Is it possible to run a successful business without using Windows? Mostly. Get ready to meet Art Nelson of Nelson Accounting Professionals.
Art, describe your business operation, customer base, and technical know-how.
We’re Nelson Accounting Professionals (NAP) in Poulsbo, Washington. We are a Certified Public Accounting firm that deals primarily with closely-held businesses and high net-worth individuals, including estate and retirement planning. We also aid in business succession planning, tax compliance, and IRS representation.
We put a very high demand on our computers, as they assist us in dealing with our clients’ complex and sensitive financial matters, as well as managing our office. Professional presentation is critical and this is where Macs really shine.
Couldn’t a business full of flat-panel Sony monitors do the same thing for esthetics? How do the Macs differ?
Aesthetics are important, but the primary focus is how everything works together as a whole. With a Sony flat panel and, say, a Dell box, you’d still have a big case somewhere that takes up a lot of space, is likely louder than the Macs, and does not run OSX.
It’d be merely adding a pretty face on top of the challenges of keeping a network of PCs running. With Macs, it really isn’t just what’s on the outside. Every facet of the computer and OS works together seamlessly and reliably.
How many employees are in the company?
We currently have 5 employees and are looking to expand. I am the only technical person on our staff and between 5 iMacs and OS X, we have not experienced any significant downtime.
Well, what sort of downtime problems have you experienced? How much time does it take to train a “formerly Windows-only employee” to a Mac?
We started our first busy season using Virtual PC w/ Windows 98. The printing was a nightmare. You’d hit Print and nothing would happen. You’d get it to print, only to see strange fonts or graphics. We’d update an application or two, and new printing problems would arise. Virtual PC was truly challenging that first year.
Microsoft has since bought Connectix and the stability is much better. And we were very happy to upgrade to Windows XP Pro when our various PC Apps made the leap. We have not had any downtime related to using Macs and native Apps.
In regards to training, all our employees were former PC users and adapted quickly to the new OS. We’re talking days, here. Not weeks or months. Plus, most Apps work very similar between their Mac and PC versions. One of our employees, who has a PC at home, has mentioned that many of the features on the Mac are more intuitive and easier to use.
One area that is a LOT easier is basic maintenance. We run Cocktail at the end of each week on all the computers. It’s a few mouse clicks and it keeps the Macs in top shape.
How long have you used Macs? How many Macs are set up in the company?
I’ve used Macs since 1984 and therefore carried a slight bias to the table. Our firm started in December of 2002 and I thought we should at least try to go all Mac, mostly so I could be the tech guy and buy lots of toys. OS 10.2 (Jaguar) had just come out and was what we started with. We update aggressively and are currently enjoying Panther (10.3).
As an experienced Mac user, what was the biggest obstacle to overcome when switching from Mac OS 9.x to Mac OS X?
I was just getting good at troubleshooting OS9 and had to learn a whole new set of techniques to deal with Apple’s new OS. It wasn’t totally foreign, however, because In college, I actually owned one of those cool NeXT Cubes, which of course was a precursor to OSX. I had some basic UNIX skills that transferred over really nicely. The Cube is still going strong, too!
Did you use Windows PCs? Why the switch to Macs?
My wife’s former CPA partnership was all PC. As much as I love computers, I was humbled by the technical knowledge required to keep their network running. But even with a team of independent (and very expensive) computer consultants, the office experienced significant downtime and wasted a lot of time troubleshooting.
We decided to go all Mac from day one, knowing we could employ PCs if needed. We’ve yet to reach that point. Our main objective was avoiding downtime and the costs associated with hiring consultants to troubleshoot.
Objectives were TOC (total cost of ownership)? What percentage difference (per Mac) do you project as cost savings by using all Macs (guestimate is fine)?
It was a combination of ease of use, stability, and a bias on my part to go with Macs. I was familiar with them and thought it would end up actually costing less to set up and maintain. This has been true so far and I expect it to remain so in the future as OSX improves even further. If I had to guess, I’d say we probably save at least $10,000 / year by using Macs.
Locally, independent consultants charge upwards of $200 per hour. Add to this the downtime during scheduling appointments and waiting in line for service, and you can see it just mounts.
What are the main computer tasks and requirements (word processing, spreadsheet, accounting software)? What specialized software do you use?
Our main focus is Accounting & Tax Compliance and we are extensive users of various software packages. MYOB AccountEdge Network Edition just came out and simplified our work considerably! It basically turns one of our computers into a ‘server’ even though we do not use OSX server edition.
Everyone works on client files that are hosted on a selected computer and the software keeps track of all the changes. This allows us to work on the same file simultaneously. Now, other than this, we have had to employ creative work strategies to get around the restrictions and permission issues of OSX Client edition. SharePoints is freeware and has made accessing files from a central location possible.
