Choosing software (continued)
Deciding what you want is often a question of budget and preference – a bit like deciding which car you want. All of them can get you from A to B, but some have features you prefer or find easier to use.
When thinking about which software to use, ask to see a demo, or download one from a website. Talk to colleagues and others about what they use and consider enrolling on a training course before plumping for something which is likely to be your main working tool for the next few years, especially if it requires specialist skills, as in the case of accounting software.
Microsoft provides many of the standard packages, but there numerous other options, with a very wide range of prices:
- Hotmail, Thunderbird and Eudora are email programs.
- Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Gimp and Illustrator are for working with graphics.
- Quickbooks and Sage are the most popular accounting packages in small and medium-sized organisations. Microsoft now offers Office Accounting, with a free version called Office Accounting Express.
- Quark and InDesign are the professionals’ choice for desktop publishing.
- Firefox and Opera are web browsers, Apple Mac users get Safari with their computers.
- Apple Mac users will be familiar with iTunes, iPhoto and iMovie, for managing music, photos and digital film editing.
Software doesn’t stand still. Although the original software may be perfectly reliable you may need to upgrade to access new features or improve your productivity. For example, most accounts packages, such as Sage or Quickbooks, require regular updates to allow for changes such as new tax codes.
The latest version of Microsoft Office provides a new project tool to track related documents, spreadsheets, email activity and contacts being used by different people in your team. A move from Windows 2000 to Windows XP or Vista can offer new features for your whole system.
Upgrading a piece of software may cost as much as it did to buy it in the first place – some software companies see you as a new customer, buying a new product. Most will offer a low-cost upgrade for a limited time, or only between consecutive upgrades – so you can’t jump from, say, version 2 to version 4 without paying the full rate.
Remember that you may also need to upgrade your hardware to be able to work with your new software, either because it runs too slowly or because it won’t run at all. This is very common with operating systems, which often evolve to match the capabilities of each new generation of computer chips.
The need for continual upgrades is seen by some as an unnecessary expense, driven by the computer companies and their need for regular doses of your money. Some will also point to the attraction of using Open Source software, which is unlikely to require payment for upgrades. Seek advice as widely as you can before setting off with any new choice of software and make sure your budgets reflect any additional costs.
Standardise your software
An easy way to reduce running costs of ICT is to standardise your software across your organisation. Having four versions of Windows in your office, or a mixture of email packages, will increase the time taken to solve a problem as well as making incompatibilities more likely.
It may be more helpful to stretch this to a ‘no more than two’ rule, which means you can have a Windows machine and a Mac in your network, as long as you don’t have multiple versions of each (MacOSX.1, Mac OSX.4, Windows 2000,Windows XP, etc). Or you may have Microsoft Office, kept up to date, as your first choice for your workers, but allow the use of Open Office for public access machines.
Software discounts for charities
Registered charities will rarely pay full price for software, but instead should make use of the substantial discounts that are available on products for charities and educational organisations. NVCO has negotiated a range of deals, and there are several commercial companies that specialise in supplying software at discounted rates for not-for-profit organisations.
Microsoft donates software to charities
Since July 2006, Charity Technology Trust (CTT) has managed a programme called Charity Technology Exchange in the UK on behalf of Microsoft, as part of a wider global initiative to increase charity software donations internationally.
This is not a 'discount scheme' but a donations programme, so is available only to registered charities. CTT charges a small handling fee, equivalent to around 4 per cent of list price, in order to cover the costs of resourcing the programme. Since it was launched in July 2006, over 1,500 organisations have applied to take part.
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