In the nearly three decades that
CPAs have embraced the computer—replacing their
yellow columnar pads, pencils and typewriters—they
have become more effective and sophisticated at
controlling and analyzing corporate finances. But
rather than simplifying their work, the
intrinsically complicated computer often has made
it more challenging. This article’s goal is to
focus on the latest technology that enhances CPAs’
ability to do their professional tasks without
adding more complexity.
Power to the core. If
you’re in the market for a new computer, pass on
any product (no matter how inexpensive) that
doesn’t have a dual-core processor—and that
How important is the
processor? It’s the brains of a computer; it does
the calculations, controls access to all data and
directs the new and edited data to be stored on
the hard drive. The dual-core design, as the name
implies, contains two processors, linked in one
package and able to communicate with each other.
Thus they can operate in true multitasking mode at
speeds exceeding single-core processors. And
because they run at lower power levels, batteries
last longer and computers run cooler and more
If you’re not planning to buy
a new computer, consider replacing your old
processor with this new design. Check with the
model manufacturer or a computer repair shop to
see whether you can switch your old processor for
the new design.
Smart patch practice. Like
it or not, Microsoft probably will continue
marching in the patch parade—issuing those
frequent updates to fix big and small bugs in an
effort to protect Windows against hacking
vulnerabilities. Although most patches are
necessary, they’re not without occasional problems
that can disable an application or make your
computer act cockeyed. As a result, some users,
distrustful of the patches, disable Windows’
Automatic Update, a feature
that alerts you when Microsoft sends a patch via
the Internet. That’s a mistake. A better course of
action is to make an adjustment in the
Automatic Update tool that
allows your computer to automatically download the
update, but gives you control of whether to
actually install it.
To activate that
command, click on Start ,
Control Panel , and if you
don’t see System , click
Automatic Updates . If you do
see System, click it first and then Automatic
Updates (see screenshot below). Select
Download updates for me, but let me
choose when to install them .
Then, when Microsoft sends
you a message, via the Internet, to install the
patch, select Custom Install (Advanced)
. That will evoke a brief description of
the patch plus its Microsoft Knowledge Base
number, which you can then access at Microsoft’s
Windows Update Web site (www.microsoft.com)
to see whether there are any installation
problems. If you decide to proceed, you must take
one more step: Go back to Start ,
Control Panel , System
, and then click on Automatic
Updates and create a restore point,
which lets you revert to an earlier healthy
configuration just before you launched the patch.
To remove a troublesome patch while you’re
in the Control Panel , go to
Add or Remove Programs . Before
removing the patch, be sure to place a check at
the Show Updates box.
While all this is a drag,
it’s a worthwhile safety step.
Ink-jet vs. laser printers.
Cost-conscious CPAs often opt for
lower-price ink-jet printers over more costly
But while the initial price
of ink-jets is cheaper, their lifetime cost far
exceeds that of lasers because their expensive ink
cartridges need to be replaced more frequently.
Also important: Lasers print much faster.
However, if your rationale for choosing
ink-jets is brilliant color, you’ve got a point.
Their color reproductions are better than color
lasers, though the quality gap has gotten much
narrower. Also, laser prices have been dropping;
they start as low as $300 now. So before making a
decision, take a trial run with a color laser and
see whether it meets your needs. Still, if color
is only an occasional need, and you plan to print
very few pages, a less-than-$100 ink-jet printer
makes economic sense.
Kinder keyboards. If
excessive keyboarding is giving you hand or arm
pain, look into ergonomic keyboards. If you’re
already experiencing pain, they are effective for
relief; they also are effective in avoiding the
problem. If you’ve been resisting getting a
“split” keyboard because it’s hard to get used to,
consider a slightly curved keyboard, such as the
Microsoft Comfort Curve Keyboard 2000. It’s easier
to use and provides relief.
E-mail extra. No matter
how much you love your e-mail service, consider
adding Google’s Gmail. The price is right—it’s
free. You can access Gmail from any Internet
connection. It provides 2,770 gigabytes of free
I use Gmail in two ways: I
send myself files I want to back up or be able to
access from any computer when I’m traveling. As if
that’s not enough, Gmail contains an ever-growing
selection of nifty features, from an automatic
notifier that you received an e-mail to filters
and a chat service.
