Finding the right online accounting service

May 19, 2011  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

We have been ready to take the next step in our accounting practices for a while now.  I basically used the opportunity to teach myself Numbers.  But Numbers is stretched to the limit and I need more.

Of course, my mind went immediately to QuickBooks.  I signed up for the free trial of QuickBooks Online because it seemed like it had the right set of features and I could access it from anywhere with ease (office, home office).

I was less than impressed with QuickBooks Online, to put it mildly.  It tries to be like a desktop application, but just fails.  It is not very intuitive, and even something like viewing your checking register takes more steps than it should.

So I took another look at the Mac accounting options.  The two primary challengers seem to be QuickBooks Mac and AccountEdge.

QuickBooks of course has the reputation as the Gold Standard.  But a trip to Amazon eliminated any idea that I might buy QuickBooks for Mac.  There is currently one less 1-star review (38) than the combined total of 3,4, and 5-star reviews (39).  So much for QuickBooks.

Unfortunately, AccountEdge 2009 doesn’t fare much better in the Amazon reviews.  There is a newer version of AccountEdge available, but I have struggled to find any helpful reviews or impressions of it online.

And so it was back to the drawing board.

Having recently decided to use an online CRM application for our law practice, I decided to take a look at other online accounting services.  I couldn’t have expected what I discovered.  It was like walking into a tropical rainforest, with every size, shape, and color of critter imaginable.

I have identified the following suspects so far:

And then there are the tools that work together with the accounting services, like Freshbooks and Harvest.  We currently use Billings for invoicing, but I am open to alternatives (particularly if it’s integrated with the accounting service).

Some of the services are clearly targeted toward the UK (or Commonwealth countries) or Europe.  But it’s tough to rule any of them out at this point.

I welcome your opinions to help narrow down the field.  Have any of you used one of the online accounting services I mentioned (or one I didn’t mention)?

Office 2008 is still King

May 14, 2011  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

My troubles with Microsoft Word are well documented.  One particular bug has kept me from making the switch to Word 2011.  Occasionally, Word 2011 will lock up when pasting text.  It doesn’t seem to matter where the text comes from.  But the spinning beach ball of death appears and I have to Force Quit.  This happens so often, in fact, that I refuse to use Word 2011.  It’s a big time waster and just too stressful.

Microsoft released a patch for Office 2011 on April 12, 2011.  Despite the fact that the patch notes didn’t mention the copy-paste bug, I was hoping that Microsoft would have seen fit to render Word 2011 usable.  Alas, after a few weeks of testing (intermittently), I can report that Word 2011 has not been fixed.  It still crashes quite frequently when pasting.

So Word 2008 is still the King of the Office suites on our system (at least when we need to use the DOC file format).

I finally gave in to the inevitable: Evernote

April 12, 2011  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Last month I signed up for Evernote.  I suppose it was inevitable.  Like a force of nature.

I had been looking for a solution to manage all of the information we have accumulated from the internet, email lists, and other sources.  A year or two ago, I investigated the usual suspects:  Devon Think, Together (formerly K.I.T.), Yojimbo, Evernote, and others.  I settled on Yojimbo because it seemed more like a Mac application, and I just wasn’t sold on “the cloud” yet.  Besides, it seemed like Evernote was just a fancy interface to an online OCR service.

So I trudged along with Yojimbo, barely using it.  I showed it to people and exclaimed, “look how awesome this is!”  But mostly I still just saved PDFs to my folders (which are organized pretty well).

Of course, you can’t hang around the Mac community and not keep getting peppered with messages about Evernote.  The final straw was Evernote showing up in the new App Store (and all the associated press around how many people were downloading and using it).  I realized that Yojimbo would never work because I couldn’t collaborate with it.  But Evernote is all about collaboration.

Now that I have been using it for several weeks, I keep finding new uses for it.  The real power, as I am slowly learning, is in the tags.  With my superb folder structure, I can perfectly place an educational newsletter in the folder for that topic.  But it’s also a marketing piece that I might want to emulate someday.  How do I associate both concepts to this article?  With tags of course.

The same thing works with precedent.  Find a great case that relates to motions to dismiss for breach of contract?  No problem, just tag it for those two concepts and the case identifier.

Of course, all this was possible with Yojimbo.  But Evernote adds the ability for our entire team to share information this way.  It’s a little work staying on the same page as far as projects and tags.  But the added benefits have been completely worth it.

I don’t want to get carried away, but I am finding that Evernote may be greatly changing the way we process and use information (and I am still just scratching the surface in how to use it).

So count me among the Evernote masses now.

Why Does Microsoft Hate Its Customers?

