For the past few years, the mantra in the mid-range has been that Best Software will soon own the market. Acquiring solid and reliable competitors and positioning its lineup well, Best has indeed made strong inroads.But it doesn't own the mid-range, and won't in the near term. This is not due to any failing on Best's part, but rather to the rich offerings and loyal customer bases of its competitors. Of the eight products reviewed in this year's round-up, four are in fact published by Best Software. But the competitors from AccTrak, Cougar Mountain, CYMA and Microsoft are strong in features and well-positioned in their own right.

Not featured, but also emerging as strong contenders in this segment, are the Enterprise Edition of QuickBooks from Intuit, and some exceptional online contenders like NetSuite.

There is a lot of movement in this market, and it will be surprising if there are not more changes before next year's review, but don't look for any single company, product or feature set to dominate. Look instead for some very robust competition and some of the best values for the dollar that can be found in the accounting software industry.

Accpac Advantage Series V. 5.3

Vendor information
Accpac Advantage Series V. 5.3
Accpac (Best Software)
6700 Koll Center Pkwy., Third Floor
Pleasanton, Calif. 94566
(800) 945-8007
www.accpac.com
Pricing: Small Business Edition -- starts at $495 per module.

Accpac Pro Series V. 7.3
Accpac (Best Software)
6700 Koll Center Pkwy., Third Floor
Pleasanton, Calif. 94566
(800) 945-8007
www.accpac.com
Pricing: Small Business Edition -- starts at $995 per module; source-code available. Enterprise Edition -- $1,995 per module.

AccTrak21 V. 12.0
AccTrak21 USA Inc.

31082 347th Ave.
Frontenac, Minn. 55026
(888) 595-8460
www.acctrak21.com
Pricing: Varies with reseller; starts at $2,000 for two-user system.

BusinessVision 32 V. 6.3
Standard Edition
Best Software Inc.
6700 Koll Center Parkway,
Third Floor
Pleasanton, Calif. 94566
(877) 789-4545
www.businessvision.com
Pricing: Starts at $995, depending on version and number of users. Standard edition -- starts at $5,495.

BusinessWorks Gold 5
Best Software Inc.

56 Technology Dr.
Irvine, Calif. 92618
(800) 447-5700
www.bestsoftware.com/businessworks Pricing: Core accounting bundle for BusinessWorks Gold Standard Edition -- starts at $995, includes SM, GL, AP, AR, cash management and one-year subscription plan; other modules and subscription (support) plans are also available. Multi-user licenses also available.

Cougar Mountain Accounting for Windows V. 9.0
Cougar Mountain Software
7180 Potomac Drive
Boise, Idaho 83704
(800) 388-3038
www.cougarmtn.com
Pricing: Single user -- $1,499; multi-user -- starts at $2,699,
depending on number of users.

CYMA IV Financial
Management System V. 7.0

CYMA Systems Inc.
2330 West University Drive, Suite 7
Tempe, Ariz. 85281
(800) 292-2962
www.cyma.com
Pricing: Single user -- $595 per module (system manager, GL, AP, AR, payroll, bank reconciliation); MICR check printing -- $295.

Small Business Financials V. 8.0
Microsoft Business Solutions
One Lone Tree Road
Fargo, N.D. 58104
(800) 456-0025
www.microsoft.com/businesssolutions
Pricing: Two users -- $995; three users -- $1,395; five users -- $2,195. Six to 10 users -- sold at regular prices, $995 for one user, $400 for each additional user. Separate modules -- Fixed Asset Suite, FRx Designer User, U.S. Payroll Suite, Crystal Reports and Magnetic Media -- are not included in this pricing.

Accpac International Inc.Accpac Advantage Series is one of four major accounting systems from Best Software that are aimed at the mid-range accounting market. Built on the original Accpac Plus product, it is a powerful and scalable product with enhanced Web capabilities.

Advantage Series is operated either as a Web-based or client-server application, supporting not only Microsoft SQL Server but also the Oracle, IBM DB2 and Pervasive.SQL databases. It is offered in three editions, scaling from the Small Business Edition with five concurrent users up to an unlimited number in the Enterprise Edition. All of the versions are expandable via Accpac's modular applications for customer relationship management, human resource management, warehouse management and manufacturing, e-commerce, point-of-sale, and project and job costing.

Version 5.3, released in October of 2004, is a substantial enhancement to all editions of the Advantage Series, offering features that range from better security and speed to a new transaction analysis feature that permits businesses to assign, report on and analyze specific, predetermined information attached to transactions. The transaction analysis feature offers detailed ad hoc reporting without the need to set up complex, multi-level general ledger accounts.

To simplify security management and control, users can automatically sign into their accounting system simply by using their Microsoft Windows domain account.

Improved inventory control, order entry and payroll modules have features to eliminate multiple entry requirements for inventory and order control, while the payroll module provides additional report printing to meet new government regulations, and support internal business analysis needs.

The new version also supports self-service timecards, allowing employees to enter time and billing records from any location where they can access a Web browser.

Accpac Advantage Series is a well-designed and easily navigated accounting product. It uses a Microsoft Internet Explorer-style interface with a left-sidebar menu and icon-driven applications to provide a very solid accounting platform. Its superior scalability and flexibility make it a strong choice for small businesses with the potential to become major enterprises, or for companies that are seeking an established and reliable management accounting system.

