing a Web hosting provider, small businesses should look for companies that cater to online stores with provide back-end functionality that let you manage a product catalog. Providers should also offer exceptional site security, secure certificates and the integration of a payment gateway. Yahoo Web Hosting clearly accommodates e-tailers by offering a wide range of plans and pricing options starting as low as $8.95 a month ranging to $39.95 (for the Professional version).

The race for runner-up was too close to call, and the honors go to both Verio and Go Daddy (which tied for top honors last year, too). Verio offers affordable — and flexible — plans, including one with 10GB for $19.95 a month for Unix. On the Windows side, the PremierSite package costs the same for 20 GB, while plans for multiple-sites and for people who want to build their own stores cost $24.95; the Starter plan is $12.95 a month. Go Daddy, a relative newcomer just a few years ago, continues to attract new business with its budget plans, beginning at a mere $3.19 a month for 5GB and going up to about $12 to $13 a month for 200GB.

Customer Service
Every merchant needs an appropriate set of tools to provide customer service, the foundation of any business. Time and time again profitable e-tailers told us the secret to success is decidedly low-tech: good, old-fashioned customer service provided quickly, sincerely, — and ideally — in real-time, as we covered in our story "Cha tting Your Way to Success with Live Support." And, as luxury items continue to be one of the fastest-growth segments in the market, utilities that help Web shop owners educate customers are becoming more important when doing business. That's why Volusion scores another victory in this category with its Live Chat Premium. Simple to install and use, it allows Web shop owners to cater to their customers' individual needs.

LivePerson Pro — a pioneer in live, Web-based help services — took the runner-up spot, with an impressive 43 percent of your votes.

SEO/SEM/Web Analytics Provider
Even if you're the most attentive Web shop owner, you won't thrive if shoppers can't find your site or if you can't make sense of what's selling, when it sells, how people are finding your store and what's converting abandoned carts into checkouts. These days search engine marketing and search engine optimization are standard parts of any e-commerce venture, as well as analytics services that make sense of the traffic data. This year, WebTrends wins in this competitive arena, by a nearly two-to-one margin over runner-up Omniture.

WebTrends, which won in 2005 in the analytics sector, has been busy during the interim. The company followed up its ClickShift acquisition by unveiling WebTrends Dynamic Search. The on-demand technology automatically determines which combinations of networks, keywords, positions, creative and landing pages perform best and dynamically allocate advertising spending to the top-performing combinations across major search networks, including Google, MSN and Yahoo. Perhaps most important is that while the company can claim heavy hitters such as Microsoft and Virgin Atlantic as clients, it hasn't lost sight of the small business sector, with some SMBs reporting sales boosts of up to 30 percent.

The same holds true for Ominture, which you voted into the runner-up spot. While Nike, the NFL and the Gap are on its roster, voters tapped it as a resource for small e-tail operations. Called one of the "Web's top analytic companies" by BusinessWeek.com, Omniture is sure to keep the incumbent looking over its shoulder.

Online Marketing and Advertising
Online marketing encompasses many things: e-mail offers, surveys, social commerce initiatives such as customer reviews, blogs and organic search indexing, to name a few. But pay-per-click campaigns still stand out as a staple of e-commerce promotion. With PPC marketing, e-tailers pay to have ads come up on search results pages based on the keywords typed in by an online shopper. When done right, PPC can drive lots of traffic to your site and potentially boost sales.

Google AdWords takes the checkered flag again this year, as it continues to broaden its influence in the online sales arena, for instance by rolling out Google Checkout. Then, Google and Intuit, makers of the small business accounting software QuickBooks, in September announced a partnership that integrates Google's listing-and-marketing tools into the 2007 version of the bookkeeping software.

Meanwhile, last year's runner-up, Yahoo Search Marketing, got bumped to third by Constant Contact, a Web-based e-mail marketing service. Constant Contact helps business owners stay in touch with clients through customizable, opt-in newsletters and marketing campaigns. The program walks you through every step of the process, from creating subscriber lists to designing and distributing newsletters, promotions and announcements. Evidently, you realize the importance of retaining customers once you get them on board.

Affiliate Marketing
Yet again, G oogle AdSense and Amazon Associates take a one-two punch, respectively, in the affiliate space, with Google taking top honors by almost a two-to-one margin. It's hard to beat AdSense, because a bit of code placed on your site is all you need to have targeted, text-based Google AdWord ads that bring in a few cents to a few dollars per click. Compare that to other affiliate programs that pay out only on actual sales. (Google doesn't disclose the exact terms of the revenue share).

Still, Amazon offers site owners an enormous amount of flexibility in promoting its millions of products, from banners to storefronts. Commissions begin at four percent of sales, but a tiered structure gives go-getters the chance to nearly double that percentage.


To request an .eps version of a Product of the Year Award logo click here.

Vangie Beal, Michelle Megna, 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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