Clean your virtual desk

Cluttered desktopHow many icons are sitting on your computer desktop, unused? Nearly every software installation adds to the clutter on your desktop, but the only ones that need to be there are the ones you use regularly. All the rest can be found on your Start Menu.

For a quick fix, go to your desktop and delete every shortcut icon that you haven’t used in the last month. You can tell the shortcuts by the small arrow on the bottom left of the icon. These are safe to delete, because the program stays on your computer and is accessible through the Start Menu. If you have file folders or documents sitting on your desktop, don’t trash these. You can always them to your “My Documents” folder to clean things up.

Even better, there are a couple more places that are convenient locations for your program icons. One is your taskbar, usually at the bottom or the right of your screen. You can drag icons to an area next to the start button, and these stay accessible all the time, even when you are using other programs. I have Outlook and Internet Explorer on this bar, because I use these two programs the most. You can also add programs to the top of your Start Menu. This saves the time it would take to browse through the Program list.

The difference between a server and a desktop computer

Dell server farmAren’t servers just souped-up desktop computers? Not exactly. If you are in charge of your company’s technology, you need to know what makes them different.

Server Software

Regular computers usually run some flavor of Windows, like XP or Vista. Macs of course run Mac software (OS X), and there are also open source desktop alternatives such as Linux.

Servers generally run more powerful operating systems that can handle networking, email, internet/intranet hosting, file sharing, databases, and more. Windows Server and Windows Small Business Server are quite popular in small and mid-size businesses. Mac offers OS X Server if you want to run your entire network on Macs.

Linux servers are also a popular choice. Because this is an open-source option, there are many different choices, referred to as distributions. Popular examples include Red Hat, Ubuntu, and SUSE. Some distros are better suited to handle server requirements while others are intended as a desktop operating system.

With Windows and Mac, there’s one more software component you’ll need: client access licenses (CALs) that allow computers on the network to connect to the server. In most cases you need one for each computer; they are usually sold in packs of 5, 10, and 25.

Server Hardware

The second major difference between computers and servers: better hardware. You’ll generally see better quality parts and more redundancy (duplication of hardware). The reason? If a desktop goes down, it impacts a single person. If a server goes down, it can easily impact dozens, even hundreds of people at once.

Better quality parts used to be something you could take for granted. However, if you purchase a no-name brand or even a really low-end name-brand, the quality difference will not be great. You often get what you pay for, and it’s difficult to do a true apples-to-apples comparison.

Redundancy is easier to check up on. RAID is a must even on a budget server–it stands for redundant array of inexpensive disks and keeps your server from crashing if a hard drive dies. More expensive servers add a wide variety of features from hot-swap removable drives to dual power sources. Multiple processors and plenty of memory (RAM) keep things running smoothly even for resource-hungry software applications.

You can select a tower case, just like a normal desktop computer, or a rack-mountable case. This is largely a question of convenience. If you have several servers, it is most efficient to mount them in a space-saving rack. If you have just one or two, it may not make much difference.

Vive la difference!

Now that you know the difference, you can shop smart, balancing price and reliability to get the server that best meets your needs.

Two monitors are better than one

Dual monitorsYou may have thought the biggest advantage of switching to a flatscreen LCD monitor was the space it saves on your desktop. Now studies are showing that one of the simplest, most profound ways to increase productivity is to get two!

Keep email open in one screen while managing your work on the other. View a large spreadsheet in its entirety. Compare two documents—or two website pages—side by side. The possibilities are endless, and as simple as it sounds, the change is dramatic.

You can set up your monitors side-by-side, stacked one above the other, diagonally, or just about any other way you can imagine. The mouse works as usual, moving smoothly from one monitor to the other.

If you’ve got a laptop, simply plug in a monitor. For a desktop, you’ll need a video card that has two video outputs and of course a second monitor. The rest is already built into Windows.