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Small Biz Mac, Small Biz Mac focuses on using Mac as the foundation of a small business--the operating platform, the market, and more. This blog will discuss both the challenges of operating a business on Mac hardware and software, and the impact of the broader Mac market on business.

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Kevin Walzer and Lori Jareo, publishers, software developers, Mac/iPhone users, and small business owners.



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Thu, 17 Jan 2013

Epic tax battles of history

A man uses the machines you build
to sit down and pay his taxes. A man uses the machines I build
to listen to the Beatles while he relaxes.
--Steve Jobs to Bill Gates, "Epic Rap Battles of History"

I'm finding this statement to be true: I own a heavy black Windows 7 laptop for one purpose, running the tax software I use to pay my taxes.

The leading tax software vendors, H&R Block, make Mac versions of several flavors of their tax software--but the most complex software, for multi-employee companies, only comes in Windows.

Why?

I am not unhappy with the tax software I've chosen, H&R Block's home/corporate tax edition for LLC's, partnerships, etc. It is complete, does its job well, and is reasonably priced at $75 (far less expensive than the comparable mix of TurboTax packages). But their Mac software stops at the level of sole proprietors/independent contractors. Both TurboTax and Intuit seem assume that the only Mac users of their business-oriented tax packages are indie/solo creative types. More complex businesses, with partners or corporate structures, must just use Windows.

Sorry, guys, that's not true. I'm very grumpy that I had to buy a Windows laptop, even a cheap one, to run your software. Running Windows in a virtualized fashion on my Mac via VMWare or Parallels wouldn't be any cheaper, or more convenient. In case you aren't aware, Apple is now considerably larger than Microsoft, and the Mac platform is actually growing.

The first tax software vendor to figure this out is going to make a lot of money, from me and a lot of other small business owners.

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Site search

In response to customer feedback, I've implemented a search engine for all of the sites I maintain, including http://www.wordtechcommunications.com and http://www.codebykevin.com based on some clever code documented at Build a Search Engine in PERL. My own code was heavily modified, but this example was exceptionally helpful in helping me get started.

I've also implemented a similar feature at my blogs using the find plugin for Blosxom by Fletcher Penney. This plugin, unlike the other search engine I developed, is a drop-in module that required no configuration on my part. It works beautifully.

Both search tools enhance the usability of my sites, and both are written in a programming language I'm having fun learning: Perl. Perl is well-suited for website programming, and I look forward to doing more with it.

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Mail issues

We've been struggling over the past year with mail server issues. Despite late-model hardware (2011-vintage iMac) and plenty of RAM (four gigabytes), the server has been locking up on a semi-regular basis, requiring a hard reboot. This has never previously been the case in a decade of running OS X server.

The culprit, as far as I can tell, is the server's e-mail component. OS X Server uses Postfix to send and receive e-mail. Postfix is the most widely deployed open-source e-mail server, and is widely hailed as robust, stable, and continuously improved, so the apparent problems I'm seeing with it are a real surprise--and a real mystery.

I posted a question to a Mac OS X Server mailing list describing the typical symptoms, and I've gotten some useful suggestions. What I've tried based on the feedback there is to disable greylisting, which may make the mail service's performance a bit snappier; and I've set the server app to dedicate server performance to server services, which hopefully will allow the system to better handle large surges in data load. Among other things I've previously tried are tweaking various connection settings in Postfix itself, including those settings that allow it to respond while being overloaded.

I'm hopeful that these changes will allow me to continue hosting e-mail on the server, as I've done for a decade. If they don't, I may have consider moving our e-mail to an outside hosting service such as Rackspace. Transitioning to a paid service is a big change, especially given Apple's recent moves in significantly lowering the price of OS X Server, but the loss of productivity because of lost-email and server issues is significant and can't be ignored.

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