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Eight office extras every small business needs:

Broadband

Even if your business is in a backwater left behind by the telecommunications revolution there’s no excuse not to swap your dial-up connection for a fast link to the Internet. You’ll probably need an ADSL or Cable modem. These are usually included in the start-up kits offered by ISPs.

If you can’t get conventional broadband choose a wireless, satellite service or a 3G mobile phone.

Security software

The moment your computer connects to the Internet, it is open to attack by viruses, hackers and other online nasties. Buy an all-in-one suite of security software that includes antivirus tools and a firewall.

Some packages also have spam filtering software and other security applications. There are free packages, but they can be troublesome.

See also:

Computer security primer
Computer security: What are the main threats?
Computer security: Defensive software
Computer security: How to buy security tools
Computer security: What to buy or download for free

Small business web presence

If you sell products or services in the real world, even a modest web site will help you sell online – create an online brochure to promote your business. You don’t need to be a technical expert to set up a simple site, some ISPs include free Internet hosting with their accounts. Otherwise, you can choose one of the free online web hosts to get started.

Phone answering

A missed call is a missed opportunity – avoid losing business by installing a phone answering machine or signing up for voicemail. Alternatively, forward your business calls to your mobile or home number when the office is empty. You do have a mobile phone, don’t you?

Book-keeping or accounting software

Don’t wait until you visit the accountant to know whether you’re making a dollar. There are low-cost packages from companies like MYOB and Quicken that will allow you to create invoices, fill out tax forms and track the flow of money through your business – some are even simple to use. Alternatively, choose an online service like Xero.

Reliable power supply

While mains electricity is usually reliable and safe, there are times when it can damage sensitive electronic equipment. Invest in anti-surge devices that prevent power spikes from wrecking your hardware. Better still, get an uninterrupted power supply so you can save important files and conduct an orderly computer shut down when there’s a power outage.

Backup important data and store it off-line

Sooner or later your computers will fail. So make regular copies of all important documents and keep them away from your office in case of fire. It may also pay to have two or three external hard drives to keep multiple back-ups. Make sure you get decent software to automate your back-ups.

Paper Shredder

A lot of important documents arrive at your business on sheets of paper. Eventually, you’ll want to get rid of some of them, but crooks have been known to dive through waste bins in the hope of gleaning valuable information to help them commit fraud. Get a shredder and destroy every document before throwing them out.

Better still, get a scanner and make electronic copies of every document that comes through your business.

ergonomic keyboard

You may wonder why anyone would spend money buying an extra ergonomic keyboard. It seems strange when new PCs come with what look like perfectly decent keyboards.

The answer is that, in some circumstances, computer keyboards are health hazards. They can inflict pain and, in extreme cases, cause long-term physical damage.

But buying a new ergonomic keyboard isn’t straightforward.

Keyboards can hurt you

Typing injuries used to be known RSI (repetitive strain injuries) but are now generally described as occupational overuse syndrome or OOS.

Some people believe the whole business is just a worker compensation rort, but there’s plenty of evidence that keyboard OOS injuries are real. They affects thousands of Australians and New Zealanders every year.

In medical terms the pains might be tendonitis or tenosynovitis.

Both start mildly, with plenty of early warning signs. However, things can quickly turn nasty. In severe cases you could end up with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), which is described as a squeezing of the median nerve as it runs into hand.

If you reach this point, you certainly won’t be capable of typing.

Some poorly designed computer keyboards are particularly bad because they cause wrists to twist unnaturally. Of course posture, desk and seating height are important – possibly more important than keyboard design  – it might pay to look at adjusting these before investing in an ergonomic keyboard.

Your mouse may be worse

Ergonomics experts warn PC mice can cause more problems than keyboards. If you do a lot of typing, it’s a good idea to learn keyboard short cuts in order to cut down on mouse use.

New computers usually come with a traditional ‘straight’ keyboard. Some manufacturers might describe these as ergonomic, but generally the term is reserved for keyboards that better accommodate the human body.

One ergonomic improvement is to split the conventional keyboard down the middle and then angle the two halves outward. This is particularly helpful for people with broad shoulders as it enables them to hold their wrists at a more comfortable angle.

People with narrow shoulders often find a straight keyboard is preferable. Most split keyboards come with a fixed angle, but some are adjustable and others can even be broken apart.

Another improvement is to have a raised area in front of the keys where you can rest the heels of the palms of your hands. Many laptops are designed this way – it’s much better than early designs where the keys started at the front of the case. It is possible to buy separate wrist rests; they come in a variety of designs including rubberised material and gel-filled rests.

