Catch up with highlights from the past year.
December is historically a time of year when we prepare to relax in anticipation of some holiday cheer. For me, it is a time of year that generally provides a respite from my normally frantic pace, so it offers an ideal opportunity to review and reflect upon the columns I've written here over the past year. This period culminates with an annual Year in Review column. It offers an opportunity to summarize the topics we've covered in 2007, so if you've missed anything relevant to your practice in the course of your busy life, you'll have a second chance to find out about it now. In addition, it also presents an opportunity to review past recommendations and pans so that I can update them as necessary. Finally, as the year winds down, many advisors turn their thoughts to planning for 2008. Reading quick summary of the technological happenings in 2007 is a great way set the stage for your 2008 technology plans.
One of the first topics I tackled in January 2007 was Microsoft's new operating system: Windows Vista. At the time, it seemed to me that those in need of a new PC should wait a few months and buy one with Vista pre-installed rather than buying a Windows XP machine and upgrading manually to Vista. I also suggested that in a short period of time, the price of dual-core processors would drop significantly, virtually eliminating single-core processors from mainstream computers. Finally, I offered up my minimum specifications for PC purchases, which were significantly higher than Microsoft's.
I was right when cautioning patience on Vista, but I did not anticipate the level of resistance to the new operating system that developed, partly because of the unavailability of drivers, not to mention a lack of compatibility with many of the industry's most popular software packages. With Vista service pack 1 now in beta, it looks like 2008 will be the year that Vista finally goes mainstream. Dual-core processors are the norm now, and quad-core processors are on the horizon. I still recommend plenty of RAM, spacious hard drives and roomy monitors for all users. SideShow, a new Vista functionality for laptops, impressed me, but manufacturers have been slow to support it. I expect interest in SideShow to increase in 2008.
The other topic I tackled in January 2007 was small-office network security. After many on-site visits to small advisory firms, I became convinced that too many of my colleagues were using consumer-targeted routers and other network equipment in their offices and in their home offices. As CheckPoint spokeswoman Allison Wagda told me at the time: "The typical home wireless router only offers basic security features." One possible solution I suggested was the purchase of a ZoneAlarm Secure Wireless Router Z100G. This device was one of the first unified threat-management devices designed primarily for consumers and small offices. It includes seven layers of protection: a firewall, intrusion detection/prevention, antivirus, Web filtering, VPN remote access, wireless encryption, and secure remote desktop access. At $149.95 direct, it is still a good value. For offices with more than a handful of users, the Safe@Office network appliances from CheckPoint offer very good protection along with relatively easy setup.
In February, I turned my attention to marketing, pointing out that even advisors with relatively small marketing budgets can benefit from professional help. One good value I discussed: a line of high quality reasonably priced brochures from Advisor Products. I should have added that larger firms would be well advised to contact Morningstar columnist Marie Swift a principal at Impact Communications, Inc. In other news, I discussed a welcome upgrade to Upswing CRM, a still new, but inexpensive and promising online client relationship manager.
When I first reviewed Portfolio Director in March 2007, I was impressed, and, if anything, I'm more impressed now. The application is built on a Java platform to keep the price down and the savings are passed on to advisors. Portfolio Director, available in both an online and a desktop version, is not the most elaborate system on the market, but it does appear solid and it offers more than enough functionality for many. For those starting out, those on a tight budget, or those looking for alternative to Microsoft-based applications, Portfolio Director has a lot of appeal.
In April, I offered advisors a preview of Junxure 7.0, which should be available shortly after you read this. The version I wrote about in April was an early alpha, but I've checked in with the folks at Junxure from time to time since then, and I expect version 7.0 to be perhaps the most significant upgrade ever. The program has a more modern, cleaner look, navigation is improved as is security, and of course the developers have added a long list of new functions. While it may take current users a sort while to adjust, I'm sure they are going to love Junxure 7.0.
"A Tablet PC could be in your future" I proclaimed in May, and I still believe that to be the case. To my mind, the best Tablet PC for an advisor is a convertible; that is, a portable computer that can be used either as a traditional laptop or as a tablet. One excellent choice: the Fujitsu LifeBook T4220, which replaces the T4215 I reviewed earlier in the year. This PC's bidirectional hinge was one feature I loved. In addition, this is one of the few PCs in its class to sport an internal optical drive. My other favorite convertible is the Lenovo X61 ThinkPad. It has the best keyboard in its class, but if you want an optical drive, you'll have to settle for an external one. Some folks love the ThinkPad's "eraserhead" pointing device; some don't. If you fall into the latter category, just hook up an external mouse and forget about it!