Opening Windows for CPAs: here's how the multitasking software makes computers more productive.
Not since accountants faced the dilemma of whether to keep their minicomputers or replace them with personal computers (PCs) have CPAs been confronted with such a fateful technology decision. With the hardware question largely settled in favor of PCs, one would think the answer is clear, since Windows was designed to make PCs more effective. Yet if one asks a random sample of CPAs whether they use Windows, most say not only that they don't, but also that they really don't want to: They either are satisfied with the conventional Microsoft disk operating system (DOS) or don't want to learn a new operating system.
But that may be changing. The purpose of this article is to illustrate the power and convenience of Windows and suggest how it can increase accountants' productivity.
Although Windows was introduced in 1985 with much fanfare, it failed to attract a large initial following for two reasons:
1. PC users were skeptical about Microsoft's often inflated claims. Their skepticism was justified at the time, since the first version of Windows was bug-ridden and prone to crashing programs, resulting in loss of data.
2. With few application programs developed for it, Windows also had little practical value.
It was not until version 3.0 was introduced, in 1990, that software publishers began to take Windows seriously enough to develop a wide assortment of application programs. Almost two years later, Microsoft released an even more stable version, 3.1, accompanied by a highly energetic promotional effort, and the rush to introduce Windows-compatible application programs really got under way.
WINDOWS IN THE WORLD
Currently, total shipments of Windows software exceed 20 million copies and the -number of applications is in the thousands, covering everything from accounting to zoology. Yet despite its popularity among the general public, CPAs generally remain aloof from Windows--except, perhaps, when they use it for occasional recreation: A multitude of entertaining games can be run under Windows, with Solitaire and Tetris the most popular.
There are a number of reasons CPAs have avoided Windows. First, its operation (both its look and feel) is entirely unlike that of DOS--the one and only operating system most accountants have used for years. The difference between the two systems is significant: The main way a user interfaces with Windows is via a mouse or other pointing device; clicking a mouse button on a pictorial representation (called an icon) of a command launches most commands. In DOS, of course, a command is typed on the keyboard.
Although few CPAs are willing to admit it, many hesitate to use computers for anything other than tax preparation or spreadsheets because they are poor typists. While a mouse can't eliminate the need for at least some typing, it greatly reduces the amount required. What is left in many applications is punching in numbers in much the same way as they are entered on a 10-key calculator. I have yet to meet a CPA who is not a virtuoso on such a device.
Another barrier to Windows is the need for more advanced hardware to run the software effectively (see the sidebar, "What It Takes to Run Windows," page 39). However, with the prices of high-powered computers at bargain levels, that barrier is crumbling.
The software availability barrier is crumbling, too. Until recently, with the exception of spreadsheets (Excel and Quattro Pro), no professional software tools had been developed to run under Windows. Most CPAs were satisfied with the DOS version of Lotus. 1-2-3 (most still are) and it was not until this past year that Lotus introduced a Windows version of its product. Today, there is hardly a software publisher without a Windows version of its DOS products on the market or under development (see the sidebar, "The Status of Windows-based Professional Software," page 40). That includes all varieties of accounting software--from tax preparation to time and billing. Moreover, many new programs run only under Windows. Among the Windows accounting pioneers is Commerce Clearing House, with its Windows version of ProSystem fx tax software, Winfx, released in December 1992. In addition, Computer Associates is about to release its ACCPAC accounting software for Windows, and the American Institute of CPAs Accountant's Trial Balance is being developed as a Windows product.
WHAT WINDOWS CAN DO
Windows offers more than a pleasant user interface: It is a productivity tool (see the sidebar, "Preparing Taxes Under Windows," page 41). Following are some of the things Windows can do to make accountants more productive.
Convenience is a big plus for Windows. For example, files in Microsoft Word are saved by clicking on an icon depicting a diskette, and the spelling checker is started by clicking on an icon containing the letters ABC and a check mark. Such icons usually are placed horizontally at the top of the screen in a narrow ribbon called a toolbar that can be customized to contain only the commands a user is likely to need. Those not available on the toolbar are accessed through drop-down menus, which can be activated using either a mouse or the keyboard. Thus, commands are readily available at all times, and even an inexperienced user usually can figure out how to perform a task on the basis of the icon's appearance, making the operation of many programs--even those unfamiliar to the user--fairly intuitive.
Switching between applications in DOS is complicated. Users must exit the one they're in and, unless they have menus or shell programs, must type commands to launch the next application. But in Windows, switching tasks is easy: Users can leave the old applications open and move to others simply by clicking on the appropriate icon. Moreover, it's not only possible to have many applications open simultaneously: Windows also automatically can open the ones used most frequently when the computer is turned on.
Consistency is another plus. The screens of different Windows programs look alike; even some of the icons and pull-down menus are configured similarly. Thus it's possible to switch to a new Windows program and, without too much effort, figure out how to launch various commands. For example, the FILE menu always is on the extreme left of the menu bar and HELP always is on the extreme right.
Adopting Windows does not mean users must abandon their existing DOS applications. DOS programs run successfully, although somewhat more slowly, under Windows. Since most CPA firms have a sizable investment in DOS applications, it's wise for such firms to experiment with Windows applications before making the switch.
Another advantage of Windows is its ability to cut or copy information from one application, including DOS applications, and then paste it in another. Thus data from a spreadsheet or a database, say, can be copied and dropped into a word processor file.
