Francis O. Ainley
1983
Business
£8.95
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
None

135,140,141
Chris Bourne

BALANCING THE BOOKS WITH FINANCE MANAGER

In the first of a series on business software, Mike Wright looks at a ledger program for the Spectrum.

WITH THE advent of the ZX-80, a previously-untapped market of people who wanted to learn about computers and new technology was uncovered. The ZX-81, with its 1K memory expandable to 16K, took the development of that market a stage further and soon more than 400,000 machines had been sold. In a short time commercially-produced software began to appear but despite the large numbers of businessmen who bought ZX-81s, games predominated. Those who wanted to use the ZX-81 seriously found that, for the most part, they had to write their own programs.

Many reasons were given for not using the 81 seriously, including the comparatively small amount of memory, the touch-sensitive keys - not suitable for large-scale entry - the quality of the printout from the ZX printer with its narrow 32-character line, and the occasional unreliability of the machine when connected to the 16K RAM pack.

Those who suffered that fate know how aggravating it is. Independent suppliers did their best to change the situation with interfaces for full-travel keyboards, printers and even discs, while others produced stabilisers to reduce crashes.

The Spectrum went a long way towards meeting those objections, with its more positive rubber keys, but still not a full keyboard, the built-in 16K or 48K memory and a more solid design. The promise of an RS232 port, released recently as part of Interface One, an industry-wide standard connection to quality printers, also helped.

Even with those improvements business software received only minor attention from Spectrum programmers. Apart from a few companies, such as Hilderbay and Hilton Computer Services, new programs and companies were aimed solidly at the games market. The few business programs which existed were written by businessmen with the computer bug. Such programs often did the job but paid little attention to presentation, clarity of output, usability and documentation.

Fortunately the position has been improving slowly and now available are a wide range of spreadsheet, word processing, accounts and ledger programs. Other packages include programs for calculating payrolls, working-out Statutory Sick Pay, controlling stock and mailing lists. So far there seem to be very few programs available for planning, engineering and statistical applications, although with the Microdrive paving the way for the storage and manipulation of even larger sets of data, the gap may soon be filled.

One further point which should encourage the development of business software is the news that Spectrum programs should be upwards-compatible with the new Sinclair Research personal computer aimed at the lower end of the business market and rumoured for release in early 1984.

We look in the first of a series on business software at Finance Manager from one of the leading names in business software, OCP.

Finance Manager is designed as a ledger program which will record transactions and keep running totals of all accounts, but will also allow some measure of forward planning to be made. It is claimed that the program is useful for almost all domestic and business applications, such as domestic and business accounts, specific and general ledgers financial budgeting and planning.

The program is written in machine code for the Spectrum, which makes the response time almost instantaneous. It will cope with up to 255 separate accounts and standing orders, more than 1,800 individual transactions - on the 48K machine - and operates a double entry automatically. The price is £8.95, making it a very attractive program.

Finance Manager is packaged in the increasingly-popular book-type cardboard box. Inside is a moulded plastic insert to hold two cassettes, one for the program, the other for a data storage cassette which is not included. That is a pity when one considers that the extra cost would be minimal. The box also contains the 24-page manual. The copy supplied for review was the standard 32-column version, although OCP also offers a Plus 80 version which can print 40 characters per line on a printer with a Centronics interface.

It can also supply the interface to the Spectrum. The cassette holds the 48K version and a test file - designed as a training aid to complement the manual - on one side and a 16K version and test file on the other.

Before starting it is worthwhile reading the manual and becoming fully-acquainted with the editing features and commands, including the two operating modes. In the normal mode the keyboard operates normally. In mode A, which is reached at any time by pressing SYMBOL SHIFT and A, the cursors are accessed by pressing the cursor keys, while to use the numbers, CAPS SHIFT and the number must be pressed.

Although it may seem unnecessarily complicated to have the two modes, it is a very useful feature, especially when amendments are being made. Movement around the screen from field to field is done using the cursor keys; {up cursor} and {down cursor} move the flashing cursor, used to indicate the field in use, backwards and forwards respectively between fields, while {left cursor} and {right cursor} move the cursor within fields. Editing in a field can be done using SYMBOL SHIFT and either E, I or D to erase a field, or to insert or delete within the field. Other editing features include the scrolling of account/description names using SYMBOL SHIFT with W for forward scrolling and with Q for backward scrolling. The scrolling can be speeded by typing-in the first few letters of the name and scrolling forward, which selects the first account/description starting with them instantly; the setting of markers to define a block of transactions for deleting or printing; printing the screen using SYMBOL SHIFT and G; and the merging of accounts by renaming them. Loading the program is done by LOAD "" ENTER and starting the tape. It takes slightly more than two minutes to load before the first screen appears. That sets up the options for the run by asking for the date, input as dd/mm/yy and asking LOAD FILE? (Y); APPLY S/O's?(Y) and FILENAME.

