| oday’s technology buyers face a unique
challenge. Just a few years ago buyer beware
was the universal watchword for CPAs buying
computer equipment. Hardware reliability was so
questionable that many cost- and quality-conscious
accountants required computer retailers to
bench-test hardware to be sure it was sound before
they shipped it. Today’s products are generally of
such high quality that such testing no longer is
necessary. Even bargain-basement hardware suffers
relatively infrequent failures. |
has improved, too. Today, computers are faster,
more accessible (because of the Internet and
wireless technology) and, especially when measured
by what they can do, are far cheaper than
yesterday’s models. So what’s the challenge?
Computer and software technology
is advancing at a record pace, but rather than
becoming easier to use, today’s products generally
are more complicated. Many CPAs lack the time
and/or the patience to learn the skills needed to
take full advantage of these advances. Even worse,
the technology continues to move forward, getting
more complicated and thus widening the gap between
potential and actual use.
interpret this challenge as an excuse not to
explore the new technology or to fail to seek new
ways to use what you have. If you fail to commit
yourself to stay ahead of the game, you
undoubtedly will slip into obsolescence, which is
what happened to many CPAs when they failed to get
aboard the fast-moving computer bandwagon of the
1980s. Admittedly, it takes courage to give up
what works well now and explore new technology.
But consider the alternative: being left behind
while your competitors advance.
you focus on recent technology that is especially
useful to you now, this article will skip the
gee-whiz hardware and software—the so-called
bleeding-edge technology—and focus on products
that will keep you efficient and effective today
and in the immediate future.
Manufacturers’ list prices often are heavily
discounted; for the most current price, check
vendors’ Web sites. In some cases I list the
“street” price, which I obtained by doing a Google
www.google.com ) for the product.
warnings of potential disaster, many accountants
still fail to regularly back up their critical
data. And by “regularly” I don’t mean once a month
or once a week. I mean every day—and sometimes
even several times a day if the data are
especially critical and irreplaceable. The excuses
for failing to back up data usually include: “It’s
too time-consuming,” “It’s difficult,” and the
lamest of all, “I forgot.”
first two reasons—time and difficulty—are valid,
but they’re not excusable. When you’ve lost
critical data for lack of a backup, no excuse will
satisfy a client, a boss or, upon reflection, even
Most of the backup programs I’ve
looked at tend to be complicated, slow and often
lack reminders to get you to overcome your
procrastination and initiate the backup. Many also
suffer from an even more critical shortcoming: If
they use compression technology (to squeeze the
backed-up data into a more easily storable size),
typically the compression method is proprietary.
That means the only way you can retrieve your data
is to run the program’s unique retrieval
application—sort of running the backup in reverse.
However, if the backup program fails, your data
are not accessible, which means either you’re out
of luck or terribly inconvenienced until you can
get the program running again. Such a problem
probably happens rarely, but it has to occur only
once to mess up your day.
www.zipbackup.com ) is a little program that
aces those shortcomings. It compacts the files you
want to store into the most common, and proven,
compression format—compatible with WinZip and
PkZip. Both can be added to run natively within
Windows; so that eliminates the problem of
proprietary compression software.
you can program ZipBackup to back up files onto
multiple removable media (such as CDs, DVDs,
floppy disks and Zip disks) and you even can split
the files for storage on multiple low-capacity
removable media. ZipBackup can back up or restore
over a network, handling up to 18 million
terabytes of data and 4 billion files. A wizard
walks you through a few easy steps to initiate a
custom backup automatically to fit your schedule.
It can perform either incremental, differential or
complete backups and can tag files with date and
time for easy management.
price is $39.95, but it’s heavily discounted.
Last year (see
Hot Stuff: What You Need and What You Don’t,
” JofA , Apr.03, page 28) I wrote
about flash mass storage devices—more commonly
called memory sticks—which are about the size of a
cigarette lighter and can hold many megabytes of
data. They are so portable some people stuff them
in pockets and purses; some “fashion-conscious”
accountants wear decorative memory sticks on
colorful lanyards. To access its stored data or to
add data to it, simply plug the device into a
computer’s USB (universal serial bus) port and
instantly you’re in business.
sticks had limited storage capacity and were
pricey, but now, not only have prices fallen but
available capacity on some has grown to 1 gigabyte
One product, Migo (
http://forwardsolutions.info ), has added a
handy little extra: special software that
synchronizes its stored data with the data on the
computer it’s plugged into. CPAs can load homework
on their memory stick, and when they return to the
office the next day, Migo will synchronize the
revised data with the office machine’s data.
