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Last month, we discussed how to string a few computers together to create a “network” of machines that could access each other to share files, printers and an Internet connection. While a network like that might be good for a solo practitioner or a two-person firm with only a couple of computers, if a practice has five or more computers in use, it’s probably better to take the plunge into a “real” network. By this I mean having a machine that is your dedicated network server and installing the software that provides full-fledged network functioning, such as file sharing, Internet connections, fax services, remote access, backups, and even e-mail and Web hosting if desired. The purpose of this article is not to provide a step-by-step approach on installing and using network software – there are plenty of books written on that subject – but to make solos and small-firm lawyers who have a bit of technical know-how aware of some of the best options available to compete with the larger firms. Since most offices out there are running a Windows-based system, I would recommend Microsoft’s new Windows Server 2003 Small Business Server. For under $600, Microsoft has taken the best aspects of its new server system and created it specifically for small firms with five computers or users. Additional user licenses cost extra. Besides the software, the network would need a piece of hardware – the actual server – to install the software. In this case, server hardware designed for continuous use can be purchased for less than $1,500 and in some cases is available for under $500. Windows Small Business Server 2003 comes in two editions, standard and premium. Most do-it-yourselfers will not need the premium edition, which has enhanced database applications, security and Web abilities, so we’ll stick with what is available in the standard edition. With Small Business Server, a law firm can employ Microsoft Outlook to create a unified place to manage e-mail, calendars, contacts and other personal information. A Web interface also allows users to share files and schedules. Since many small firms often work together as a team, this information can also be coordinated among all lawyers or other legal professionals in the firm. Other benefits include the ability to restrict software installations either knowingly or unknowingly by users, thus increasing security and preventing attacks by viruses. Backups also work more efficiently by using either the backup software that comes with the server software or using a third-party backup system. One of the most intriguing uses of Small Business Server is its ability to allow lawyers in the firm access to information from home or some other remote location. In addition, an internal Web site allows lawyers and others in the firm to share information, including document libraries. Microsoft, of course, is not the only player in the network game. Novell, a longtime leader of networking solutions, recently introduced Novell Small Business Suite 6.5, the latest in its line of products for small business as professional firms. Small Business Suite 6.5 includes e-mail, junk mail handling, calendaring, instant messaging, security and firewall features, and Web applications. In addition, Apple’s Mac OS X Server v10.3 provides another alternative to the Microsoft line of products. Even if all of the computers running in a firm are Windows-based, the Mac server will still provide the same level of file sharing, printing, e-mail and Web applications as it would for Mac computers. Software costs for the Mac are less than $500, although the hardware necessary to run the software tends to be more expensive than a Windows-based computer. But no matter which option is chose for the firm, a learning curve is necessary for both the individual responsible for setting up the network and, more important, for the users of the network. All of the remote access, file sharing, e-mail and Web applications available with each of these server systems don’t provide any value if the users do not know how they function. Fortunately, these systems are easier to use than ever, but if some time isn’t devoted to learning how all the bells and whistles work, it’s not worth the investment. BRIAN R. HARRIS is the database administrator for the American Lawyer Media-Pennsylvania division and the former editor-in-chief ofThe Legal Intelligencer . Harris can be contacted at [email protected].

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