Microsoft Office Accounting Pro/Express review
Years after Microsoft announced plans for this program and following months of beta testing, Office Accounting 2008 is finally here, and it’s a program that could and should redefine the world of small business financial software in Britain.
There are two versions. Accounting Express is free and best suited to the self-employed and very small businesses, while Professional is aimed at businesses of up to 25 people. But there isn’t a huge functional difference between the two versions; Express is only missing higher-end features, such as stock control, support for BAC payments, and multi-user and multicurrency support.
After a painfully slow installation process, Accounting’s target market becomes clear. Its three-step startup wizard is an ideal way to guide entry-level users through setting up company details and a set of accounts based on business type. Another nod to newcomers is the optional Quick Start window, which gives one-click access to common tasks, such as invoicing, without having to navigate the program’s main interface. The main interface borrows heavily from Outlook 2007. The homepage “dashboard” gives an overview of your balance, displays reminders and shows a cashflow chart | vital to any small business – and we especially like the way you can customise this to add or remove visible content.
The dashboard links to other areas of your business | customers, suppliers and so on. Most areas are arranged in a flowchart format, tracking the path of money through the business, but there’s also a simpler text-only view. A Resource Center area (similar to, but more useful than, QuickBooks Pro’s version) houses a list of topics, including training, user forums and RSS news feeds.
It’s no surprise that Accounting’s big selling point is its integration with Microsoft’s Office suite. Other applications import and export to Word and Excel, but Accounting takes it to a new level. This is best illustrated through its relationship with Outlook’s Business Contact Manager (BCM), the customer relationship plug-in. Accounting and BCM share the same database, so there’s no need to synchronise data between them. Outlook contacts appear as customer records in Accounting, and Outlook users can view Accounting’s financial data and reports even if they don’t have Accounting installed. Conversely, appointments or projects can be marked as billable in Outlook, ready for invoicing in Accounting.
Accounting’s list of predefined reports – 20 in Express, 40 in Professional – isn’t overwhelming, but Office integration multiplies its value. Reports can be quickly exported to workbooks, with column headings and formulas intact. You can even build your own Pivot Table-based reports or run Access-based reports inside Accounting, tweak them and return them to the list of reports inside the program. It’s also easy to amend reports to add custom fields and layouts.
This version is tailored to the UK market, so there’s full support for UK VAT | both accrual and cash-based schemes are here | and payroll, the latter available as an annual subscription. However, its online features are less polished. There’s no direct banking integration, but you can download OFX-formatted files and reconcile them with Accounting’s bank account. Office 2003 or 2007 users can add PayPal buttons to invoices, so clients can pay instantly | setup took seconds. But we’d like to see Ebay integration, which is available in the US version.
There are a few other complaints. Some lists and reports don’t distinguish credit and debit balances clearly enough, which might confuse new users, and the program’s requirements (a 1GHz processor and, if using BCM, 1GB of RAM) are demanding for an accounting application: it occasionally felt sluggish on a PC that was a few years old.