Street prices run from about $105 for a 128-Mb
model to $144 for 256-Mb device.
memory stick product, StealthSurfer (
www.stealthsurfer.biz ), comes preloaded
with its own customized Netscape Web browser. With
this feature users can plug into any
Internet-connected computer and surf the Net and
access their Internet e-mail inboxes in total
privacy. When they unplug StealthSurfer, they
leave no record (cookies or cached files) of
either their surfing or their mail on that
computer. All this information remains stored on
the device, not on the computer’s hard drive. It
also can be password-protected.
128-Mb model sells for $99.95 and a 512-Mb unit
sells for $298.95.
Personal data assistant
you’ve been resisting investing $500 or more for
one of those pocket-size personal digital
assistants (PDAs) because you really need one only
for an address book, calendar and occasional
memos, it’s time to rethink your resistance. Palm
has introduced a PDA—the Zire 21 ( www.palm.com ),
at a fraction of that cost—$99. It weighs just a
few ounces, is only a half-inch thick,
synchronizes with Outlook’s Contacts and Calendar
and contains some easy-to-use memo applications
(one even lets you draw diagrams or scribble notes
on the screen). For an additional cost, you can
add software that also will synchronize files in
the rest of the Microsoft Office Suite: Word,
Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook e-mail. Bonus: One
charge of the rechargeable battery lasts for
A picture may
be worth a thousand words, but an image of a chart
or a section of a spreadsheet copied from your
computer screen and inserted into a document can
add instant pizzazz and clarity to a report. Sure,
you can use your computer’s Print Screen
, but that function is limited, providing
few editing possibilities. SnagIt 7.0 (
www.techsmith.com ) is software that can
grab any graphic (rectangular and nonrectangular)
off your screen; it can crop and edit the image,
too. SnagIt also can record video snapshots or a
running video. Price: $39.95.
does this happen? It’s evening and you’re at a
client’s office or at home and you suddenly
realize you need a file that’s on your office
computer, but your office staff has gone home.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could call your
computer and command it to send you the file?
With PCAnywhere (
www.symantec.com ) you can do that from any
remote computer with a modem. Once connected to
your office computer, you can operate it remotely
just as if you were actually sitting in front of
it—browse the hard drives and add, erase or
transfer files. You even can encrypt the
transmission. Price: You can download the product
Security has become a major
issue—and that’s especially true for CPAs who are
obligated to protect their clients’ financial data
from the prying eyes of hackers. Like it or not,
your Internet-connected computer is a window
through which a hacker can access data. The only
thing that guards this window is a class of
programs called firewalls—software that stops all
but invited guests.
ZoneAlarm Pro (
www.zonelabs.com ) is such a firewall. It’s
as effective as many others on the market, but
what makes it outstanding is its ease of setup.
Many firewalls take advanced skills to get them up
and running. ZoneAlarm walks you quickly and
easily through the setup.
software is installed, it takes a week or so for
the program to learn (from you) who can have
access to your computer (pop-up screens ask
permission for each new attempt to access your
computer). Once it learns the sanctioned sources,
the program unobtrusively guards your computer
from the uninvited. The company also makes a
lightweight free version available for download.
The full-featured Pro version costs $49.95.
phone calls via the Internet (the technical term
for Internet telephony is voice over Internet
protocol, or VoIP) still is a little quirky, with
echoes and slightly muffled voices, but it’s
becoming a practical utility. Its main advantage:
It’s dirt cheap with rates anywhere as low as 1.7
cents a minute. Instead of using an inexpensive
(and low-quality) computer microphone, you now can
buy a phone specifically designed for use with
VoIP: the Clarisys i750 (
The phone can
operate with a desktop or be taken on the road
with a laptop. After installing the software
(handled by a wizard), all the user has to do is
plug the phone cord into an available USB port and
the phone is ready for use. Price: $89.99.
Although you can crowd a group of
your clients or colleagues around your laptop to
view your PowerPoint presentation, it’s much
better to have them sit around an ample conference
room table and watch the show on a wall-size
screen. But for that you’ll have to tote a
projector—in addition to your laptop—to the
conference room. So-called portable projectors
used to weigh 10 to 12 pounds. Today, you can get
a projector that weighs barely 2 pounds.
Although the InFocus LP120 ( www.infocus.com
) weighs only 1.98 pounds, it’s no lightweight
when it comes to displaying a clear, bright image
even in a well-lighted room. It has all the bells
and whistles of the 10-pound products (sound,
remote controls, an effect button for blanking and
digital zooming). Price: $2,399.
InFocus price is beyond your budget, consider the
BenQ BP2120 (
www.benq.com ). It costs $999 and weighs in
at 3.8 pounds.
If you must make
presentations in a small room or if you prefer to
sit close to the screen and next to your computer,
consider NEC’s WT600 DLP projector ( www.necus.com
). You can position the projector, which
weighs 13 pounds, as close as 2.4 inches to the
screen and still produce an image with a 40-inch
diagonal. Move the projector back to 26 inches
from the screen and the image can be as large as
100 inches on the diagonal. That flexibility
relies on a complex set of mirrors inside the
unit. There is a trade-off for those
accommodations: The projector costs $6,995.
