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Technology

EditGrid betas Excel plugin

From a reader comes news that EditGrid has launched a private beta for an Excel plugin for offline work on spreadsheets. Pretty cool, as Mashable explains:

As there are several levels of integration, the whole of the integration is rather seamless — it takes no time to load sheets from EditGrid to Excel, and you can work offline if need be and update at a later time.

EditGrid made the announcement on their official blog:

When people think of compatibility across spreadsheet applications, people tend to think of fidelity — whether the spreadsheet file exported from one application can be imported into another application without loss of quality or detail. While EditGrid has been doing pretty well in this arena, we are not satisfied with this — exporting spreadsheet data from EditGrid into a file means that the data have become “offline”. It means that the user loses something — the ability to get real-time updated data and collaborate with each other online — that the user is entitled to on EditGrid.

It’s a huge step on the way to mainstream usage in industry. I didn’t see this coming, but now that I’m aware of it, it seems like such an obvious extension to the previously strictly online app.

Sign up for the private beta and give the future of spreadsheets a whirl.

Categories
Web

EditGrid User Survey response

EditGrid, the online spreadsheet app that mimics Excel in format and functionality, sent me a survey a week ago through email. The survey sought my thoughts on the following questions:

  1. Use Cases: What are you using EditGrid for?
  2. Features: What new features do you desire the most?
  3. Usability: How can we present our features better to you and help you work more efficiently? We welcome your suggestions, from small refinements to major improvements.

I wanted to keep my answers concise, since I figured they were going to get a lot of responses. I wrote back:

  1. I’m testing out EditGrid with personal spreadsheets and blogging about it (neilmcintyre.ca)
  2. Just make it more responsive and more like Excel
  3. Present the features as in Excel – I guess this entails copying their new format (Office 2007)

Responsiveness would be at the top of the list, as I found it to be lagging a bit compared to Google Spreadsheets. Some specific features I use in Excel (reflexively) are still missing and I do miss them when I notice, but it’s the lag that kills the experience.

Reading over my response now, a few days later, I’m wondering whether point #3 is really all that helpful. Office 2007 doesn’t have that ubiquity just yet that 2003 enjoys, and the difference in interface is shocking. Copying the ribbon at this point may not be the best plan.

That being said, they’re on the right track.

Sending out a survey to existing customers is a great way to solicit feedback. Smart, proactive accounting firms are probably already doing this with their client base, and using the comments and suggestions to adjust their service offerings accordingly.

Categories
Web

FreeAgent simplifies small business accounting like no other

Dennis Howlett recently announced a new accounting web app called FreeAgent, which looks pretty cool and seems to be approaching an age-old problem in a new way:

All the well known products and services are geared towards people who already understand the fundamentals of book-keeping. Sage, Intuit and others will argue they’ve simplified the user interface and that much of the grind of double entry has been removed. I agree. But the basic design problem remains.

From the FreeAgent Central website:

FreeAgent is an online money management tool intended for small, UK-based service businesses of 1-3 employees. This will include most kinds of freelancers, contractors and consultants. … FreeAgent will probably not be for you if you tend to sell lots of products rather than services, hold materials and stock, or handle cash as part of your business.

Sounds promising. I took the tour to learn more, and a few things stood out. First, the software allows users to upload their bank data file, provide explanations for their transactions and the software will ‘learn’ for the next time what certain transactions are. That’s pretty slick. I love software that learns me, and no doubt so will business owners, since it will allow them to focus on growing their business.

Second was the focus on taxes. For now, the service is focusing on the UK market, but plans are afoot to expand into other markets. Tax is going to be the most difficult part of this transition. FreeAgent will help business owners self assess their income tax and VAT, as well as other corporate taxes if they’re operating as a limited company. This is a key addition of value for small business owners, as it will allow them to decrease their compliance costs.

The service is still in Beta at the moment, and accounts are available for free for the time being. They are going through some hiccups however, as I was unable to log in once I’d created my Beta account, and initially it gave me a 500 error when I signed up. But that’s what Beta is for – working out the kinks.

I’ll have a full review once I get set up and check out all the features firsthand, including screen shots. I also hope to help wherever I can with their Canadian translation!

Categories
Technology

IT departments are not leading innovation in firms

An article in The Economist’s December 23, 2006 holiday double issue caught my attention. It reported on how Arizona State University was converting their email system over to use Google’s free hosted service, under the “Google Apps for your Domain” offering that I blogged about back in August last year. I’m still using the service for my @neilmcintyre.ca email and it works great.

Unlike the university’s old system, which stores emails [sic] on its own server computers, the new accounts reside on Gmail, Google’s free web-based service. [The IT department at ASU] is not forcing anybody to change but has found that the students, many of whom were already using Gmail for their private email, have been voluntarily migrating to the new service at a rate of 300 per hour.

Unfortunately since The Economist protects its online content and I’m not a subscriber, I don’t have access to the online version of the story and cannot link to it in its entirety. Shame.

[The new head of IT at ASU] is ahead of his time because most IT bosses tend to be skeptical of consumer technologies and often ban them outright. Employees, in turn, tend to ignore their IT departments.

That passage really resonated with me. I think accounting firms have the most extreme cases of this happening since so many employees of firms are young like me and have used these technologies since early high school. I know more of my peers at work with banned software on their computers than I know without.

But as long as IT departments are so out of touch with their own area of expertise, it will continue. Just last week our IT department sent out an email with this gem: “Windows XP is extremely stable…”

I can’t figure out whether they were trying to put on a strong face about our critical IT infrastructure, or whether they actually believed the fiction that Microsoft products resemble anything close to stable.

There are myriad free tools available to improve productivity in corporations. Accounting firms should lead the charge given that auditors are most often out of the office at client sites where IT resources are varied and usually inadequate for our needs.

Tools like Basecamp for organizing and collaborating with audit team members, IM using Google Talk or MSN, and web-based email such as Gmail which integrates smart calendaring and the aforementioned IM, would lead to massive productivity gains. Security is the only issue at this point, but with the right approach to mitigating the risks, it can be done, and it can be done now, rather than years from now.

Categories
Web

Hosting my neilmcintyre.ca email with Google

A little while back I realized that it might be worthwhile to direct all my blog-related email through an @neilmcintyre.ca address, and leave my regular Gmail for personal correspondence.

I set up neil@neilmcintyre.ca and began using it for blog business. But I’ve never liked using standalone email clients like Thunderbird or Outlook. I prefer web-based email, specifically Gmail.

Luckily, Google had recently busted out yet another new service: Hosted email. For those with domains, Google would host your mail for free once accepted into the beta program.

I applied for the program and only a few days later was provided with the required invite code to sign up. I’m using the Gmail Manager extension in Firefox to keep track of my regular Gmail account and my neil@neilmcintyre.ca account.

Here is what the customized login screen looks like:

email hosted by Google GmailSince the readers of this blog are hip and “with it”, I don’t even need to extol the virtues of Gmail over the traditional mail organization systems found in Outlook et al. Suffice it to say, I’m loving Google’s hosted email service!