There's a valuable axiom to consider when deciding whether to buy a Mac or PC for your business: "First, find the software that meets your needs and then decide on the hardware." The best computer in the world is useless if it won't work with the software you need.
It's interesting how some perceptions don't change over the years, even if they aren't accurate. In 1991 I owned a rapidly growing wholesale business and was faced with the need to computerize my billing and inventory systems quickly. At that time, most people said that despite the quality of the Macintosh hardware, the best selection of software was on the PC. In fact, most "knowledgeable" people I consulted said that the only good accounting software available was for the PC.
Fortunately, I decided to take time to evaluate the accounting software that was available for the Mac and discovered an extremely capable program called Accountant, Inc. Over the years, the program has been acquired by several different companies; it has evolved into Mac P&L; and it is now published by Aatrix. Almost 10 years later, I still hear people saying there aren't any good accounting programs available for the Mac, so it's time to dispel that perception. Mac P&L combines the advantages of working with the most user-friendly computer on the planet with the advantages of working with a powerful, yet easy-to-use accounting application.
If the idea of dealing with double-entry accounting, making journal entries, reversing entries, and working with a Chart of Accounts causes you to break out in a cold sweat, please read the rest of this review; Mac P&L provides plenty of accounting power without the need to navigate a confusing interface or the need to have a background in either accounting or bookkeeping. In fact, you may be amazed at how easily Mac P&L covers the range of important financial details of your business.
Accounting for Taste -- Mac P&L supports both cash and accrual methods of accounting, can generate both item and service invoices, and provides an integrated approach to managing your business: inventory, invoices, purchase orders, payroll, payables, receivables, general ledger, etc. are all linked together so making an entry in one section of the program automatically updates all the appropriate areas of the program. Easy access to the various components of the program is provided by well-organized menus and a tool palette.
The report generator included with Mac P&L enables you to create and customize an extensive list of reports. Conveniently, Mac P&L has grouped most of its reports by category (i.e., Inventory, Vendor, Customer, Project, and Company). Within each category, you can select the report you wish to run and set parameters for the report, such as a date range and a sorting option. Along with reports, a recent addition to Mac P&L gives you the capability to customize the forms that the program can generate, including invoices, purchase orders, quotes, statements, and credits, as well as other forms.
Individual modules also offer a good depth. For instance, among the key features included in Mac P&L's inventory module is the capability to assemble a product from its components. If your business manufacturers a product from inventoried components, this feature enables you to add the finished product to your stock while automatically deducting the components from your inventory. Another handy feature is the capability to set a low-inventory warning for any inventoried item.
Should Mac P&L's modules not cover some functionality you have via another program, it's possible to link Mac P&L to other programs via AppleScript. That could help tie Mac P&L to a FileMaker Pro database or Excel spreadsheet. I've also found that WestCode's excellent macro and automation utility OneClick works well with Mac P&L.
I've always been a big proponent of regularly backing up critical data, and Mac P&L simplifies that process by including its own backup routine. Also, since each Mac P&L company appears as a distinct file in your Mac P&L Folder, you can easily make ad-hoc backups by quickly copying individual files. (As with all important data and especially with critical financial records, remember to make multiple backups on separate disks and store at least one backup at an off-site location.)
Although Mac P&L's full list of features is far too large to list in its entirety here, additional key features include password security, support for multiple checking accounts, easy reversal of entries, an audit trail, an automated year-end procedure, sales rep tracking, sales tax calculation and tracking, multiple company support, support for an unlimited number of customers, project tracking, conversion of quotes to invoices, printing of inventory labels, multiple addresses for customers, and tracking of back orders. Aatrix also prides itself in having a robust stand-alone payroll program, Aatrix Payroll, a version of which is integrated into Mac P&L.
Finally, Mac P&L comes with a good manual which details both how to start an accounting system for a new business and how to integrate the accounting system for an existing business into Mac P&L. If you don't understand how your books are set up (or how to create a set of books for a new business), then you might want to consider getting either a bookkeeper or an accountant to assist you. However, after looking at the many examples and explanations in the Mac P&L manual, along with the sample companies that Aatrix includes with the program, you may decide outside help won't be necessary. Aatrix also includes a list of approved Mac P&L consultants.
Pennies in the Wishing Well -- Over the years, I've been extremely pleased with both Mac P&L's reliability and user friendliness. However, I would like to see some additional features.
First, entering data for generating checks with Mac P&L can be tedious (in all fairness, this is true with many accounting programs). The procedure is easy enough, but Mac P&L offers no facility to automate repetitive entries you make each month, and it has no way to categorize entries for generating quick, customizable expense reports. Mac P&L could learn from the work Intuit has done with Quicken in this area.
A workaround that has worked well for me is to use Quicken to track all my checks. Quicken's wonderful data entry enhancements and flexible report generator allows me to enter data quickly and then create virtually any report that I want.
"Fine," you ask, "but then how do I keep my Mac P&L General Ledger up to date?" Whenever I need to update my General Ledger, I create a summary report in Quicken and manually enter the totals directly into the appropriate Mac P&L General Ledger accounts through the General Journal, which is a breeze. In fact, Quicken can "memorize" the report criteria I use most frequently, so I don't have to enter most of the criteria necessary to generate a Quicken report each time. While this technique probably won't work for everyone, you may find it a time saver.
Although Mac P&L's inventory module is loaded with useful features, I hope Aatrix decides to add a multi-level pricing option so you could more easily handle pricing discounts based on specific sales volumes. Also, for businesses that deal with overseas clients, a currency conversion feature (perhaps with some sort of online source for exchange rate information) would also be a welcome addition to the program.
Finally, while Mac P&L's forms customization capabilities are both versatile and much appreciated, some of the specific user-interface elements are confusing. For example: "handles" appear on selected objects, but they neither drag nor resize the objects; the cursor doesn't change to a hand to notify you that the active object may be dragged; and you can't drag & drop selected text. Also annoying is the fact that the printed version of a form doesn't always match the screen view of the modified template for that form. These and other issues cause much wasted time when you're customizing forms, though the eventual results can be quite satisfying.
Adding It All Up -- Over the years, I've found Mac P&L to be a delight to work with and proof that the Macintosh does have great accounting software! Whether you own a small sole proprietorship or run a medium-sized company, Mac P&L is worthy of serious consideration for your accounting needs. You can find additional information about Mac P&L (and a free demo) on Aatrix's Web site.
The single-user version of Mac P&L costs $199 and includes a good manual and the previously mentioned payroll program. A multi-user version is also available for $999. Mac P&L requires a Macintosh running System 7.0 or later with about 15 MB of hard disk space and 5 MB of available RAM.
[Steve Becker is a Mac consultant, author, and programmer. Other articles written by Steve, as well as his highly rated Mac shareware utilities, are available on Steve's Web site.]