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Ask Shak:
Getting Your Office Wired &
Avoiding Crashing Windows


One of the most important relationships you’ll ever have is with your personal computer. There’s perhaps no other component of our business life that’s more vexing as that box that sits on most people’s desks. Everyone has computer questions and we’re here to assist you in that department. Below are a few questions I’ve received recently from readers. I hope the answers will be useful to you.

Dear Shak:
I have a small advertising business in downtown Honolulu. There are five of us right now but we’re growing rapidly and within a year there may be as many as ten. I’d like to get everybody wired. All of us need email and Internet access. What’s the best way to go about this? What will it cost me?

Frugal Fran on Bishop Street

Dear Frugal:
One of the most asked questions is "What does it take to get my business wired?" There are some pretty good solutions out there that will provide your people bandwidth (capacity) and speed without costing you an arm and a leg. However, in order to determine what type of access you need (and how much money you’ll ultimately spend) you need to be clear on exactly what you will be using the Internet for and how much you’ll be using it.

Thus, ask yourself these questions: Will somebody be on the Net a lot of the time doing research? Or, will your personnel just be occasionally surfing the Net? Will people be checking their email often or only once a day? Will people at your company be uploading and downloading a lot of big files? Will they be viewing a lot of graphics-rich content on the web?

If you’re going to be online all the time, sending a lot of big files, and viewing a lot graphics-rich content, we suggest you go with a DSL or cable modem solution. These are much, much faster than the conventional dial-up modem and if you’re going to use the Internet intensively, this is the only way to fly. For networking an office, DSL has the most bang for the buck. We find that the cable modem (better known in Hawaii as RoadRunner) ends up being a bit more expensive for a small business.

So how much will it cost? The least expensive DSL service will set you back about $80 per month which entails a monthly payment to GTE of about $35 and $45 to your ISP such as LavaNet. There will also be a one time cost for a DSL modem from GTE ($99 on special) and another one time fee of $150 from LavaNet for multiple IP addresses.

However, you’ll also have to buy some additional gear. This includes about $100 for a hub, $140 for server software and about $100 worth of cable to wire the whole shebang, if you can do the cabling yourself. You’ll also have to spend $50 for a network card for each computer that will be online. Thus for five computers for each of your employees, you’ll spend $250. Of course someone is going to have put thing together for you and the labor for that will be around $500. Cost for the email is included in the monthly fee. (LavaNet told us that they will provide up to five email addresses for free). You may also want to set up a special domain so that each user has a custom address that looks like this: yourname@yourcompany.com. Cost for registering a domain is around $70. Total cost for getting five employees online is around $1200 plus your monthly DSL cost of $80 for the least expensive connection.

What if you’re really frugal and don’t want to pay $80 per month for DSL? Well in this instance, the high speed DSL connection is actually comparable in cost to maintaining five people sharing a regular 56k modem. (Believe me, we’ve worked out the numbers). You’ll end up spending nearly as much money on hardware and software to wire your computers to share the sluggish, low-bandwidth connection as you would for a high speed (DSL) connection. Your monthly fee for five people on a dial up modem will also be about as much as the monthly DSL cost.

So what about wiring five people up with RoadRunner from Oceanic? That will cost you even more than DSL. RoadRunner makes sense for a home user. Until the RoadRunner prices come down for business users, we’d advise sticking with DSL.

One last thing. You’ll really be hooked once you get accustomed to a fast connection. Once you’ve gotten used to pages quickly loading on your screen, its difficult to go back to a normal dial-up modem. (Thus spake Shak.)

Dear Shak:
I have a small jewelry business out here on the North Shore and use my PC for accounting and surfing the net. So I’ll cut to the chase: I used Windows 98 and find it to be about as stable as the Indonesian Rupiah. It crashes nearly every day and drives me nuts. I’m fairly new to computing and wonder if I’m doing something wrong? Can you recommend a more stable operating system? Help!

Howie in Haleiwa

Dear Howie:
Don’t feel alone. And don’t think being a "Newbie" (new computer user) has anything to do with it. Everybody has problems with Windows 98 crashes. As a matter of fact, Walt Mossberg, at the Wall Street Journal, recently did a whole column on the unrelenting frequency of Windows 98 crashes. It wasn’t a pretty thing to read about. So what can you do? Not much I’m afraid. One thing I would try is disabling the power management settings on your Windows 98 system. You do this by going to Start, Settings, Control Panel and then click on the Power Management icon to disable the settings. In addition if you feel comfortable, you could go into your systems BIOS and disable the Power management features there. Perhaps it’s environmentally incorrect to suggest this but it makes the system quite a bit more stable. I won’t get into technical reasons—but take it from Shak—it works.

Another option is to change your operating system to Windows NT, which is a lot more stable. NT is an industrial-strength OS and it goes down a helluva lot less than Windows 98. However, it’s a bit more complicated to install because it doesn’t have the "plug and play" component. Nevertheless, if you can hang in there for a while longer with ‘98, I’d suggest this: I’d wait until Windows 2000, the new OS from Microsoft, is ready for prime time. It’s based on NT and should be a lot more stable than Windows 98. Hope springs eternal with Microsoft. We shall see…

Shakil Ahmed is the founder of PDC Systems, a Honolulu computer and networking company established in 1991. Questions should be addressed to askshak@pdcsystems.com. Note that this column has previously appeared in Pacific Business News (www.amcity.com/pacific) on October 29, 1999.

Pacific Business News

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