Other physical designs include specially recessed keys and giving each key more or less travel – that is the distance that it moves up and down. Some people prefer more travel and audible ‘click’; others are comfortable with silence and a softer touch.

A keyboard with the wrong kind of response will affect your productivity.

Spacing is important

You should take care to ensure that the size and spacing of keys is right for the size of your hands.

If you have small hands then smaller keys, bunched fairly closely together will be more comfortable. Some people like small keyboards because they use up less desk space – but it isn’t wise to work in cramped conditions.

Netbook and laptop computers can be a problem. It may pay to add an external keyboard to these computers when working at home.

Beyond QWERTY

There are keyboards that abandon the familiar QWERTY pattern altogether:

  • The Dvorak pattern, which is said to be more efficient and therefore less painful.
  • Chording keyboards allow you to use key combinations to create letters. Since your fingers stay on the same keys all the time there’s less chance of RSI.

The problem with both is that you’ll need to relearn your typing skills and you’ll experience difficulty if you ever work at another computer.

Sometimes the trouble isn’t so much the keyboard as its position on your desk. Generally it should be set slightly lower than the average desk height. Some workplaces use keyboard trays that sit slightly below the desk. The best ones are height adjustable. Most desk trays also allow you to adjust the slope of the keyboard – counter-intuitively experts recommend that if the keyboard slopes at all, it should slope backwards.

Other keyboard trays are detachable and can rest on your lap. A smart alternative is to use a cordless keyboard on your lap.

Watch out for wireless keyboards and mice

Wireless keyboards and mice may be cool. but people typically have far more trouble with cordless devices than with the corded variety. That’s because they are battery-powered and get progressively harder to use as the batteries run down. If you’re experiencing problems, you may be able to solve things quickly simply by moving back to a cord connected mouse and keyboard.

So, is an ergonomic keyboard essential or not?

Yes and no. The most essential thing is to find a comfortable, reliable keyboard. For years I used an ergonomic keyboard and mouse yet still suffered from occasional pains. That’s because they were wireless devices. The pains left for ever when I ditched the wireless keyboard and mouse for the flat, but cabled keyboard that came with my computer and invested $40 in a brand new ergonomic, yet cabled mouse. They’re not as cool as the wireless alternatives, but they are reliable and comfortable. That’s more important.

One last tip; if you’re in serious pain, try voice recognition software. It’s far from perfect and you will need to do some keyboarding, yet it has reached the point where it works well enough to rest sore hands.

Ergonomic Web Sites

Typing injuries

www.tifaq.com/

Includes details on the various alternatives to conventional computer keyboards and why you may want to use them.

British RSI FAQ

www.rsi-uk.org.uk/faq.txt

A bare-bones backgrounder to keyboard injuries and RSI.

Healthy Computing

www.healthycomputing.com

Wide-ranging site looking at a variety of computer health-related issues. There’s a good section on ergonomic issues for kids.

The netbook idea is sound: a small, low-cost computer with just enough grunt to browse the web, send mail and write simple documents yet highly portable with decent battery life.

As a working journalist, pretty much every model caters for most of my needs. However, I specifically would like to see the following features:

  • A robust keyboard. As near to full-size as possible. I learned to touch type on a manual typewriter and I get through keyboards faster than most people.
  • Enough solid state memory to store my entire history of documents. I’ve got word processor files that go back to the early 80s. Searching old stories is important.  Although I’ve written thousands of stories and, possibly millions of words, my entire portfolio is only 6GB.
  • A high-resolution screen with good backlighting. In truth, I don’t want to view porn – but the headline is genuine enough. The best netbook for smut would also be the best for my work. As a journalist I often need to look at photographs and XGA graphics don’t cut the mustard.
    I’ve seen some ultraportable notebooks screens with higher than normal pixel density. A high-resolution screen would also be good for browsing the web and reading text. I’ve also scanned thousands of documents as .pdfs that would be hard to read on a low resolution screen.
  • Wireless networking is a given, but something faster than standard wifi would help. I notice the 54 Mbps wifi in my PDA is painfully slow compared to the 108 Mbps I get with my Thinkpad.
  • A sensible operating system. I’m guessing that Vista is too resource hungry for a netbook, but I’ve seen some grotty versions of Linux out there in the wild. XP may do the job. Up-to-date versions of Ubuntu, Kubuntu or Fedora are likely candidates.

So, like the question asks, which netbook is the best for looking at porn?