Windows provides multiple type fonts in what is called what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) printing. With WYSIWYG, users are able to see on the screen exactly what the final printed document will look like, and they can even edit the text in the WYSIWYG format. Accordingly, users can review how text and graphics fit on the page to determine whether the margins are appropriate and whether page breaks and headers and footers are in the right places. The correlation between the screen image and the printed document usually allows users to get a job right the first time, avoiding the need to print multiple. drafts. Also, changing fonts in a word processing document or spreadsheet is accomplished simply by highlighting the area to be changed and clicking on an icon representing the desired font.
Probably the most powerful Windows feature in terms of productivity is its ability to share information among different applications. Two technologies are used in the process--dynamic data exchange (DDE) and object linking and embedding (OLE). (By the way, OLE is pronounced ole as in Spanish; the letters are not pronounced individually: O-L-E.)
* In DDE, information from one application can be linked to another application in such a way that a change made in one automatically is made in the other. For example, if a bar chart created with a graphics program is pasted in a word processing document and the two are linked by DDE, any changes made to the chart also will be made to the word processing document, even if the document file is not open.
* OLE takes this link one step further. Embedding allows users to insert an "object"--that is, an entire application program along with its data and formatting and processing instructions--into a document. When the document is opened, the object immediately is available. Using the example above, not only could the chart be linked to the document but the fully formatted graphics program also could be run from within the document by clicking on the icon of the object embedded in it.
Here's how these applications can be put to use in CPA firms:
* Spreadsheet templates for what-if analyses could be linked to financial statements and accessed from within the statements.
* Partners' individual tax return data could be linked to the partnership return, allowing the partnership's tax package, with the related data, to be launched from within the Windows-based 1040 program.
* Staff training materials could be set up to branch into applications appropriate to the training materials. For example, the training program could be on spreadsheets, and an OLE object of a fully prepared spreadsheet could be imbedded in the training program so the user could begin working on the spreadsheet from within the training program.
THE NETWORK TRAUMA
Many CPAs have heard horror stories about attempts to run Windows on a network. Many of them are true. Early versions of Windows were not particularly network-compatible and numerous problems developed, due primarily to memory constraints. Microsoft corrected most of the problems and recently introduced a version of Windows, called NT (for "new technology"), specifically designed to work in networks.
Considering its many productivity features and the large number of programs written fox it, Windows should be considered for use in CPA firms--either as a stand-alone system or in a network configuration in which files are shared. As applications proliferate, CPAs may find that the required investment in hardware upgrades, new software and staff training will pay off in increased productivity.
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RELATED ARTICLE: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
* MOST CPAs STILL don't use Windows. Here are several reasons why they may wish to reconsider: n A wide assortment of application programs runs under Windows and many new programs run only under Windows.
* Windows allows users to issue commands quickly and easily by clicking a mouse rather than typing them.
* Switching between applications is much easier than in DOS. Users don't have to exit one program before launching another.
* It's not only possible to have many applications open simultaneously, but Windows also can open the ones most frequently used automatically when the computer is turned on.
* Because the screens of different Windows programs look alike, it's possible to function in a now application program without significant training.
* Adopting Windows does not mean existing DOS applications must be abandoned. DOS programs run successfully, although somewhat more slowly, under Windows.
* Probably the most powerful Windows feature in terms of productivity is its ability to share information among different applications. Two technologies are used in the process--dynamic data exchange (DDE) and object linking and embedding (OLE).
* In DDE, information from one application can be linked to another application in such a way that a change made in one automatically is updated in the other.
* OLE takes this link one step further. Embedding allows users to insert an actual application program into a document where it can be launched.
WHAT IT TAKES TO RUN WINDOWS Hardware Minimum Suggested Processor 286 386 or 486 Random access 1 Mb (standard mode) 4-8 Mb memory 2 Mb (enhanced mode) Free hard disk 6 Mb. 10 Mb space (stand-alone) Free hard disk 16 Mb for shared directory Same space (network) 300 K for personal directory Same Mouse or other Not required Don't run pointing device Windows without it! Video graphics CGA (monochrome) Super VGA with adapter EGA (color) 1 Mb of video RAM
RELATED ARTICLE: PREPARING TAXES UNDER WINDOWS
In Windows-based tax preparation programs the screens are virtual copies of the paper tax forms. As a result, preparers are not slaves to input sheets; they can see just how the figures actually appear on the tax return and related schedules.
Windows tax programs provide other advantages. In one program, for example, when a preparer completes a return, a click on an icon representing an out box sends the return electronically to the person who must review it. When the reviewer clicks on the in box, the program presents all the returns forwarded by preparers for review.
Reviews are done on the screen much at they are for paper returns. The reviewer starts with page one of the return and, with the click of a mouse, electronically branches to the related forms and schedules. Once the details have been reviewed, another mouse click returns the user to page one of the 1040. Preparer and reviewer notes can be attached along the way. Only after this preparation and review process has been completed is the return printed. A rerun is seldom necessary.
ROBERT L. McCULLAR, JR., CPA, is a managing shareholder of Coates, McCullar & Biggers, Eufaula, Alabama. He is a member of the American Institute of CPAs and the AICPA software advisory panel. Mr. McCullar also is a director of the Accounting Computer Users' Technical Exchange (ACUTE) and a past chairman of the Alabama Society of CPAs computer services committee.
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|Author:||McCullar, Robert L., Jr.|
|Publication:||Journal of Accountancy|
|Article Type:||Cover Story|
|Date:||Dec 1, 1993|
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