© 2016 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved President, Ministry Business Services, Inc. Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine
Our team is privileged to have served many hundreds of ministries nationwide as IT strategists, engineers, and consultants. We don’t sell or profit from any of the software we recommend, but in those IT roles we’ve found that some software works better in church and ministry offices than others. It is with that perspective that we make the following recommendations.
Software comes in three general categories: operating systems, applications, and games. Although games are the most fun, in this article we will only look at operating systems and applications.
Workstation Operating Systems
Operating system software (often called the OS) is what helps computers know what to do with the commands they receive from users and programs. Desktop and notebook OSes today are mostly from Apple or Microsoft.
Our current Windows OS preference is Windows 10 Pro. Win10 is consumes fewer computer resources (processor, RAM, etc) than its predecessors, but to run it well we recommend buying the fastest processor you can afford with at least 4Gb of RAM. We also recommend avoiding Home and Student editions in office environments, and Microsoft agrees.
Our current Mac OS recommendation is 10.11, El Capitan, but that will likely change this Fall when Apple releases Sierra.
Network Operating Systems
The discussion of Linux vs Novell NetWare vs Microsoft Windows Server has been settled, and Microsoft has won the NOS (Network OS) wars. Our current recommendation is Windows Server 2012r2, but that may change once we’ve seen and evaluated the final release of Windows Server 2016 (due out this Fall).
Hypervisors turn computers we’ve historically called servers into hosts for many virtual servers. Though it sounds complex, it’s actually simple once seen.
Some of the reasons this new category of software has gained so much acceptance in corporate America are:
- The computer’s processor chip is the most expensive component in the computer. Most servers’ processors only use 5% – 10% of their processing capacity after they’ve started, and so this very expensive component usually goes mostly unused. By installing a hypervisor and then hosting virtual servers on top of it, you are able to get more use out of your physical server computers, achieving a much higher return on your investment.
- Windows Servers function best–most reliably–when they only run one service, like Exchange, for instance. That means in a Windows network you’re best to have many servers, which can be expensive if they’re physical servers. Using hypervisor technology reduces your cost significantly because you’re able to run many virtual servers on one host, and the only additional cost to configuring a host is that it may need more RAM.
- In most church and ministry networks, the version of hypervisor software needed is completely free!
Hypervisor software is the latest battle focus for IT domination, which is good for consumers. The company that invented the technology for the PC platform is VMware, and their software is currently the best—no contest. Microsoft, Citrix, and others are also in the marketplace, so that may change someday. But for now, VMware is the software to go with. You can download it for free at www.vmware.com.
The simplest tool for distributing standardized workstations across a network is still Symantec’s Ghost. It allows you to create an image of a workstation hard drive, store it, and then distribute it to other similar workstations; in effect, cloning them.
Our favorite network back-up software is from Veeam. There’s no better protection available today to help protect the valuable data on a Windows network—virtualized or physical.
The best anti-malware for churches and ministries is Thirtyseven4 (www.thirtyseven4.com). It is capable, works on Windows and Mac computers and servers, and it is affordably priced for churches and ministries.
And speaking of protection, we recommend purchasing uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) with software that communicates with each server. This kind of protection keeps the server and those logged in to it aware of any power changes that could impact the network. The best is PowerChute, which ships for free with American Power Conversion’s Smart UPSes.
The programs we use to get our work done (I refer to this category as productivity software) can come in separate modules or in suites.
Microsoft Office 2016 dominates the productivity software field.
Word Processor & Layout
Church word processing is highly layout and mail-merge oriented, as opposed to simple document processing. If your team uses Microsoft Word, then you probably augment the layout function with a light desktop publisher like Microsoft Publisher (Windows only). The most capable and preferred desktop publisher suite, however, is Creative Cloud from Adobe. Creative Cloud includes many powerful tools like InDesign, PhotoShop, LightRoom, and Acrobat that can take your publications—print and online—to the next level.
The best spreadsheet available is Microsoft Excel. The formula, charting, pivot table, and diagnostic functions are powerful and easy to use. And Excel spreadsheets and charts paste easily into Word documents. Excel can also link to databases (using pivot tables), providing real-time diagnostic charting to help make good management decisions.
This software lets you put together lessons, sermons, classes, and more in outline form. Those outlines can be presented as attractive slide shows that can be projected through monitors or projectors with attention-getting graphics and animation. The best app in this area is Microsoft’s PowerPoint.
The two greatest benefits are:
- Reduced preparation time since the software works in outline form; and
- Enhanced delivery of your message because it involves more senses and can be graphically memorable.
Email, Calendars, & Task Management
Outlook and Exchange are the combination of choice for this category. Exchange is the email server, and Outlook is the client that presents Exchange’s contents to the user. Beginning with Office 2011, Outlook is included in Office for Mac, allowing better collaboration among all team members!
Most ministries are best to buy a ministry or church management system (ChMS) that is designed to serve the needs of ministries rather than to buy a database engine and develop a database of their own. There are many good ChMS providers listed in this journal. But don’t try to buy a database engine and develop your own; it takes too much time and is too hard on the staff.
Bible Study Tools & Libraries
There are many good tools to help in this area. My favorite two are Logos for study and prep (www.logos.com), and YouVersion—free!—for devotions and reading on the go (runs on any SmartPhone). YouVersion can even be incorporated into your live events! See www.youversion.com.
Brainstorming / Note Taking Tool
A great tool for brainstorming and note taking is iThoughtsX. It runs on any platform and is terrific for meetings, workshops, sermon preparation, and more.
There are many electronic wallet solutions available today. My favorite is eWallet from SPB. The data is stored on my devices rather than on someone’s server (those servers are big hacking targets), and each of my devices synchronize changes made with each other. Great security and convenience!
Churches and ministries qualify for steep discounts for many of these solutions! If you’re a church or ministry, never pay retail without first checking with others or the manufacturers to make certain you’re not overspending.