The Mac does count

Introduction

There is now some excellent accounting software available for the Mac, and, with no problems concerning incompatibility of data with Wintel machines, maybe it’s time to persuade your accountant to invest in a speedy Macintosh. This feature is both for those looking to buy their first accounting software-package and those seeking a more powerful package. At the low-end is Torsoft’s Cashbook Manager and Hansa FirstOffice. Next up, for between £200 and £400, there’s MYOB Accounting and Ritz 2000. At the start of the higher end of the market – at around £350 – are Hansa Office2 and Access FoundationsXP, although products in this group can cost several thousand pounds when adding all the optional modules available. What’s in an accounting system?
It’s useful to think in terms of a folder system (see “Accounting basics”). Every package has at its heart the nominal ledger (or general ledger), that contains records of the business’s assets (computers, desks, cash, etc), and liabilities (bank overdrafts, etc), as well as sales and expenses. Because there’s a large amount of data underlying some of the figures in nominal-ledger accounts, there are separate modules for some of them. For instance, your debtors’ account may have a balance of £250,000 – made up of hundreds or thousands of amounts owed by individual customers. To keep track of these requires a separate debtors ledger – or sales ledger – module. This allows you to record a mass of other useful information about customers, including address, phone number, contact names and terms of trade. The same applies to your creditors: there will be a creditors ledger module – or purchases ledger – to keep track of suppliers, and what you owe them. The above form the basics of any decent accounting system, but any number of modules – for dealing with stock, payroll, fixed assets and so on – can be bolted on. You may also want tools that help with job costing, or time allocation, and for any other aspect of running a business that can be represented in unitary and monetary terms. Data entry in an accounting system is usually highly automated. For example in “Data creator” (above), the only things the user will actually type are the description of the sale and the amount, excluding VAT. All other information is either selected from drop-down menus, drawn from the database, or calculated automatically. Entry level
Torsoft Cashbook Manager
As its name suggests, Cashbook Manager (£34; Torsoft, 01752 895 100) is not a fully fledged accounting package. The basic product is similar to a personal-finance package such as Microsoft Money, or Intuit Quicken. It’s simply a means of recording and analysing money that been spent or received. A module for sales and purchases can be added, that allows you to add customer contact-details, supplier details, and information concerning issued and received invoices. Unfortunately, you can’t actually print-out an invoice to send to a customer. There’s also a contact-management module. The modules cost £25.50 for the pair. Torsoft has a number of standard “charts of accounts”, tailored for specific businesses, such as hairdressing, gardening, electrical work, and so on. These career areas show that the product is aimed at the self-employed with small payrolls. This approach allows for transactions to be categorized in an appropriate way: a hairdresser will want a shampoo account, whereas a gardener may want a fertilizer account. Being an entry-level product, Cashbook Manager’s analysis and reporting facilities are limited – you can’t, for example, produce a trial balance. You could export data to Excel and manipulate it that way, but what’s the point? You may as well enter data straight into a set of Excel spreadsheets in the first instance. Hansa FirstOffice
This product (£95; Hansa, 0191 296 1500) is a pared-down version of Office2, which is covered later on. The basic version lacks functionality dealing with stock control, payroll, costing features, and multi-currency. Although not as full-featured as the more expensive MYOB, it is suitable for a company that already uses Office2, and so possesses the necessary knowledge in-house. Although affordable, FirstOffice is not the logical starting point for the average first-time buyer who would need to factor-in the cost of basic accounts training. Mid-range
MYOB Accounting Plus
This is a well-established and truly excellent package. MYOB (it stands for Mind Your Own Business) is by far the best choice for a first real accounting system for small companies, being able to handle accounts systems involving at least 10,000 transactions per year. Everything in MYOB Accounting Plus (£295; MYOB UK, 01344 397 222) is made easy for the inexperienced user. There are standard (but customizable) charts of accounts for a wide variety of businesses, and each aspect of the system has an Easy Setup Assistant – a sort of wizard – which asks the user all the questions it requires answers to, enabling it to properly configure the system. Back to basics
MYOB’s basic system (see “What’s in the box”) includes nominal, sales and purchase ledgers, plus a cashbook and basic stock-management module and – a great bonus for the price – a payroll module (see “What’s in the box?”). For an extra £100, you get a time-billing module (useful for typical Mac service-based companies), multi-currency options, and a more-advanced stock-management module. There is a boiled-down version of this product, called MYOB Accounting (£195, MYOB).This offers more basic stock-control features, but lacks costing and billing functionality. MYOB Accounting is something of a bridge product between the entry-level and mid-range packages. Ritz 2000
