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Technology

Preview Microsoft Office 2007 in the browser

As long as your browser is Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher, you can take the latest edition of Microsoft Office for a test drive without having to install a thing. Experience the bliss of the ribbon, the new UI metaphor that has already won my heart over. I loathe still having to do my work in Office 2003, which we still use at the firm. I can’t wait till we upgrade, but you don’t have to — test it now!

Categories
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.

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Web

Spreadsheets: My thoughts on EditGrid

I recently tried out EditGrid, in response to a post by Dennis on recent enhancements. I had already been using Google Spreadsheets a little bit, but not too much, because, quite frankly, it just wasn’t all that intuitive. I consider myself a fairly advanced Excel user, and Google Spreadsheets just didn’t have the same level of ease of use.

EditGrid screenI blogged about Google’s spreadsheets app before, but never from a personal point of view. I barely used the thing. I had a few random sheets up which I’d authored in Excel, but never really did much editing of them.

(Google Gears may allow one to use the application offline in the future. I think we may see more business usage when this happens. Currently Google Gears is offered for Reader only.)

So, I was open to other options. I’d already decided that I was going to move all my personal documents online, since I didn’t have anything all that confidential personally to protect. My financial data isn’t stored in Excel and if it was, I might be hesitant to upload those files.

I work with Excel so much for work, I thought it would be hard for a web app to make a positive impression on me by comparison. But right away EditGrid presented me with an interface that looks and works reassuringly similar to Excel. The top menu even has those familiar options: File, Edit, View, Format, Insert and Data!

EditGrid looks so much like Excel it is really easy for someone familiar with Microsoft’s spreadsheet software to jump right in and be productive right away, which is something I couldn’t say about Google Spreadsheets. Google succeeds in simplifying every piece of software it releases, but I actually think EditGrid’s strategy works better for what is still a pretty geeky type of software.

And it can’t hurt having some information not firmly in the clutches of Google.

Right now I think EditGrid is a more complete spreadsheet app compared to Google’s, but both still trail Excel in features and ease of use. I’m hoping they can close the gap sooner rather than later.

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Technology

BDO Seidman using SugarCRM to manage office network

Kind of old news (it’s from January last year) but BDO Seidman has implemented commercial open source software to manage their nationwide network of member firms. Open source software is software whose underlying source code is openly available and is usually licensed under the GNU GPL.

What I like about open source is that the software is generally more stable and lightweight than closed-source software. This is due to the open nature of the code, which allows anyone to submit bug fixes or more efficient code.

Firefox, for example, is much more stable and reliable than Internet Explorer, and allows the user much greater control of the browsing experience. So it comes as no surprise that BDO Seidman chose SugarCRM for its adaptability to their specific needs.

[BDO] had never dealt with SugarCRM before, but she said that the lead project manager for the migration project was familiar with open source software. Helping matters was the fact that BDO Seidman’s IT team was very open to the SugarCRM application and regularly volunteered time and effort to work closely with the vendor’s own team when it came time to integrate the product into the environment.

This is where open source can be used more effectively within organizations with specific needs. Getting people from both the customer and supplier to work together to make sure the software fits the organization like a glove.

I wonder whether they would have considered open source if the lead project manager wasn’t already familiar with it. There is still a lot of FUD out there when it comes to open source, so it will take someone like the project manager did at BDO to take the reins and get everyone on board.

As well, BDO looked at other options before deciding to use open source. They even considered going with Microsoft CRM (now Dynamics CRM), but in the end chose something a little sweeter.

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!