Sage Instant Accounts review
If you can’t be cheaper than the competition, be better. It’s a mantra that could apply to the thinking behind Sage Instant Accounts. While the budget end of the accounting market is flooded with competent alternatives, Sage is clearly pitching this new version of the program at small business owners or sole traders who lack accounting experience yet don’t want to compromise on features.
The approach is clear from the program’s new Welcome page, which contains links to useful information, such as ‘What do I do first?’, which explains the most important steps in beginning to record your finances.
Accompanying this is a limited set of Flash-based videos that neatly explain how to perform tasks in the program. Wizards abound: although when they take a dozen or so windows to create a new customer or supplier record, hand-holding has clearly gone too far.
The interface is largely unchanged from previous versions. Instant Accounts’ left-hand pane lists modules relating to core business activity, such as Company, Customers, Suppliers and so on.
Associated tasks, such as creating new customers or receiving payments, appear above each module in the same pane. The main window lists related transactions or illustrates the flow of money through your business. Sage has a clever answer to the common problem of window clutter: open windows are easily accessible through a series of tabs at the bottom of the window.
Corrections are now made in a separate module. It’s a sensible approach for those unfamiliar with the traditional route of reversing out entries through the nominal ledger and certainly preferable to the stark option of either allowing or disallowing the editing of posted transactions, as is the case in rival MYOB Business Basics. You can select the transaction to edit or delete from a list of uncleared transactions in the main window and then edit it in its own dialog box.
Practice makes perfect
A practical innovation is the Practice Mode, which lets you try out features and transactions on a virgin set of accounts, with no risk to your company’s financial data. It isn’t a unique feature, but it’s well implemented here, as you can switch back and forth between real and practice data from the File menu, and although you can start with a fresh set of data each time you enter Practice Mode, you can also store data between sessions.
In terms of features, Instant Accounts remains a step above most of its rivals. In common with most other budget applications, it’s single user and lacks stock control features, but the core features – nominal, sales, purchase and bank ledgers – are here, and its VAT reporting functions, now gathered together in a single ledger, are excellent.
In this version they are boosted by the ability to submit returns to HM Revenue and Customs electronically. The new version also incorporates a further nicety: the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds, albeit only a limited set, that provide product and industry information.
Reporting functions are comprehensive. The list of available reports far outnumbers those offered in Intuit QuickBooks SimpleStart (web ID: 145218) or Microsoft Accounting Express (web ID: 145206), and there’s the added bonus that you can tailor these using Sage’s revamped – but still awkward to use – Reports Designer.
As well as the ability to export in HTML or PDF formats, you can send reports and transactions directly to Word and Excel. While competent, the award for best Office integration still goes unsurprisingly to Microsoft Accounting.
Operating system support
|Operating system Windows Vista supported?||yes|
|Operating system Windows XP supported?||yes|