March 21, 2011  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

So I had mostly avoided Windows Genuine Advantage because my limited Windows needs were met with Windows XP.  I just never saw the reason to upgrade to Vista and put up with all the headaches.  But with Windows XP getting long in the tooth, I decided it was time to upgrade.  Upgrade licenses for Windows are much cheaper, so it made sense to buy one of those.  After all, I have many XP licenses (more than we actually use).  A natural fit…or so I thought.

I did a clean install of Windows 7 because nothing transfers over from XP anyway.  In the past, this has worked even though I have an upgrade DVD.  I would be asked for my older product key at some point in the process and everything would be fine.  Oh, if only it were that simple.  I have now called three different numbers, the last one being tech support (who didn’t pick up despite supposedly being “open”) and am left with an ominous black screen warning me that I might be a thief.

I am left to wonder, why Microsoft hates me so much.  There has never been a stronger argument for DRM punishing honest paying customers than what I have been going through for the past two days.  I would have been much better off pirating Windows.  I’d have a working system and an OS with more features (I bought the measly Home Premium).  I sincerely hope this was the last time I ever give Microsoft any of my money.

Mac OS X Lion Sneak Peak

March 1, 2011  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Alongside the new (blazing fast) laptops this past week, Apple released the first developer preview of Mac OS X Lion.  In addition to the previously announced features, a few new things were revealed.  So what do we know?

  • Apple seems to be pulling many of the design and usability concepts that have made iOS successful over into desktop Mac OS X.  Included in Lion is better support for full screen applications and Aqua, popovers, overlay scrollbars, and multitouch support reminiscent of the iPad interface.  Not to mention Launchpad, a new “iPad style” application launcher.
  • When Apple discontinued the Xserve, speculation ran wild that Apple was also discontinuing Mac OS X Server.  That’s technically correct (the best kind of correct!) but also wrong.  Mac OS X Server will now simply be an installable feature of Lion.
  • Lion will include built-in support for auto-saving and storing complete version histories of documents.  Users will be able to enter a mode similar to Time Machine showing the entire history of a single document.
  • Applications will be able to support resuming, letting the software return to exactly the place it was when it was opened last time.  This is part of a broader move by Apple to make Mac OS X more iOS-like by eliminating the distinction between applications which are not currently being used and those which the user has Quit.  When applications have implemented Resume, it should allow Mac OS X to be more responsive in low-memory situations without asking users to remember to Quit applications they aren’t currently using.
  • Mail has a revamped interface, which is (you guessed it!) drawn from the iPad.  Ok, yes, there is already a plugin for that.  But it will be nice to have official support.  Plus, the new Mail will include a conversation view and better search tools.  iCal and Address Book have also received an iPad-style makeover.
  • By all accounts, Safari in Lion is faster and more stable.  If they’ve solved the memory issues, it might again become a viable contender to Chrome.  Apple needs to do something here, because Chrome has risen like a rocket while Safari usage has remained fairly low.
  • iChat AV is rumored to be including support for Yahoo Messenger video chat.

Lion sounds like great news for small businesses.  Buying a copy of OS X Server is a big deal for a small business.  At $500 a copy, it’s not cheap.  Lots of thought needs to go into the business case for shelling out that kind of money.  Lion will immediately change the conversation from “should I use Server?” to “how should I use Server?”  But the features I am most excited about are Auto Save and Versions.  Two features, but they work so well together that I think of them as one.  Time Machine is great, but using it is inefficient and often ineffective.  It’s inefficient because I have to leave the application and use the Finder to step through older versions.  And it’s often ineffective because Time Machine only runs once an hour.  I can do a lot of damage to a document in an hour.  A limitless history (via Versions) of every single change I made to a document (via Auto Save, regardless of whether I hit command-S) will be a godsend.

Apple also seems to be making great strides with Lion’s usability.  The mantra for iOS has consistently been that users shouldn’t have to concern themselves with the operating system.  This was apparent when Apple steadfastly refused to allow multitasking on iOS devices until it could be done right.  Users shouldn’t have to fiddle with a process list and kill applications to get good performance.  But the truth is, users of Mac OS X do have to pay attention to that today.  System running a little slow?  Search out some running applications on the dock that you don’t currently need.  Mac OS X Lion, with its Resume feature and reworked interface, should eliminate that step entirely.  Mac OS X should just work.

Likewise the Auto Save and Versions feature helps eliminate the file system.  A user only needs to work with the application and the document.  Thinking about “saving” and “backups” takes the user out of that suspension of disbelief and forces a focus on the OS.

Snow Leopard came across primarily as a maintenance release, so it’s nice to see Apple take some big steps with Lion.  And while Leopard was famous for its 300+ features, I get the sense that Lion includes more new features that will change how I work everyday.  But maybe that’s just because Leopard was released oh so long ago…