Mike Wright reviews two products which explore the business potential of the Spectrum.
MORE AND MORE business programs are, at last, advertising microdrive compatibility as a feature. Transform and Hestacrest are both companies which have released programs which go further and require not one but two microdrives.
Invoicing/Accounting from Transform is designed for a 48K Spectrum fitted with twin microdrives and an 80 column printer. It costs £25.00 or £15.00 for owners of the present invoicing program and it bravely attempts to provide all the features of large business systems.
Somewhat strangely, it seems at first, the suite is supplied in a large plastic book type case containing two cassette tapes. The programs must be loaded from tape, customised for the user's interface and saved to microdrive. The infamous problems encountered with microdrive cartridge compatibility, where programs saved on one microdrive will not always run on another, have been a factor in Transform choosing to release the programs on cassettes, one for the ledger and one for the invoicing program, rather than on microdrive cartridges. On one side is a version for a Tasman interface. A version for other interfaces is on the other side.
The customised ledger and invoicing programs are saved onto different cartridges with a third being used for the shared data. When back-up copies of programs and data are made six cartridges are needed.
One feature is the inclusion of Taswide to give a 64 column screen display. Once copies of the programs have been made the data can be set up. The Accounts cartridge is placed in drive one and the data cartridge in drive two.
You select option D at first from the main menu to set the date which is printed on statements. That can be entered in any format required. Option U is used to enter details of the accounts on the first run and to add new accounts in later runs. A flashing cursor is used to guide the user in setting up the account. The first input is an account name of up to 10 characters, although referred to as an account number. Next the name and address are entered and finally details of debits and credits marked with a minus sign.
Once the details have been entered they are saved on drive two. When the data has been saved the option of making a back-up copy by replacing the data cartridge with another is given before returning to the main menu. The original data cartridge can then be replaced and a second account set up. Although it is safer to make the back-up copy at each stage you might find it more convenient when setting up accounts to enter the next account, then make a back-up copy of the whole cartridge once all accounts have been entered.
An account is updated by first loading it into memory using the save and load option then the load account option G of the save menu followed by Y to confirm the choice, before entering the account name.
Once an account has been loaded the screen shows the account reference, the name and address and a delivery name and address together with the last ten items on the account. An abbreviated menu is displayed at the bottom of the screen. Two lines of text can be printed on statements. Other options allow address labels to be added, the delivery address or statement cleared. Statements, address labels, delivery labels and remittance notes can be printed.
The invoicing program is used to set up and print invoices. The details from the invoice can be added to the accounts data at the push of a button and it is that feature which makes the programs an excellent buy for the business user. The invoicing program is loaded from the accounts program by replacing the accounts cartridge with the invoice cartridge and selecting option Q in the save menu. The invoicing program will usually be run first and the data transferred to the accounts program. Once loaded the main menu is displayed, offering you options, among others, to change the VAT rate, add items to the price list and print that price list.
Your name and address, up to seven lines of 64 characters, and a price list of up to 200 items can be used in the program. Each item is given a description and a VAT exclusive price. VAT at 15 per cent is calculated, added onto the price, and displayed.
An abbreviated menu is displayed at the bottom of the invoice. A flashing cursor prompts for entries to be made. The account reference is first. If an account has already been set up then the addresses are added automatically. The date, invoice number and a reference are entered next. Then the items are added, the quantity being entered first. Details and unit price are added either by typing or by entering the price list number. The cost is calculated and displayed. Entering 't' as a quantity calculates the total cost of the items. Details of postage, any discount, settlement discount and the VAT rate are added. Only one VAT rate can be used per invoice which could be a problem if your business deals in goods or services which have different rates.
Finally, up to two lines of text can be printed at the bottom of the invoice. Those lines must be added, even as blanks, before the invoice is printed correctly with the discounts and VAT shown. Other options allow credit notes, orders or addresses to be typed, changes made to the invoice and there is even an option to clear all or parts of it. The invoice, address label and delivery label can all be printed from the invoice menu. The invoice details are added to the accounts data through option X. A warning is given if the data has not been added to the accounts.
Throughout the system the layout of the display and printouts is extremely clear and well-designed. That helps make the programs effective in speeding up the production of invoices and the accompanying accounts. Despite that, however, the programs have some disadvantages.
The first drawback is the number of microdrive cartridges needed if back-up copies - a necessity for business users - are to be made. It would be nice to see both programs on one cartridge. For some applications the lack of a sales analysis could also prove annoying. An update has been released that allows the sum of all accounts to be produced.
Sales Ledger for the 48K Spectrum, from Hestacrest Business Software, forms part of an accounting package which also includes a cash book and nominal ledger, each priced at £32.50 or £72.00 for all three. In contrast with the Transform software, Sales Ledger is supplied on microdrive cartridge.
The program supports full size printers with Centronics or RS232 interfaces as well as producing abbreviated printouts on a ZX printer. With a Centronics interface the driver software must first be loaded before the program is run from drive one; a data cartridge is placed in drive 2.
On the first run the program is set up by prompting for your name and address, your security password, up to six different VAT rates and the type of interface to be used. Giving cash discounts and linking to the other programs are also catered for. On subsequent runs only your password is asked for and whether you are starting a new accounting period; if you are then the details of the last period's transactions are cleared from the data cartridge.
You can handle up to 50 sales analysis codes of 10 characters and 250 customers. Transactions are defined in four categories invoices, credit notes, journals and cash (including discounts) and are all entered from a subsidiary menu. Each time you select a transaction menu option in an accounting period the data is given a batch number; up to 40 batches and 1,000 transactions can be dealt with in any one period. Individual transactions of up to £100,000 and a total of £1 million can be handled.
When entering invoices and credit notes you are prompted for the customer's code number, a reference number, the analysis code, the amount excluding VAT and confirmation of the VAT amount. VAT is calculated from the first digit of the reference code which corresponds to a VAT code. A REF LOCK option, which repeats the customer code and reference number leaving you to enter the analysis code and amount, helps reduce typing.
Opening balances are entered using the input journal option of the transaction menu. That prompts you for the account code and amount. Cash transactions can be input either from the keyboard or by links to the cash book.
At the end of an accounting period an option allows you to print the daybook, cash listing, journal listing, account statements, lists of debtors and customer address labels. Printing the daybook on an 80-column printer, will give you the customer name, account number, reference, item code, net and total amounts and the item description. On a ZX printer only the account number, item code, net and VAT amounts can be obtained.
The statements and debtors option of the period end menu allows statements to be displayed or printed, and a list of debtors with debts can be printed also. Your own or the customer's version of statements, headed with your name and address, can be printed too, showing the type of transaction, a reference, debit or credit and opening and closing balances.
You must use the end of run option before removing the cartridges from the microdrives. That updates the sales data cartridge and once it has been updated the program must be replaced in drive one with a third cartridge. That is formatted before an updated copy of the data, is made.
The program is very user-friendly after you overcome your initial irritation at loading the interface software every time and using the full load command instead of a run file. The ability to fix VAT rates individually is very useful as are the sales and VAT analyses. The printouts are clear enough although you might find them clumsy.
Both the Transform and the Hestacrest programs can be seen as another step forward in the drive to show that the Spectrum can be used very effectively in business, and although both have weaknesses whether or not those matter will depend on your requirements. They are the first programs to use microdrives as if they were disks. Other companies must surely follow when they see what can be achieved.
Transform Ltd 41 Keats House, Porchester Mead, Beckenham, Kent. Tel: 01-658 1661.
Hestacrest Business Software PO Box 19, Leighton Buzzard, Beds. LU7 0DG. Tel: 052-523 7785.