Not that many years ago a suite of seven business software programs like Gemini's Office Master would have cost at least £200. Now you can get the lot for £15, on cassette, and £17.50 on Microdrive.
Yes, the programs are all written in Basic which understandably makes them a bit slow. Yes, each program is generally not as good as the market leader in each case. And, yes, the programs are designed to be used with a ZX printer and next to no help is given on using an 80-column printer.
But, despite these shortcomings the whole suite is incredibly good value for money even if you don't need all the programs in the pack.
Two programs do stand out. Graphplot is probably the best business graphics package available on the Spectrum.
And Maillist is extremely easy to use even if it is not the most powerful of its type. In addition the budget section of Home Accounts is likely to find a lot of use.
THE SEVEN PARTS OF THE SUITE
Home Accounts: Home accounts is really two programs. One keeps track of your bank account, the other helps control the family budget. Both programs accept data up to a maximum of twelve months, although the bank balance can be carried forward.
Bank account data is entered as credits of payments. In addition to the date, payee and amount entered for credits, a cheque number can be entered for payments. Entries can be listed in date order only on the screen.
The budget control is much more useful. Monthly budget targets are set up under up to 18 redefinable headings (9 on the 16K Spectrum). Actual amounts are entered monthly. Comparison of budget and actual figures to date allows you to check how far in the red you are! Monthly comparisons are also possible.
Unfortunately, there is no print option in the whole program.
Easiledger: A complete record of up to 800 financial transactions showing the type of transaction, date, account name, amount and invoice number can be built up. There are seven types of transaction varying from cash sales to cheque payments and bank deposits. Despite being able to delete transactions there is no option to only amend an entry and with no validity check on dates users may find correcting entries troublesome.
Details of individual accounts, the bank account and amounts owing and owed are all available as is an overall summary. The limitation on the amount of £66,000 is unlikely to affect most users(!) but the restriction to 8 characters (only 5 of which are printed) for the account names could well be a problem. With account names this is a more useful program for keeping home accounts than the other one provided.
Mailing List: A mailing list is a dedicated database keeping records of names and addresses. Despite being written in Basic this one is one of the best I have come across. It's relatively powerful and easy to use.
Nine fields including title, company and telephone number can be used for the name and address. A tenth field for a reference is also available. Records can be added, deleted or changed. They can also be examined one-by-one using a Browse option. Groups of records can be found by a search on any field. The search on Field 10 is slightly different. A space in the search key is treated as a 'wild card', ie any character and not just a space.
Database: This is a simple card-type database. Each record can have up to ten 19 character fields. These can be either string or numeric. The number of fields, their type and length are defined when creating a new database and need choosing carefully. The numbers of records created and available are shown on the main menu.
The usual Add, Change, Find, List, Print and Delete commands are all there, but beyond this its features are limited to sorting on a field or totalling a numeric field. There are minor bugs in the Search and Create new file but I found none that are likely to cause major problems.
This type of simple database doesn't give a lot of power but if you only want to store data without manipulating it you'll find it very easy to use.
Graph Plot: Graph Plot is a business graphics package that allows six different types of graphs (including histograms, line graphs and pie charts) to be drawn. Having selected the graph type you then key in the title and the axes labels. These are automatically positioned and cannot be repositioned.
The date is entered from either the keyboard, or tape (cassette or microdrive) and, before this the number of items must be entered. Options allow the data to be replotted in a different form or a sub-set can be selected and plotted. This useful feature is constrained only by the items having to be consecutive.
Stock Control: Stock control for small businesses is usually a matter of scanning the shelves to see what looks cheap. If used properly a stock control program can yield quite a lot of management information and this one is no different.
Details of up to 500 stock lines including reference, description, supplier, current and minimum stock levels, cost and sales prices and unit and reorder levels. In addition the total cost and sales values, the gross profH and the total cost of reordering all understocked items can be given.
Of course you need to spend some time at the keyboard each day or week entering what has been sold and received, but with this it does not take too long. Unlike some systems negative stock values are possible so allowing up-dating on receipt of orders.
Cash Book and Final Accounts: This part of the package is designed for the small business that wants to reduce its accountants' bills and still produce trial balances, profit and loss and balance sheets. Although data on individual transactions is entered it is not kept. The program, unlike Financial Accounts from Manx Tapes, works on cumulative totals for eighty-nine preset accounts. Individual details must be printed at the end of a session and the print-out retained to provide an audit trail. Data is entered in batches with the batch total and the number of transactions. Having to calculate these by hand surely defeats most of the purpose of using a computer, in the first place. Amendments to nominal accounts and items such as depreciation can be included via a Journal option.
All Nominal accounts and their totals can be listed to the screen, alternatively a trial balance showing all non-zero accounts can be printed.
Comparative figures can be produced for the trading account and balance sheet.
Price: £15 (tape), £17.00 (m/drive)
Reviewer: Mike Wright
Obviously not state-of-the-art but functional. Graphplot and Mailist are among the best of their type.