Most of us use a small range of software to carry out the day-to-day administrative tasks required to run a typical VCO. The Microsoft Windows operating system dominates the market, as does the Microsoft Office suite of tools, and the familiarity and relatively low price presents acompelling case for its integrated bundles.
There are other choices, however, including Open Source, and there are good reasons for not just sticking with what seems to be the safest choice. There is also a wide range of specialist software not produced by Microsoft, used for tasks such as keeping accounts, desktop publishing or web design.
What software do you need?
There is a standard range of software that we expect to find on a computer, reflecting the common tasks we undertake:
- word processing – producing letters and reports, simple posters, flyers and other printed materials;
- spreadsheets – managing finances and project budgets; storing and analysing monitoring information and statistics;
- contacts – storing and retrieving addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and so on; managing mailing lists and producing labels;
- web browser – searching the internet and viewing web pages;
- diary – calendars, reminders and planning;
Some people carry out specialist tasks and require other programs:
- desktop publishing – producing more advanced flyers, posters, newsletters;
- graphics programs – working with images;
- managing your accounts;
- designing and updating your website;
- preparing presentations;
- managing information using a database, such as client record systems, bookings, information for monitoring and reporting activity for funders;
- preparing detailed budgets and schedules to manage projects or teams of people.
How to choose software
- Decide what you want to be able to do.
- List the key features you think you need and the budget.
- Ask other people what they use, or look online for suggestions.
- Compile a list of options and their specific features.
- Evaluate the answers against your list of key features.
- Select a package and try to test it before paying for it.
The Microsoft family
The average user in the average voluntary and community organisation is very likely to be using Microsoft software on their computer, including the operating system (such as Windows XP) and a version of Microsoft Office.
Microsoft Office comes in several versions, can run on both Windows and Apple computers and is available at a discount to not-for-profit organisations. Many of the Microsoft products that make up Office have become synonymous with the tasks they support:
- Microsoft Word – word processing and design of simple print materials
- Microsoft Excel – a spreadsheet program
- Microsoft Outlook – for email, calendars, reminders and storing contacts (known as Entourage on Apple Mac)
- Microsoft Internet Explorer – for browsing web pages
- Microsoft Access – a database program (not available for Apple Mac)
- Microsoft PowerPoint – for making presentations
- Microsoft Project – for managing projects
- Microsoft Publisher – for desktop publishing and entry-level web design (not available for Apple Mac)
Although Microsoft products have become the standard for most computer users, their dominance is now being challenged by Open Office. This is a software package which is available free of charge from www.openoffice.org and provides a similar range of options. Although it has some limitations it will work well for most day-to-day users of word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and much more, and is well worth a try before paying for Microsoft Office.
It is estimated that 80% of users need only 20% of the features offered by most programs, although not all of them need the same 20%.
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