Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Technical problems in our office

For those who wonder what a pastor spends his time on, here is more insight...

The last two weeks, our parish offices had problems with our computer server. For those unfamiliar with such things, a "server" is a computer to which all other computers are linked, allowing for sharing of information between computers and the people who use them. I am not sure, but it may be heresy to ask, "do we need a server," so I don't ask; but it may be that we certainly do. In any case, we do have one, and it stopped operating a couple of weeks ago.

Well, all manner of adventures ensued. We called on a parishioner who has been helping us; he said, I can't fix this, call this person; we did. Between the consultant and the volunteer, and some friends they called on, we were able to patch together temporary fixes. You see, with the server down, people lacked access to email, to files they were working on, etc. We got email up, then we got access to files, via a temporary server, and last night we brought back the original server.

All this creates big headaches and makes people less productive, and people wonder what's going on; I have to make sure everyone gets up to date information, such as I may have it.

What was wrong with it? Well, the hard-drive was completely full; of junk emails, it turns out. At one point, we thought it was a virus, but our consultant found no evidence of that. She and I will be talking soon about a remedy. Yes, we do have anti-virus protection, but we're going to talk about some improvements as well.

So, question number one for my readers: Norton or McAfee? McAfee appears to be about half the price. We're going to install it on the server, and have the server "upload" it to each client computer, and keep each one up to date.

Meanwhile, one of the issues we are dealing with is: we have several versions of Microsoft Office software in use on various computers, and I just got off the phone with Microsoft about purchasing the latest Office software, and have it uploaded from the server to client computers. To get Word, Publisher, Excel and Outlook will cost $410 per computer--for eight, that's a cool, $3,280! Money the parish simply does not have.

So, question number two for my readers: any advice on a cheaper solution? It has to be legal and ethical; the fact that Microsoft is a big, wealthy company does not justify failing to pay for the use of its products.

14 comments:

Patrick said...

OpenOffice is compatible with MS Office and has the added advantage of being free. Check it out at www.openoffice.org

Dad29 said...

Do you need Publisher?

Without it, my copy cost $200.00 or so (1 seat.)

The Norton/McAfee thing is going to be a bigot-debate. Personally, my experience w/McAfee required more tech-smarts than I was willing to gain to make it work. Seems to me that Norton is more user-friendly, but my McAfee experience is a few years old.

Also heard that Norton's next edition will be very light on cycles compared to this year's. Means it will load faster and suck up fewer resources while running (so they say...)

Mary Martha said...

I have found that with the use of Google Documents and Open Office I don't miss MS Office in the least.

In particular Google Documents is great when groups of people are collaborating on documents.

Anonymous said...

Just be careful if you use open source software like Open Office to work on spreadsheets with special formulas, macros or other advanced functions or formatting that were c reated in excel. It created havoc with excel spreadsheets that we depended on. You may have the same issues if you have used macros or advanded functions in Word documents as well.

Also, make sure you are looking at the upgrade price for what you would like to purchase, it is usually $100-$150 cheaper than the retail price. If all computers have a licensed Office Suite on the computer already, you should be eligible for the udgrade price.

Nancy

Chad Myers said...

Father,

Either:

a.) Switch everything to use Google Apps for Domains which has basic word processing, spreadsheets, email w/ virus scanning, etc, etc, etc. For your office's purposes, it'll probably be everything you need.

b.) Barring, that, I would actually recommend TrendMicro on the server and on the clients. McAfee would be second. Definitely avoid Norton. Their software is shoddy and tries to do too much and ends up doing nothing well.

I'm an IT wonk, so I do this sort of thing for a living. I'd be happy to give you some more advice if you want. I may be able to actually help you do some of the stuff if we can find a good time that we're both available.

In Christ,
Chad

Chad Myers said...

One other thing, if you use Google Apps for Domains (GAFD), then you can access your stuff anywhere in the world and you don't HAVE to be in the office to pull up your email or a document.

wWolf said...

you have some good advice Father, perhaps a prayer to St. Isidore of Seville, patron saint of computers, computer users, computer programmers & the Internet, would be in order.

Peace

Oremus said...

Fr,
When you spok with Microsoft, did they mention you could purchase it for a "business" and not buy it specifically for each computer? In my very limited experience, this is route we went. It would not be cheaper to do this if you had 4 or less computers but that doesn't seem to be the case. I think they charge $1,000 but that freed you up to add it to any computer in the future. Just wondering.

Tony said...

Father Fox,

I'd take the OpenOffice suggestion a step further and suggest you jettison Microsoft completely in favor of Linux, but you'll need a geek on staff (or volunteer) who knows how to set it up.

