Saturday, November 11, 2006

Free Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007 - Don't bother!

Microsoft just released a new free product called Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007. The feature list looked interesting, so I downloaded it, installed it, and gave it a quick try. Basically, all it did was piss me off. And, this blog entry discusses a few reasons why.

I started by installing the product into a VMWare Virtual Machine (for good reasons: I hate how MS products tend to pollute my systems, take over the place with "required" additional software and components that eat up 100's of megabytes, and so forth). So, I install into an environment where I can easily get rid of the entire experience if I desire.

The first annoyance: everywhere I turned in this "free" product, I encountered a need for a non-free Microsoft product. I wanted to try the Email feature - to send an invoice. Nope, can not do that without MS Word installed! WTF?!? I want to send Email, not write a letter. And, since I am in a clean virtual machine, no MS Word is available. So much for testing all sorts of things in here. The promised PayPal interface features rely on using Microsoft Word Templates for PayPal Emails. Lovely (not!).

Next, I want to export some information... hmmm... guess what the "export" supports. Yep, it is Export to Excel, and if you click the export button without Excel installed, forget it - you are presented with a messagebox reminding you how Excel is required.

And, you are presented with multiple reasons to upgrade to the "professional" version or whatever (yep, that is the non-free one). Sure, upgrade... then you can probably be forced to buy even more supporting Microsoft Applications.

Next, errors. I choose to "send books to accountant". It failed with some ridiculous messagebox of HTML errors when the MS Live signin didn't work. Wow, that's a great way to handle the fact I do not have an account setup in the application.

Next, the software is slow. The initial company setup thing is ridiculously slow when it starts creating the initial company entries in the database (or whatever the disk-drive is churning away on for a minute or so). Reports are also slow. Heck, with only one order entered, it still takes 10 seconds to generate a single line report summarizing my one order. Lame.

There is a bunch of visual (and useless) FLUFF. It is now well thought out. It is certainly less-than-intuitive in many areas. I setup a couple products for sale, and there is a field for weight - with no associated unit of measure, and you can only enter numbers. So, if you sell something measured in pounds, and another in ounces, there is no differentiation. Then again, I do not even see where the weight is shown ever again on a report (like, e.g., shipping weight totals - where you may charge based on how heavy your packaging is). You can add fields to various forms, but it seems they can only be of TEXT type, even though the instructions say you can choose what type of field they are (yeah, one choice). You can then add your custom field to the normal view, but even that is a pain - no simple drag-drop to position the fields... it's buttons labeled "move up, move down", etc... and many clicks later, you may get the layout you want. Sad.

Continuing with how lame the layout is... finding invoices after I created them was almost impossible. The ONLY place you can get to them (from what I can tell) is to go to the "customers overview" page (with visual buttons in groups called "start a task", "more tasks", and "find")... only with a button in that Find group can you get to Invoices. Not from the upper menu-bar as I would expect. Once again, WTF is someone thinking? This layout is horrible. IF I can get to something via this graphical/flufff screens, I damn well should be able to get to the same functionality through the menu-bar and/or hot-keys. And, this is for an application where a good quarter of the menu items seem to be nothing more than links to external applications (you guess it: things like Word, Excel, Outlook, Word Templates, etc).

Speaking of invoices, though you can modify what shows on the invoice, you can not add your custom fields created for the items you are selling; thus, adding weights to the invoice is impossible from what I can tell.

Well, at least they priced it at the point of equilibrium with its true worth: nothing / free. OK, perhaps that is a bit harsh... for free it can help quite a few people setup accounting in a hurry. But, I have to believe there are some nearly-free accounting applications out there that make this one look bad. Some of the reports are nice, but once again, for more reports, you are pushed to "upgrade to view more reports". I guess I should have expected no different.

And, what is with this need to call every product XYZ-next-years-date-here? It's 2006 Microsoft! It seems everyone thinks that somehow the promise of getting an apparent "future" year's product early is a compelling reason to purchase. (sidenote: this applies to software big time, as well as automobiles, and much more!) And, I am also sure it is done so the product in question does not appear outdated as soon (for anyone unfamiliar with the real release date). This is just ridiculous marketing crap.

Bottom Line: "FREE" software doesn't mean good software, and it certainly does not mean the software is a good solution for your business. Check it out if you are OK with all the Microsoft-dependencies, or if you just do not want to spend money on your business accounting systems. There IS some "value" in here depending how you want to use the app -- just not the value I am looking for in such an app. I am going to check out some other alternatives, perhaps even writing my own if it makes sense for my needs.


Kirby said...

I use QuickBooks Premier. It has everything I need for my small business. Of course it is not free software.

I have heard some good things about TurboCash (, an Open Source Software project written in Delphi. I've never used it but it might be worth a look if you are looking for a free solution.

Narender said...

I know....You only need to enter data once so you can save time managing everyday financial tasks. All of your customer and financial information is stored in one place so that you have a complete view of your business. But I am certainly worrying about the compatibility issues it has with the major one as Microsoft Dynamics GP You also have the tools you need to sell online through eBay and get paid faster.