We have one iMac (the lovely and killer powerful iMac G5) that hosts all our office files. You cannot use shared folders to accomplish this. Sharepoints makes it so you can have a separate and dedicated SHARED folder that not only houses all the files, but when someone accesses those files over the network and then saves them, they take on the permissions and ownership of the parent folder, as dictated by SharePoints.
We have run into permission issues as employees access various files, and make ample use of BatchMod, another excellent freeware product. One other hint for prospective converts: make everyone who accesses files an Admin user. There will be various reports and client data files that will not print or save if not done by Admin accounts. Accounting software seems to be very picky about the type of account that it’s installed on.
We’ve saved significant costs using MYOB AccountEdge for time-based billing. The previous billing Apps that were used in my wife’s prior practice were extremely costly and difficult to troubleshoot. Many of our clients are Quickbooks users and thus we have had to have various versions installed on our Macs.
Quickbooks now allows us to easily convert files back and forth between Mac and PC. The same is true with Quicken, Microsoft Office, and other branded software. MYOB, in particular, excels at providing cross platform workability.
On the professional side, we are required to use Virtual PC w/ Windows XP Pro to work on the professional grade Tax software (we use ProsystemFX). This particular package is server-based, allowing us to access it via Internet Explorer on VPC through a secured connection.
The day they go all Java is when we’ll be able to drop Virtual PC and believe me, we put our request in every year. The more firms that attempt this switch and let them know there is a demand for it, the more likely they’ll offer such a product. It’s not likely we’ll see a Mac version, but if we could at least access and work with client files through the browser, it’d allow us to drop the largest memory hog from our application list.
Lastly, .Mac syncing has made the administration and scheduling duties a snap. Bonus… iPods are wonderful for their contact, calendar, and addressbook functions are thus partially deductible!
We’ve managed to use a consumer OS as a server OS, keeping it very very simple and stable. A few tricks and helpful shareware has made this possible. There seems to be a change in the wind. Applications are becoming more collaborative and easier to share files.
MYOB AccountEdge Network Edition is an excellent example and if more companies follow their lead, going all Mac will be easier than ever.
Do all Mac users in the company have full Internet access (browsing, email, file transfer)? What applications do you user for the average user?
Everyone has full internet access, which is primarily used for email and access to the tax software and research. We also use a .mac account to sync our calendars and addresses as well as transferring the occasional large file. We try to stay in Apple’s fold with Mail, Safari, iCal and Address Book.
And since we bill out hourly, everyone has access to MYOB AccountEdge. Everyone also has Microsoft Office installed so we can be compatible with our clients.
Who handles the company’s tech requirements for the Macs? Training? Support?
We’ve all become pretty good at the basic troubleshooting/maintenance on our Macs. But our employees enjoy working on their beautiful computers without having to know anything about the underlying complexity. Training is not really an issue once people get used to the Mac and OSX.
We are aggressive with updating our software and OS and this is probably the one thing that takes a chunk of time since we have 5 computers. Software Update lessens the blow considerably. Accounting apps almost always introduce new challenges with each update.
Give an example of problems associated with upgrading/updating the OS and applications.
The problems we encounter the most frequently are permission related. A new version of accounting software will come out and introduce new features such as simultaneous multi-user access to files, but will also introduce some new problems in accessing certain reports. When this happens, we’ll be on the phone with the developer as we try to narrow down the problem.
So far, the typical solution has been to wait for patches that fix the problem. Most software developers have excellent message boards that come in very handy in finding a workaround to the problem.
The same goes for OS updates. We always repair permissions, run fsck, and backup our data prior to an OS update, but even with all the precautions, sometimes there are small bugs that are introduced. We have a policy that all updates pretty much cease around January, due to busy season. If it’s working, we don’t rock the boat. After busy season, we get current with the latest updates and patches.
NOTE:A professional organization that gets along without Windows viruses, without worms, without pop-ups, without spyware, and very little downtime. And the boss is the IT person. Click Here for Page 2.
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How much money do you estimate you save by using Macs vs. Windows PCs?
My wife’s prior parntnership of similar size experienced significant downtime (days, often) and the corresponding significant outlay. Accounting is a profession that relies 100% on the computers/printers/software/networks. No network, no work.
It’s very difficult to quantify, but we’d estimate that we’ve saved 10s of thousands of dollars over the 2 years using Macs. We have not had a single crash or significant downtime and our employees can always print and access files over our network. It just works. Can’t really put a price on it.
Additionally, our backup is so slick that it shocks people. We use FireLite Firewire external hard drives for our backup. It takes seconds. You zip it in its pouch, and store it securely off-site. I’m pretty sure we’ve saved years when you compare the speed and efficiency with old tape drive backups, of which PC using firms seemed to adore.
Do you rotate offside backups? Do you backup only data files or entire server volumes? What application do you use for file backups? Is the backup up process automated or manual?
Yes. We’re strong believers in backups and have multiple external hard drives in different locations that hold our data. We only backup data thus far. Virtual PC is a special animal in that the entire drive image can be backed up, thus saving the entire windows environment in one step.
