Small Businesses Pick the Best Products of the Year


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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