Cool it. Computers don’t
like it hot. The warmer they get, the slower they
run and the faster they break down. That’s why all
computers contain little fans designed to
circulate the air around the hot electronic
components. Over time, as the fans wear out, they
get noisier and slower. If your computer is
several years old or if the fan sounds like more
than a soft hum, consider replacing the fan.
Prices start around $10—a small investment for
a big benefit. The replacement is a do-it-yourself
job requiring a small screwdriver. Check with a
computer shop for the right design to fit your
And while you’re at it, take a
peek inside the computer. You’d be surprised how
much dust accumulates, thwarting cooler air
circulation. Invest in a portable, handheld vacuum
cleaner with a long, narrow attachment that can
clean both your keyboard and the innards of your
computer. You can buy one at any office supply or
computer shop for about $10.
Shopping guide for multifunction
printers. One of the neatest
products for any office is an AIO—an all-in-one
printer, copier, scanner and fax machine. They’re
cheap (prices start around $100) and while they’re
not designed for very high-volume operation, they
can serve a small office excellently. Here’s what
you should know if you’re in the market for one:
Printing. If you anticipate
using it sparingly, then a color ink-jet is the
way to go. That way, even though per-sheet
printing is much higher than that of a laser
model, you get the extra advantage of color. If
higher volume is expected, stick to lasers, which
are not only cheaper to operate but print faster
Scanning. Make sure that,
in addition to copying and faxing, the unit can
scan to your PC.
Works alone. You don’t
want an AIO that needs your PC to make copies; you
want one that works alone—just like a fax machine.
PC fax. You want to be
able to fax from your PC. Otherwise you will have
to print a document and then fax it—a time-waster.
E-mails. The AIO should be
able to scan a document, create an e-mail and then
attach the document for sending.
Printing plus. The Brother
MFC-8860DN is the perfect AIO tool for a small
office that is satisfied with only monochrome
(black) printing. It’s a laser that not only
prints fast but also on both sides of a page in
one sweep (duplex). It also can copy, fax both
sides of a page over a network and scan a document
to your PC or to e-mail. And if that’s not enough,
it has a 50-page automatic document feeder.
Go for color. If you want
a fast color printer, consider the Dell 3100cn. It
spews out text at more than 19 pages a minute and
color graphics at 6 pages a minute. Also handy are
its two paper trays (the second one for
letterheads). It’s network capable.
Digital pack rats are delighted
because hard drives are getting faster, smaller
and less expensive while their capacity to store
data is growing. The technology behind these
improvements is called perpendicular magnetic
recording (PMR)—a revolutionary way to orient the
data-bearing magnetized particles on the surface
of the hard disk.
Two memory products with
PMR are worth considering: an external drive
(linked to a computer by a USB cable) and a
conventional internal device to supplement or
replace your current hard disk.
tech-savvy CPAs have discovered that portable hard
drives are the way to go when they are on the go.
Use them to supplement limited storage space
computers and for fast, easy-to-perform backups.
The Seagate ST9160821U2-RK, a 160-gigabyte hard
drive, packs all those data in a pocketbook-size
case that weighs just three-quarters of a pound.
The Seagate Barracuda 7200.10, designed to
replace internal hard drives, uses PMR technology
to store up to 750 gigabytes at impressively fast
speeds. Its high-capacity storage comes at an
economical price ($349)—almost half the
per-gigabyte cost of conventional drives.
Mouse on the go. Over the
years the ubiquitous mouse has morphed from a
clumsy, wired clamshell-shaped device to a
streamlined wireless component that effortlessly
glides you through the most complex computer
functions. But despite its superior technological
evolution, even the best mouse is quite useless
when it’s on your desk back in the office and
you’re just about to make a PowerPoint
presentation in Indianapolis. So you sidle up to
your laptop and slip out of its PCMCIA slot the
MoGo Mouse, a wireless mouse (right) no thicker
than a few business cards that stores (and
recharges) in the laptop (so it’s always handy)
and is optical (so it slides smoothly and never
experiences tracking problems). When it’s in use,
a concealed “kickstand” elevates the mouse for a
natural position under the hand. Price: $69.95.
Bright, light and skinny.
