August 26, 2008

Of Bygone Vistas

I have been a staunch defender and advocate of Windows Vista since it came out. I had been using Vista since the early beta days and I’d always found it to be better than Windows XP in many different ways. In fact, some people on various online forums went so far as to say that I was a shill for Microsoft and that I was championing Vista because my bread and butter depended on it :p (Of course, if somebody at Microsoft wants to pay me for championing Vista, I won’t say "No" – just so you know … :D)

I like Vista both for the little touches that it adds to the operating system which makes life easier (like the multiple clocks in the system tray) and for the speed enhancements in the graphics subsystem and the stability that it seemed to provide. The people I clashed with over Vista were people like the lady who claimed that none of their games would run under Vista and this had never happened when they first switched to XP. (I had pointed out to her that she either didn’t switch to XP immediately or had already forgotten the pain those of us who were early adopters of XP had in running games – that’s part and parcel of switching to a new operating system and that hasn’t changed since the Windows 3.1 days …)

Anyway, while I like a lot of things about Vista, I realized that I spent a lot of my time fixing minor niggling issues under Vista and that these minor fixes were eating into a lot of my time. While there were no major BSODs (Blue Screens of Death) as I’d have quite a bit of the time under XP, I would have something minor like a USB device not being recognized or a the drivers for the device not being installed properly. I’d spend a couple of days troubleshooting that and finally get it working and the next day, something else would stop working …

I suspect that most of these issues are because I’ve turned off the annoying UAC (User Account Control) feature in Vista. For instance, UAC got turned back on by accident on my machine and one of my startup programs refused to load because it no longer had read access to one of its data files – a file that I accessed everyday without any issue with UAC turned off, mind you. So perhaps somebody who uses Vista without turning of UAC or doing any of the other power-user stuff that I do probably would have better results with Vista. But for me, it wasn’t working …

So I formatted my OS partition (I have three partitions – one for the OS, one for applications, and one for data) and went back to using XP SP3. I got the old familiar BSOD as I was pulling down updates from Microsoft, even before I was fully up and running, but it does run faster in most cases (except with regards to the graphics subsystem) and it takes up a heck of a lot less space! My OS partition had about 2-3GB free after I got done installing Vista but with XP, I’ve still got about 10GB free :)

Only thing was, using Vista had spoilt me – I was no longer content to using the Windows Classic theme and I couldn’t bear to use the Lunar interface under XP either. Fortunately, it turns out that while I was using Vista and singing its praises, others had been busy getting the Vista look and feel working under XP. There’s individual applications like viStart, Visual Task Tips, and TrueTransparency which try to provide bits and pieces of the functionality that is present in Vista. Or, there’s projects like the Vista Transformation Pack, which combines all of the above utilities, adds in graphics and themes and gives you a one-stop-solution to getting XP to look like Vista.

So if you’ve had to switch back to XP and are missing the look and feel of Vista, the above might be a good place to start :)

Tags: , , ,
Posted by Fahim at 6:01 pm  |  1 Comment

August 22, 2008

Quickening – Not Just for Immortals

As I mentioned yesterday, I had looked around for a new small business accounting package and had finally settled on Quicken. But the hunt didn’t stop there :)

Now that I had settled on Quicken, I needed a way to transfer my years of accumulated data in MS Money over to Quicken. Money exports transactions in QIF format but Quicken doesn’t support QIF for transferring data in to all accounts anymore – it only supports QIF for certain types of accounts. Additionally, when I tried to bring Money data in via QIF, I discovered that Quicken displayed the dates incorrectly :-(

That was when I came across this page, which details how to use the Quicken Data Converter to transfer your Money data over to Quicken. I thought my troubles were over then, for sure. But that was not the case either :p

The Quicken Data Converter did transfer over everything almost flawlessly – there were a few extra transactions in one account but that I believe was the extent of the errors. However, there was one issue which made the whole transfer useless for me – the data transfer utility did not understand multi-currency! It simply took all the transactions to be in US dollars and this created a huge mess since some of my accounts were in Rupees and the final balances were way off.