If the answers to both questions are positive, any standing orders set in the data file will be applied automatically when the data file is loaded. Once the data has been loaded or the answer to LOAD FILE? is N the main menu is displayed. That offers the options:

1. PROCESS TRANS. <>
2. PROCESS S/O's <>
3. ANALYSE EXPD. <>
4. RENAME/MARK ACC. <>
5. RENAME/MARK DES. <>
6. CHANGE DATE <>
7. MAINTAIN FILE <>

One of them can be selected by pressing any key except CAPS SHIFT, SYMBOL SHIFT or ENTER, to move the cursor round the options until it is opposite the choice and then pressing ENTER.

Selecting option one instantly brings up the process transaction menu, which offers:

1. LIST/AMEND/DEL. <>
2. ADD NEW TRANS. <>
3. LIST BALANCES <>
4. MENU ACCOUNT <>

with the cursor at the start of the account field. An account name must be entered before using options one or two. Option three lists the balances for all accounts and a cumulative total; it is important to realise that the final total for all balances will be zero because of the automatic double-entry feature which, when an account is debited, sets up the second account line if it does not already exist and credits it. Option four returns directly to the main menu.

On selecting two, the user is asked to enter the amount. A useful feature uses the SPACE to separate the pound and the pence, whether the account is to be debited (-) or credited (+), the name of the second account, described by WHO TO/FROM and a description, if wanted.

The description field is used later for the analysis of expenditure from accounts, e.g., for the domestic user possible descriptions could include food, clothes, petrol. The date of the transaction has also to be entered and, once again, the kind of useful feature which typifies the package has been built in.

That allows the current date to be set for the transaction by pressing ENTER. Finally, the user is given the choice of adding the transaction, if all the details are correct, or of returning to the process transaction menu.

Selecting the LIST/AMEND/DEL. option asks initially for which transactions in the account are to be listed. The first stage is to set the starting-point for the listing; the default is S which lists all transactions in the account from the start. Other options are E to list the last page of transactions; T, transactions from the current date; or D, transactions from a specified date which must then be entered. Also given are choices to list Reconciled or Unreconciled transactions and New - those made during the current run - or Old transact ions.

Pressing ENTER at the CONTINUE option lists the transactions selected; they can then be amended or deleted. That is done by locating the cursor against the required entry and pressing A or D as appropriate. A displays the details of the transaction to be amended which are changed by positioning the cursor to the appropriate field and typing-in the amendment.

Once that has been done the corrected version can be added either as a new entry or over-written on the old entry. The delete option, selected by pressing D with the cursor opposite the entry, flashes the question DELETE? (Y/N) at the bottom of the screen. To delete the transaction both Y and ENTER must be pressed.

To process or set up standing orders, option two on the main menu is selected. The subsidiary menu then offers:

1. LIST/AMEND/DEL. <>
2. Add NEW S/O <>
3. APPLY S/O's <>
4. REMOVE S/O <>
5. MENU <>

That option can be used for all regular payments, whether they are processed automatically, processed by a bank or whether paid by cheque or cash. To add a standing order the process is almost identical to adding a transaction. The difference is when the date is to be entered. If the payment is to be made on a set day each month, only the day field is completed. Caution must be exercised. If the day does not exist in a month - e.g., February 30 - the standing order will not be applied for that month.

The author has provided for standing orders to be paid on the last day of all months by using code 32 for the day field. That will give the correct last date for each month, including February in a leap year. If the standing orders are at less frequent intervals or even irregular, that can be coped with by entering each payment as a separate standing order, leaving the year field blank if it is a regular payment each year or by completing it for a one-off future payment. The LIST/AMEND/DEL. option works in exactly the same way as for the process transaction menu.

To apply standing orders, select option three. That causes the program to ask for two dates. First is the date from which the order is to be applied. Once again a certain amount of caution must be exercised. If orders were applied from 01/01/83 to 01/03/83 in the last run and in the current run they are applied from 01/02/83 to 01/10/83, then the orders for February and March will be paid twice. Standing orders can be removed by following the same procedure in option four.

