Wednesday 25 April 2012

Bespoke too Soon

Its often a challenge for any business to make a choice over which accounts software they should invest their hard earned money into.  There are so many packages out there, surely one or another will fit their need?

I think the problem that most companies face, is that when they start trading they don't have a working procedure in place that has been set in stone.  This will come in time, but isn't immediately available from the beginning.

As time progresses, a system is developed that the staff are all happy with and the company will grow and it's procedures will increase in speed.  During this time, however, is where a company will start hitting the limits to the Accounts software that they invest in.

What are the choices? What can a company do if they find that their operating environment is being inhibited by the software? Bespoke software is the answer.

An off the shelf program is ideal for smaller companies that may not already have a working process in place. This will mould your administration into a process, a way of working.  However, you may soon discover that it won't do what you want, and this is where a bespoke system comes into play.

With a bespoke system, the development team will analyse your entire working environment and build the software around that.  The benefits are that the computer will work the way that you do, and not the other way around.  In most cases additional developments later on can be added to the original program and it can grow and shape the way that you want it to.

So there must be pros and cons to these two systems, or everybody would get bespoke, surely?

Lets look at those now:-

Off the Shelf
  • Can be cheap
  • Will already have a working system environment in place
  • Will have a lot of support by other users who can help and train where necessary
  • Where accounts and government interactions are required, will meet the required standards.
  • No Flexibility
  • Limited functionality
  • Flexible
  • Will fit your business operations like a glove
  • Will grow and change as you require
  • Will provide all the necessary tools that you require
  • Can be expensive
  • Development can take months or years
  • System is not always transferable as it's designed for you.
Hopefully that gives you a bit of insight into software for your business. Just don't let it be said that we Bespoke too soon!

Wednesday 18 April 2012


When it comes to the end of your computing day, you have a number of options. You could leave the computer on and walk away. That's not really viable as it continues to take power and will significantly shorten the life of your components.

You could put it into sleep mode. Sleep is considerably faster to come back from than a full shutdown and needs less power, but not no power. Sleep effectively writes the state of your computer at that moment to its memory and then shuts everything else down. It must still be powered though, whether by mains or battery, so that the memory can retain the information. If you're only stepping away relatively briefly, but long enough to warrant a state-change, then sleep is probably the way to go. Interestingly, Macs go to sleep, rather than full shutdown, by default.

Hibernate is another option (in some systems). As its description suggests it is like sleep, only more so. Hibernate saves the computer's state, but this time to the hard drive rather than the memory. That means it takes essentially no power to maintain but does take a significantly longer time to boot back up. If you feel you can live without hibernate in Windows, then switch it off as it reserves a chunk of hard drive space that you can claim back if you don't use it. Microsoft tells you how.

Then, of course, there's shutdown. This closes all the windows, locks all the doors, gives the place a quick vacuum and leaves a note for the milkman. Windows especially needs a shutdown occasionally. If any programs have been updated, particularly Windows itself, there may be specific files that cannot be updated until they are no longer used, and that's only going to happen after a shutdown.

So at the end of your computing day choose your method and both head to the land of sleep. Or indeed hibernation.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

The Big Debate: Revisited

At the end of last year we discussed The Big Debate, the differences between PCs and Macs. The conclusion was that there couldn't be a conclusion, the choice is personal. However, to add some more detail to assist in making a decision, we're writing this post after having purchased a Mac.

To reiterate points made in the original post, the hardware and software are both designed and built by Apple and therefore play very nicely together. There is no separate tower with the iMac, everything is contained in the monitor. A nice touch, but not unique to Macs. The monitor is a thing of beauty and looks very nice on a desk. The keyboard and trackpad are very well built. So far, so good.

The ordering process gave an interesting insight into Apple's pricing. To add 4GB of memory on top of the 4GB already provided would have added an extra £160 on to the price-tag. Having set the iMac up, we sourced an extra 8GB of memory from Crucial for less than £35. It may be true that Apple makes good quality products, but don't be under illusion about how they have made the phenomenal amounts of money they have.

OSX, the operating system installed on all Macs, is very nice. Not spectacular, not life-changing, but very nice. Most things you can do on Windows you can do on OSX. Some slightly different methods have to be learnt but no show-stoppers. OSX seems to come with more software pre-installed than Windows, including iMovie and Garageband which are great fun and add to the glossy reputation that Apple products have. The vast majority of programs that I used on Windows have equivalents on the Mac. Most are identical as Macs are mainstream enough for companies to write for. Occasionally you have to go looking for third-party equivalents but again, no show-stoppers. In a worst case, it is possible to install Windows on a Mac, either in its own partition completely separately from OSX, or within it using virtualization software like VirtualBox which works brilliantly. However, if you don't have to, don't. A friend of mine said it was 'like putting a Metro dashboard into an Aston Martin.' Harsh, but it would certainly take up unnecessary space.

At this point it's worth pointing out that not everything went smoothly in the transition. The scanner on the multi-function printer didn't work straight away and is still flaky. And OSX would not perform a Software Update for the first 48 hours. A lot of research later and things were still not resolved until one morning it just started working. I take it the issue lay with Apple's servers but who knows. It was a valuable lesson in the fact that things don't always 'just work'.

So the conclusion? Pretty much what it was - it's all about what you want the machine to do. The Apple range is slick, but not perfect. Windows offers a little more range and flexibility, but is also more prone to tripping over itself. The difference between the two is less now than it's ever been.

Which is better? Still your decision.