Our backups are easily handled manually at the end of each day. Using SharePoints, only one folder is designated for the entire office. No data is saved anywhere else. It’s a simple matter of drag-n-drop and everything gets saved.
What are client reactions to a whole company that runs on Macs?
Most of our clients love the look of it and when we show them how various admin tasks are handles so easily, they really appreciate why we went Mac over PC. The aesthetics are impressive enough that nearly everyone has asked what kind of computers we have.
It’s very slick to be consulting with a client and then swivel the beautiful screen over so they can see exactly what you’re discussing. We’ve had just a few visitors or networking pros (our DSL installer) remark that they don’t work with or support Mac and the usual comments that follow, but that’s becoming less and less as more people are exposed to Apple and OSX. Most are amazed that it’s so cross platform friendly.
It’s hard to imagine, but even today, there’s quite a few people out there that don’t know you can run Microsoft Office, and other popular software, native on the Mac!
Mis-information about the Mac platform appears to be common among Windows PC users. What problems has that caused your company?
The only area is when we have an outside person come install something, such as a DSL line. The standard response seems to be, “Oh, uh, we don’t do Macs…” but that has proved irrelevant as Rendezvous will auto-configure once the hardware is installed. We’ve also heard our clients express surprise that Macs aren’t just for graphics.
What do you do to maintain “compatibility” with Windows PCs (customers, files, etc.)?
We’re fortunate that the Apps we use are cross compatible. In addition, being able to save files as .pdf has saved our bacon more than once. There really isn’t much incompatibility these days, at least with the work we perform.
Do you employ any version of “sneaker net?”
We use the internet whenever possible, of course. But as you see in the photos, each Mac has its own Zip drive, Floppy disk drive, and Flash drive (can you say iPod shuffle?). Additionally, all our Macs are superdrive models, so they can burn any type of CD or DVD as well. We’ve never had a problem associated with getting files back and forth.
What do employees say about using Macs vs. Windows PCs?
At first, there’s a disorientation as they relearn how to perform basic OS tasks. But once they get used to the paradigm that is Apple, they usually accept it wholeheartedly. Once they see Expose in action, I doubt they could ever go back to PC!
What additional Mac-only attributes have your employees noted vs. Windows PCs?
They all love the rich Aqua interface – the dock and how it magnifies. They love being able to sync their calendars and address books at home. And, of course, we have iPods that allow us to keep our schedules updated when we are out of the office. Drag-and-drop is supported on a whole other level on Macs. It just works, every time.
Plus we often send attachments to our clients as .pdf files, no additional software required! And on a non-work related note: my wife has made movies, books and slideshows and now all the employees want to do the same. The integration between Apps is amazing.
Assuming you use Microsoft Office, how does it compare to the Windows version?
We’re not really familiar with the Windows version of Microsoft Office. Files back and forth between us and clients seem to work flawlessly. We only make use of 3 Microsoft Apps in the package: Word, Excel, and Virtual PC.
Have you tried Apple’s iWork “Pages?” If Apple had an Office compatible suite, would you install that in your operation? How critical is the Microsoft Office suite for Mac?
I just purchased the new iWork. It seems really slick and when Apple adds a spreadsheet component to it, we certainly will consider it over Word and Excel. We’ll probably always have a version of Microsoft Office installed just in case there’s a compatibility issue with a clients file.
What have been the drawbacks to using Macs in the office?
Having to endure Virtual PC, which can be quite slow. And before Microsoft took it over, it had the strangest bugs and workarounds I’ve ever seen. We’re so relieve that they seem to be getting it buttoned down and stable.
If we didn’t have to run VPC, it’d save a lot of time and RAM! Hint: Get at least 2 GB RAM if you intend to use VPC (and don’t forget to max out its RAM allocation in preferences).
How would you summarize your use of Macs in a professional, financial operation?
Our office is one of the highlights of my life. We’ve had so much fun learning how to make everything work. Using Macs and OSX has made our work life easier and more enjoyable. It’s a synergy of simplicity, stability, security and style that is hard to beat.
We are excited and proud of our office and the work we output.
What recommendation would you make to an IT department or small company that has ONLY Windows PCs in their environment?
I’m not familiar enough with the inner workings of PC networks, but I’ve read that Macs mesh right in to PC networks just fine. I would certainly point out the nonexistence (thus far) of viruses, spyware, malware, etc. But then again, their job security is enhanced greatly by the existence of such things.
That big “N” was designed by my dad and I on our Mac (surprise!). If you think you’ve seen it before, it’s because our “N” is similar to the one on the dollar bill (where it spells O-N-E).
Tera’s Note: The first Comment link below has additional information about how you can contact Art and Kelly at Nelson Accounting Partners.
How about you? Does your business have Macs or is the computer environment mixed with Macs, Windows PCs and other servers? How about an interview? Drop us a note via the Feedback link below, or share your experience with Macs in the workplace via the Comments link below.