This product sits somewhere between MYOB and the higher-end FoundationsXP and Office2 – even if, at £395 (Ritz Software, 01689 860 444) for the basic package, it’s actually more expensive than these two titles. Those new to accounting packages will like the fact it helps with initial set-up, although, unlike MYOB, its set-up screens are not as intuitive for the uninitiated. Ritz is well-illustrated with screenshots and example data, and its context-sensitive online help is perhaps the best of all the products under review. Its interface is also well designed (See “Plain and simple”). One annoying thing is you can have only one window open at a time, which limits its flexibility. For instance you could be working on a multi-line purchase invoice, and suddenly remember you need to enter a journal in the nominal ledger. In Ritz 2000, you will be unable to switch temporarily to the relevant part of the program and then switch back and carry on with your original task: you’ll lose all posted data if you attempt this. Another drawback is the issue of scalability: Ritz 2000 offers a number of add-on modules, and a separate payroll package, but that’s as far as it goes. Once the basic Ritz 2000 package is outgrown, you’ll have to switch to the Access or Hansa products. If you’re going to spend about £400, why not start-off with FoundationsXP or Office2? High end
To get the most from the more complex packages, you’ll need someone with specialist accounting knowledge – otherwise you’re well advised to seek advice or training from an accountant or a suitably qualified reseller. Access FoundationsXP
Access Accounts is nothing to with either the credit-card company, or the Microsoft database. FoundationsXP (£350; Access Accounts, 01206 322 575) is a stepping stone to Access’s products for medium and large companies – Access Horizons and Access Dimensions respectively. There are some lovely features in this package, one of which is the ability to select data from on-screen reports and paste it into an Excel spreadsheet – with no need for comma-separated file exports or the like, as required in most other packages. Besides the standard ledgers and modules, FoundationsXP offers more sophisticated features for stock management, sales and purchase-order processing, costing and credit control than the cheaper packages. It also appears to be better geared-up to the euro than most other packages on test. Practically every aspect of the system can be configured to behave exactly as you like, and this is what you would want when you are ready to step up from a smaller computerized system such as MYOB, because by then you will have a lot of data in a semi-customized form (your system of coding and numbering, your tailored chart of accounts, and so on). One drawback with FoundationsXP is that the documentation and online help are quite atrocious. For instance, I brought up a window entitled New Analysis (see “Fat help”) whose fields to complete included code, description, sort key, VAT, currency, debit, and credit. I clicked the “help” question mark expecting to see, at the very least, an example of this window completed with sample data, followed by a more-detailed description showing each field, and the type of data to be inserted and where it can be found. Instead I got a page of waffle, which seemed to bear no relation to the matter in hand. Only after a careful read did it begin to make any sense. High-end or not, users always want quick results – not a plethora of options. The manual is worse still. Even something as simple as entering a payment to a supplier requires the user to wade through ten pages of turgid instructions. By contrast, in the Hansa Office2 documentation, there’s a heading simply entitled Entering a payment, followed by field-by-field instructions: click on this, hit that keyboard shortcut, enter this data, and so on. It’s simple, clear, and comprehensive. Hansa Office2
This is from a well-established company based in Denmark. It produces versions of its software for many countries in Europe. Office2 (£350; Hansa, 0191 296 1500) is a stepping stone to Hansa’s products for medium-to large-companies, called Hansa Financials. Office2 is a nice package, offering all the more sophisticated features and data-manipulation ability of Access, including time billing and costing features, contact-management features, and multi-currency capability. Moreover, it’s remarkably swift, making the other packages on review feel sluggish by comparison – particularly Access FoundationsXP. Also, compared with FoundationsXP, there’s a good deal less mouse-work and menu selection work necessary to get data on screen in the required form and order. This will be particularly appealing to data-entry staff, whose work is made that much easier by keyboard-friendly interfaces. One feature I particularly liked was the uniform shortcut-key, Paste Special (+Enter). This brings up whatever list of codes or other data is appropriate, at almost every data-entry field throughout the system. Also extremely useful is the ability to have as many windows open as you like (see “Window boost”). Other packages – notably Ritz 2000 – tend not to allow you to make changes in one part of the system while you are working in another. Because the system is designed to be used in so many different countries, Office2 can be eccentric. For instance, to make the system automatically calculate VAT on an invoice, you’d expect to enter the current rate (17.5 per cent) as a default. Instead, you have to enter the result of the calculation 17.5 divided by 117.5 (which comes to 14.8936). This is clearly explained in the manual, and you only have to do the calculation and enter the result once – but you’d have thought the software could do this bit of maths for itself. Another criticism of Hansa Office2 is that its documentation is unavailable as part of a context-sensitive online help system.
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