Support from Small Suppliers

I’ve already had a rant voiced my opinions about Microsoft -Vs- Symantec Support this week, so I thought I’d turn away from the big players for a moment and give some attention to the companies that provide software and services that you might not be aware of. These are the companies that you won’t find at the top of Google search rankings, but whom have a small but loyal user-base who appreciate the committment these companies make to providing software updates and ongoing support for them, and let anyone who is listening know this!

The first is UK based Paul Smith Computer Services (PSCS) who amongst other offerings, sell their own e-mail server software, VPOP3. VPOP3 started out as a solution for users wanting to make more of their POP3 and SMTP e-mail over dial-up, way back in the mists of time. As times have changed, and Broadband has become more popular, VPOP3’s feature base has grown but the underlying principle to the software has remained the same – powerful features, but simple to configure and use. It’s certainly not Microsoft Exchange, but I’ve installed VPOP3 at half-a-dozen different customer sites, including a customer with over 250 voracious e-mail users, and it copes admirably. It’s very easy to administer (so easy in fact, that one customer has it installed on their SBS 2003 installation in preference to SBS Exchange), is reliable and very very cost-effective. But the real kicker for VPOP3 is the support offered by PSCS. As well as some superb support forums where enquiries and problems are usually responded to within the hour, and an excellent Knowledgebase that is easily searchable and delivers answers – PSCS offer the fastest bug fixes I’ve ever come across! Report an issue to them, and if they track it down to a code bug, you can expect a fix within days – sometimes hours. Paul Smith and his team show the levels of support that all companies, however big or small, should strive to achieve.

Moving away from the UK, Icelandic based Emco Software offer a variety of products to help you manage your network. These include Network Inventory, which is quick and does a superb job of auditing small networks, MSI Package Builder, which is an easy to use and inexpensive MSI software creation tool, and Remote Deployment Kit, which is invaluable for non-Active Directory environments or for sites where Group Policy knowledge isn’t high but where a need to roll-out new software easily is required. As well as offering English Speaking Live Support through their web-site, Emco respond to e-mails quickly and regularly release updates to their software.

Over in Slovakia, Quality Unit provide a number of tools for WebMasters – but also offer a wonderful Helpdesk packaged called Support Center. Support Center can be purchased for running on your own server, or can be rented as a hosted application on Quality Unit’s own servers. It’s function is to provide a Helpdesk application to businesses who’s own Support function works primarly through e-mail. Users drop you an e-mail, Support Center logs it and allocates it a ticket, and all actions on that ticket are recorded and actioned within Support Center’s Ajax-based Web Interface. You’ve then got a full audit trail of how you dealt with an issue from the user reporting it to you closing it off as resolved. If you’re an IT Department or Support provider with no formal Helpdesk in place yet (and an Excel spreadsheet doesn’t count as a Helpdesk…) then Support Center is low-cost, easy to implement, and will help you manage your Support offerings very quickly. I recently undertook a Group Test of Helpdesk applications for a customer, and Support Center came out as my pick based on it’s ease of use and cost. Again, Support is superb – a good standard of English speaking and with no language problems – e-mails are responded to very quickly and bug fixes (and even feature requests) are implemented at a stunning speed.

Finally, across in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, HiTech Software offer a number of packages including an e-mail encryption solution and e-mail auditing software. The company have a mixture of Western and Vietnamese staff and Support is once again, superb. New feature requests are actioned within weeks, not months, and e-mail response time is good, despite the time difference between the UK and Vietnam.

So – four small companies from different parts of the world, all with one thing in common – they offer great support to good products. This proves that it’s not language barriers or location that is the barrier to receiving good support from some of the bigger companies, just that they need to remember that selling a bit of software to someone isn’t the end of their relationship with that person or company, it’s the start.

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