We don't use MS Office in our home, and have only one computer dedicated to Windows (out of three) because there are some small apps I haven't found alternatives to.

When my last girl is in college, I'll be wiping that one and going to a completely Microsoft-free home.

I was once worried about Microsoft taking over, but I'm not any more. Jesus, Himself said: "The Gates of Hell will not prevail". :)

CPT Tom said...

I go along with the chorus of OpenOffice, it's what is on my kids computer (High School and College students). It has fairly good compatibility with MS Office, and Wordperfect as well.

The other thing to do is contact your Diocese and talk to their computer department...some of that money you send into the diocese may also support computer support for your parish, and you may not be aware of it. They also may have a corporate or enterprise license set up with Microsoft which means you may be able to get Office for a reduced price.

An Option for Virus Scan / Security software is check with your your Internet provider. Ours (Time Warner) provides anti-virus and security software free (In this case Computer Associates' product) Free to all subscriber computers. It actually is more to protect them, but it does work well to protect you.

I am skeptical of any thing that allows remote access to your server or any other computer, especially with out a good firewall program to protect your system. If you can, then so can a hacker.

Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

I agree you need access to a computer-savvy person (sometimes called a "geek") in order to be able to effectively us open source software, or anything else that doesn't normally come in a shrink-wrapped package and have lots of dandy documentation to support it. Products like Open Office and Linux have tons of documentation, but it can take a little digging to find what you're looking for.

Come to think of it, the same is true for Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office.

The thing is, as long as you're going to go with Microsoft, software will eat half of your budget. As long as you're willing to spend half of your budget on software, you really should consider Apple Macintosh as an alternative for the long haul.

On the other hand, if you're skittish about spending half of your budget on software and you do have a geek handy 24x7, open source software is definitely the way to go.

Mike Laing said...

Father,

You might want to consider whether you really want to upgrade at all. Unless you are having conflicts between the versions, I would stay with what I had. First of all, people already know how to use them, secondly the upgrades probably will add very little if anything to the current capability. And third,next year there will be a new upgrade with features you never thought of, but advertised as "have to have."

If you really need consistency then maybe only a few need to be replaced to put the same version on all computers. In that case go to eBay and look for the needed versions, the slightly older ones are much cheaper, and even the latest are. The latest Publisher goes for $115 I think.

Beyond that, I join the bandwagon for Open Office. While not the exact replacement for Office, it will handle a variety of formats, and as for not handling the macro's, I would not bet that the latest version of Office would handle macros from earlier versions. I keep an old version of Excell '97 for such cases.

Linux is a better multi-user operating system and more secure than Windows but does require someone familiar with it to set it up.

I use ZoneAlarm for my anti-virus program and it comes with one of the top rated firewalls. I have never had a virus or a successful attack on any of the three computers that I have on my local network. It does question me a lot about things it thinks might be a problem. My answer is always "go ahead" but it can be a pain sometimes.

Spam is always a problem and difficult to overcome. Some mail servers like Thunderbird (open source, free) have the capability of filtering out unwanted mail, but I think you would need someone who knew what they were doing. My IP provider (mindspring) does a wonderful job separating email into wanted, questionable, and known spam. The know gets tossed, the questionable goes to a special file for you to look at (I get a couple every day) and passes on the ones from people that I have told them are valid. I still requires someone to check it periodically and get rid o the unwanted.

And finally, the advice to get a "geek" properly known as a network manager is good advice. Such a person would have saved you a lot of headaches by getting rid of the unwanted email that filled you disk.

Mike Laing

Deacon Jim said...

I would recommend Google Apps - see They are easy to manage and offer everything you are paying for for free. Google's spam protection is great and they auto-delete the spam. Each account gets tons of storage so you are piggybacking on their servers and their storage space - at no cost. They also handle calendaring which is quite equivalent to Outlook.

For an office suite someone mentioned sticking with what you have. If it serves your puropose that can be best because everyone is familiar with it. If you must switch (Word Processor etc.) Open Office because of cross platform compatibility. Google Apps also does a good job, but is still in its infancy and may feel unfamiliar to local application users.

For virus protection - get a Mac. But if you must sit on Windows, try PCTools Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus. It is the easiest to manage and I was happy with it in my Windows days.

Also, I always recommend a good hardware firewall. Stay away from software firewalls because the bog systems down.

Good luck and God bless this venture into the realm of clients and servers.

Feisty Muse said...

The absolute best (highest rated) anti-virus available?
www.avast.com Free for private users, not so sure for business use. Definitely worth looking into.