There was no way to fix the data conversion either since it would automatically create a new company file when transferring in the data and I could not create a set of accounts (with the appropriate currency set up initially) to receive the transferred data. And once an account is created, you can’t change the currency for it in Quicken either.

So what I ended up doing was resort to a rather convoluted procedure. I created a new set of accounts with the right currencies and then exported the transferred in data as QIF files and then imported them back into the right currency accounts. (I later realized that I could probably have dispensed with the exporting and importing and simply copied the transactions over to the new account internally but hey, it did the same job either way …) This did get the transactions into the right currencies but inter-account transfers still had to be manually corrected to account for exchange rate fluctuations. However, that was rather minor given that I did manage to get all my data from Money into Quicken finally :)

August 21, 2008

Good Accounting is Hard to Find …

Is it just me and my picky ways or are there really no good choices for small business accounting software?

I’ve been using Microsoft Money for around ten years to track my spending and my bank and credit card balances. However, I recently discovered that Money, at least the standard version of Money, wasn’t enough for my needs. I also wanted to track invoices to customers for the consulting work I do and to be able to track payments from customers. So, since I had years of transactions in Money, I thought I’d move up to Money Plus Home & Business since it had basic accounts receivable features.

Not a good idea :) Turns out that the business features in Money are more of an afterthought and not really well thought out. Money normally supports multiple currencies but the business stuff doesn’t. So while I really bill my customers in US dollars, there is no way for me to track those transactions in Money because the program insists on doing invoices in my home/base currency, which is Rupees.

So I thought I’d look around for any other accounting software which had the option to use multi-currency and handled accounts receivables the way I wanted. I started out small with the free BS1 Accounting package. It had multi-currency and it had accounts receivables but it couldn’t (or at least didn’t seem to) handle over payments. Plus, I don’t think it could import my existing Money data since I wanted to have all my finance info in one application.

I then went bigger (since there didn’t appear to be too many smaller accounting applications around) and looked at some of the industry leaders. QuickBooks does not support multi-currency in its current version and while it is supposed to support multi-currency at the premium levels in older versions, none of the trials I tried had this feature. And I tell you, those trial downloads are huge! Some are like 600-700MB and I was getting pretty tired of trying out accounting software after a while.

Peachtree was again supposed to have multi-currency but I couldn’t find it anywhere, not even in the help files. In the case of Microsoft Office Accounting 2008 Pro, I could find all manner of information about setting up multi-currency in the help file, but those settings were nowhere to be found in the program! Either they don’t have the options in the trial version, in which case they should mention this somewhere, or the help file is not consistent with the program.

SimplyAccounting was the only application where I could get the features working the way I wanted wit the trial. The multi-currency finally worked but the account set up was a bit clunky. It appeared to want you to set everything up manually and accounts receivables couldn’t directly handle an over-payment like other applications seemed to do, you had to match the original invoice amount against part of the payment and then enter the rest as a deposit. However, it did work but the cost was a bit too much for me since I had to shell out about $250 for the Premium version if I wanted unlimited multiple currencies, which I did. My other option was the Basic version which cost $150 and supported two currencies.

I had avoided Quicken till now because I had tried it in the past and had found it to be very similar to Money and I didn’t expect anything much to have changed. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Quicken‘s small business edition supported multi-currency and that I could invoice and receive payments in several different currencies. Additionally, it had a dashboard for different categories (personal finance, business finance etc.) that was pretty useful and informative. The only issues I have with Quicken are that it feels old, as if it’s really a Windows 3.1 program with some newer interface elements slapped on (this is very evident especially when you print stuff) and the fact that the invoice designer is very basic. SimplyAccounting had a beautiful invoice designer and Money, while it had something very similar to Quicken, still made it look and function a bit better.

My last issue was with importing in Money data and that’s a tale in itself. So I will reserve it for another post :) But for the moment, I’m not really satisfied with the accounting software choices available out there. And no, don’t suggest an online solution because I prefer to have my data on my own machine :p But if you do know of another small business accounting package which does everything I’ve mentioned and is cheap, then I’d certainly be interested …