Flexible battery charger
You’ve just landed after a long
flight. You reach for your cell phone and discover
its battery is dead. Even worse, you forgot to
bring the charger. Worry not: You pull out your
APC USB Mobile Phone Charger ( www.apc.com ),
plug it into your laptop’s USB port and in no time
it’s fully charged. Price: Between $14 and $20,
depending on model.
on printers. Because the documents you print are
in-your-face advertisements delivered regularly to
your clients, they display your professionalism by
demonstrating your concern for quality. In effect,
they are your calling cards, and you want them to
In addition, think color. After
all, how long has it been since your television
was black and white? Color adds focus and interest
to any financial report.
If you’re going
to buy a color printer, avoid ink-jet models
unless you plan to do minimal printing. While
ink-jet printers are cheaper than laser printers
and can produce excellent copies, the cost of the
frequently replaced ink cartridges very quickly
exceeds the cost of the printer itself. Nearly the
same economics apply to monochrome ink-jet
printers. It’s estimated that, considering the
cost of the cartridges, a printed monochrome sheet
costs nearly 5 cents compared with a fraction of a
penny from a laser printer.
Bottom line: In general, the best buys
are laser printers—whether color or monochrome.
And since their prices have plummeted in recent
years, they are an even better buy now.
One of the least expensive monochrome laser
printers (it’s heavily discounted and costs less
than $200) is the Brother HL1440 ( www.brother.com
). It prints 15 pages per minute (ppm).
A top-quality color laser printer is the Xerox
Phaser 6250 (
www.xerox.com ). It’s rated at 26 ppm for
both monochrome and color and is priced at $2,299.
If you need an exhibition-quality printer to
handle wide paper for large spreadsheets and
presentations—up to 17 inches—consider the Epson
Stylus Pro 4000 (
www.epson.com ), which costs $1,795.
And finally, for the very small office, where
cost, space and functionality are major
considerations, the Canon MultiPass MP730 (
www.usa.canon.com ) provides color printing
(albeit ink-jet) and fax with an automatic
document feeder and scanning. Price: $299.
Visioneer Strobe XP 450 PDF (
www.visioneer.com ) is ideal for those small
organizations seeking to take an initial step
toward a paperless office. The scanner, with a
footprint of 5 inches by 12 inches, fits neatly on
a desk and converts documents into PDF files at 20
ppm. Price: $699.99.
You’re at your
computer and you need to scan a color photo or a
newspaper article. No need to locate the office
flat-bed scanner. Right between your keyboard and
your monitor is the Visioneer Strobe XP 200. It’s
about the length of a roll of paper towels and
half the thickness. Just slip the paper to be
scanned into its front slot and it will turn
itself on and scan an instant copy. Price:
CPA on the move, a laptop computer is a must. The
ideal machine is lightweight, powerful and has
long-lasting battery power. First, accept the fact
that no one laptop is superior in all three
categories. Compromise is the name of the game.
Here are some choices—with pluses and minuses.
The Toshiba Portg R100 (
www.shoptoshiba.com ) weighs in at 2.4
pounds, has a full-size keyboard, a 12.1-inch
display and a 40-Gb hard drive. But its battery
life is limited to no more than 2 hours and 20
minutes. It comes with all the typical bells and
whistles, including internal wireless Ethernet.
Price: about $1,999.
IBM’s ThinkPadX31 ( www.ibm.com ) is
a step up in power—and weight. Weighing in at 3.6
pounds (yet only 1.2 inches thick), it sports a
full-size keyboard, a 1.2-GHz Pentium M processor,
a 40-Gb hard drive, a CD-RW/DVD-ROM, a Gigabit
Ethernet adapter, Bluetooth and hardware for
wireless. Battery life: nearly five hours. Price:
If you’re not always gentle
with your laptop, consider one of IBM’s ThinkPad T
series machines. Each contains an electronic
system that protects the hard drive if the
computer is dropped or harshly jostled. The system
is based on the technology used to deploy
automobile airbags. A microchip detects physical
acceleration and in response temporarily parks the
hard drive’s head until stability returns. The
technology is still a bit crude—it pops an alert
each time the computer is nudged. However, it does
not seem to interrupt the user’s work. Price
Hot new technology continues to
flood the market. Some of it will make its way
into the mainstream, affecting the way you work.
Other products will fall by the wayside either
because they’re too complicated, too expensive or
fail to make our work more effective. Don’t feel
you have to buy every new product that comes
along. But don’t fail to keep abreast by checking
the literature and watching for updates for the
hardware and software you use.
ZAROWIN is a freelance writer in Zionsville,
Indiana. Mr. Zarowin retired from the JofA
in 2003. His e-mail address is