Every ounce and inch counts when you
have to pack your electronic gear to make an
out-of-town business presentation. Casio’s XJ-S35
projector (left) weighs just 3.9 pounds and
measures 1.7 inches thick by 10.6 inches wide and
7.8 inches long, which means you can tuck it
neatly alongside your computer carrying case. At
$1,699 it contains all the bells and whistles
you’re likely to need. It handles PowerPoint
slides, digital photos and DVD movies, comes with
a USB input for PC-less presentations and an
optional adapter is available for making
completely wireless presentations.
economy is a more important consideration,
consider the Dell 2400M (above), which sells for
about $1,099. Be aware that although its image
projecting is excellent, its sound effects are
limited by low-wattage speakers.
Scanners for all occasions.
Every office needs a scanner—to make
copies of paper documents and to transform text
and graphics on paper into electronic format for
easy filing and storage.
Scanners fall into
two basic categories: the desktop and the
portable. One versatile desktop model is the HP
Scanjet 7800 (right). It does duplex copying on
one pass and is bundled with a variety of powerful
optical-character reading (OCR) and
document-management software. It even has software
that digitally improves hard-to-scan originals,
such as documents marked with highlighters.
A portable scanner is a must for CPAs who
travel, and the Plustek OpticSlim M12 Corporate
(above left) is a good choice. Although it lacks
amenities such as an automatic document feeder
(you feed it manually and print the other side by
turning the document over) and it’s not very
speedy, it is lightweight (a mite over half a
pound) and gets its electric power via a USB plug
to your laptop.
Virus swatter. When it
comes to viruses, worms, assorted spyware and all
those other unfriendly bugs that try to invade our
computers, you must have guaranteed first-rate
protection. Although not widely known, one
powerful antivirus product is Kaspersky Anti-Virus
It provides effective protection with relatively
little intrusion on your computer’s speed.
QuickBooks vs. Peachtree.
At any CPA gathering you’re sure to
hear a clutch of accountants debating which
small-business accounting program is
better—QuickBooks or Peachtree. If you listen
carefully, you’re likely to discover the judgments
are more pronouncements of personal taste, not the
intrinsic value of the software. One CPA likes one
unique function of QuickBooks, while another likes
a different unique function of Peachtree.
The bottom line: It’s not wise to fully
rely on the judgment of others, no matter how
knowledgeable they are. The only way to make a
valid decision on which product is best for you or
your small-business clients is to invest the time
to test each one, running the kind of data you
expect to use if you acquire the product.
The older a computer, the more
likely it has loads of junk on its hard drive—old
temporary files, abandoned software applications,
unused applications cluttering up the startup
menu, broken shortcuts and bits and pieces of
files scattered helter-skelter across the hard
disk. The net result of all that junk: Your
once-snappy computer slows to a crawl—start-ups
take forever, file openings advance at a crawl and
the machine even struggles to prepare itself for a
shutdown when you turn it off.
high-tech people periodically back up their data
and completely reformat their hard disk, wiping
off everything and returning it to its virgin
state. Then they reinstall the operating system
and all the applications and data. Although
starting from scratch is very effective, it’s not
always practical. The alternative solution is to
periodically run software utilities, of which
there are more than a dozen on the market, that
are designed to clean up and fine-tune computers.
One product to consider is Iolo Technologies’
System Mechanic 6. (www.iolo.com).
What makes System Mechanic useful is that it
performs not only a wide range of repairs and
cleanups, but it also kills spyware and
accelerates start-ups, shutdowns and Internet
connections. It continuously monitors your
computer and alerts you to problems with blinking
icons in the toolbar. It even automatically
updates itself with new spyware software (as often
as daily) and adds improvements in the System
Mechanic engine itself.
CELL PHONE TIPS
Cell phone smarts. Having
trouble reading your phone’s fine print? The Phone
slips over the face of the phone and enlarges the
Get information. If you’re
traveling and resent paying $1.25 for the 411
operator to locate an out-of-town phone number,
consider these options:
800-FREE-411, a toll-free information service. The
only cost is the time spent listening to a
• If your phone
can browse the Web, go to www.go2.com. In
addition to locating phone numbers for free, it
provides driving directions.
As you can see, there are
many opportunities to make your computer not just
a more potent tool, but one that is easier to
operate. Connect it with the right supplemental
equipment, like printers and scanners, and invest
in utility tools that keep it clean, safe and
fine-tuned, and you’ll find your work goes easier
Stanley Zarowin is a
contributing editor of the Journal of
Accountancy. His views as expressed in this
article do not necessarily reflect the views of
the AICPA or the Journal of Accountancy
. The JofA does not endorse or
recommend any products. Mr. Zarowin can be