Forward planning can be carried-out using a DUMMY option with the standing orders. That allows orders to be set up as dummies and then applied and removed independently of the other standing orders.

Another feature of Finance Manager is its ability to analyse expenditure by the transaction description via the ANALYSE EXPD option on the main menu. The subsidiary menu allows the dates to be specified between which the analysis is to take place. It is worth pointing out that in this instance expenditure means turnover, since the totals are calculated ignoring debits and credits.

The totals consequently are displayed without a sign. An option to printout the totals is included, although the whole screen can be printed at any time using SYMBOL SHIFT G.

The amount of data handled obviously will keep increasing until a stage is reached where the Spectrum runs out of memory; the greater the number of accounts and descriptions the sooner that point will be reached and, unless a separate file is to be created, space must be made available.

One of the easiest ways of doing it, apart from deleting whole blocks of transactions, is by merging accounts or descriptions using option four (RENAME/MARK ACC.) or five (RENAME/MARK DES.) from the main menu. Those options allow accounts and descriptions to be given new names and/or allow them to be marked as a priority. Re-naming accounts is done easily by typing-in the name of the account to be re-named in the OLD NAME field and the new account name in the NEW NAME field and responding to the EXECUTE prompt.

If the new name is already assigned to an account, the two accounts will be merged and some extra space in memory will be created.

Usually some accounts are more important than others. These options allow for it by allowing such accounts to be marked with an M. The LIST BALANCES option in the process transaction menu gives the choice of printing only the balances of the marked accounts or of all accounts. The same principles also apply to re-naming and marking descriptions.

The final two main menu options allow the data set at the start of the run to be changed - option six - and general maintenance, i.e., saving and verifying the data, clearing the file, and loading a new file, to be carried-out. The CLEAR FILE option allows all entries between specified dates to be erased but at the same time will allow the full balances to be retained, if desired.

That will allow a continuation file to be set up should you run out of space and do not wish to erase any transaction or to merge accounts. Clearing the balances, however, does not clear the account names even though no balances or transactions exist.

Finance Manager impresses because of the professional appearance of the package, a smart blue box with the program tape inside it and a spare recess for a data tape, and a manual, printed professionally on quality paper. OCP professionalism does not end there. The program loaded first time over a wide range of volume and tone settings. Once loaded, the menus and screens are presented in such a way as to be clear and concise. That makes data entry easy.

The manual takes the new user step by step through each stage, from starting a new file and adding new transactions through to using standing orders for financial planning, in easy-to-understand terms. At each stage the learning process is helped by the use of examples. In general, the printing is easy to read but the diagrams of different screens are small and difficult to read. Once some expertise has been gained the user will still find the manual a useful reference.

A standard method of testing any program is to try entering options which are not offered or allowed or which do not make sense. A well- planned and written program will reject any such entry, without crashing, and will often give a warning showing exactly what is illegal.

Finance Manager passes that lest with flying colours. There seem to be only two ways of escaping from the program. The first is by following the instructions and pressing all four corner keys simultaneously - i.e. CAPS SHIFT, 1, 0, and BREAK/SPACE. The other is to disconnect the power supply.

Attempts to enter alphanumeric characters in numeric fields, a method which usually stops a program with an error message from the system, led to the cursor being returned to the field with a warning. Almost all unacceptable date entries are picked up and rejected, although any two-digit number is accepted as a valid month - a strange lapse considering the quality of the rest of the program.

Because it is menu-driven and the method of input is well-laid-out the package is easy enough for anyone with a minimal knowledge of computers to use. A word of warning, though; some thought should be given beforehand as to how the system of accounts and descriptions can best used by the individual user.

The home user who uses it to check bank and building society accounts by entering each cheque or withdrawal as a transaction will soon find that the possible 255 accounts will soon be used as a separate account is set up for each shop or garage. It is better to use a generic term such as garage for transactions involving different garages.

The business user who wishes to keep sales and purchase ledgers with details of VAT will need to think about how to keep the VAT, as the program has no facility for coping with VAT separately on each transaction.

VAT could always be recorded as a different transaction but a more specific program would probably be a better choice. Although it is not yet available OCP is understood to be producing a VAT Manager. If it has the same high standard as Finance Manager it will be well worth considering.

One small point OCP might consider is the development of the system of marking accounts to allow a greater range of priority accounts to be listed together, i.e., possibly by allowing accounts to be marked with M1-M9.

In view of its overall presentation, usability and cost - less than some games - it earns the vote as the best-value financial program available for the Spectrum.

Not Rated