Accpac Pro Series V. 7.3
Accpac (Best Software)

Though it shares the Accpac brand and the flexibility of the Advantage Series, Accpac Pro Series is a very different accounting product, one that was built on the former SBT Accounting line. Its key feature - beyond the accounting functions of general ledger, accounts receivable, accounts payable, inventory control, order entry, purchase orders, manufacturing, payroll, message master, and job costing and payroll - is an open systems architecture that provides for unlimited flexibility and customizing.

Pro Series is offered in two editions. The Small Business Edition allows up to 10 concurrent users, while the unlimited Enterprise Edition comes complete with source code for tweaking and customizing the product. The source code is built on the FoxPro engine (though a version is also available for Microsoft SQL Server), making changes to the source code relatively easy for any experienced programmer.

Version 7.3, released in September of 2004, offers more than 200 upgrades and enhancements to the product and is billed as the largest upgrade in the product's history. Among its changes are interface improvements, data management features and enhanced manufacturing modules. In addition, the Enterprise Edition benefits from the addition of a national accounts capability in the AR module and an inter-company transactions module.

Version 7.3 also includes a new module for integrated credit card processing without manual data entry into the order entry system and accounts receivable. It offers the ability to create customized user toolbars that are accessible throughout the system. And an advanced data driller capability allows for multi-level drill-down capabilities with automated report creation.

Though the look and feel of Accpac Pro Series is very different from the Accpac Advantage Series - more stolid and straightforward - both use a left-side navigation menu and both offer the comfortable structure of a database-driven application.

Pro Series is easily installed and easy to use, and both Series offer a diversity of modules. Those include such management applications as CRM, human resources management, warehouse management, electronic data interchange, an Accpac eTransact Web store, Accpac CFO, and Accpac Insight, a reporting and forecasting tool. The Advantage Series also offers online access through Accpac Online hosted services.

Powerful and flexible, Accpac Pro Series sets a sound foundation for accounting in small and midsized firms with outstanding flexibility and customization through its open source code.

AccTrak21 V. 12.0
AccTrak21 USA Inc.

AccTrak21 differs from other products aimed at the accounting mid-market - and not just because it is multinational, with customers in 22 countries. It is different in its focus on the CPA-client relationship, in its utilization of such collaboration tools as PDAs and cell phones, and in its focus on business intelligence and management rather than simple accounting functionality.

AccTrak21 is a modular management and accounting system built on the Sybase relational database architecture, and runs on both the Windows and Linux operating systems. The base system consists of GL, AR, AP, cash management, a system manager and an online wizard. A Sybase ASA Relational Database Management System is the foundation of the AccTrak21 application, enabling users to enter their daily transactions.

Additional modules handle distribution management, online analysis program, CRM, online banking, e-commerce, m-commerce, and practice management.

Of particular note are the modules for CRM, BizInt Wizard and Health Of My Business. The CRM module integrates with both the back-office accounting system and the front-office productivity tools of Microsoft Outlook, Word and Excel. Data is entered one time and categorized in ways that are relevant to the company. BizInt Wizard is an online business intelligence tool using pre-configured Seagate OLAP cubes. It enables clients to undertake detailed analyses of sales, purchasing, financials, materials and labor/overheads by dragging and dropping any dimension or drilling down to the lowest-level field to get needed information.

The HOMB module provides summaries of business performance, allowing the client and their accountant to monitor the business. They determine which financial ratios and key performance indicators to monitor, and how frequently. HOMB then automatically extracts this information from the database, prepares a graphical report of the information, and e-mails it to senior managers, directors and the company's CPA, as authorized.

The software itself installs easily and is not difficult to use. The user interface, consistent for all the modules, features a set of bright, snappy screens built for fast navigation. Notable is the fact that the Sybase architecture allows not only for scalability, but for virtually unlimited customization due to its open nature.

AccTrak 21 is attracting a growing client base in the U.S. It features a highly scalable and customizable accounting system with a host of applications and modules to make it more functional as a business management tool.

BusinessVision 32 V. 6.3
Accpac (Best Software)

Best's BusinessVision 32 is targeted at entry-level users who have outgrown their accounting systems and are looking to move up to a more robust, mid-range accounting system. It has four versions that range from Limited and Small Business Editions to the Standard and SQL Client/Server Editions.

The primary difference between the versions is not, of course, the underlying engine. It is the number of modules and add-on packages that are included: The Limited Edition is a single-user, 16-module version; the Small Business Edition is a three-user, 16-module version; the Standard Edition has 18 modules (adding bill of materials and budgets & forecasts), with five users expandable to 10 and add-ins for eBusinessVision, multiple currencies and the CustomPack customization module; and the SQL Client/Server Edition is similar to the Standard version, but is expandable up to 100 concurrent users. The SQL Edition is also better able to handle the high volume of an installation of this size, and is more fault-tolerant over a network because processing is largely handled on the server.

BusinessVision 32's modules include AR, AP, GL, order entry, point of sale, inventory, purchase order, budgets & forecasts, bill of materials, payroll, and multiple manufacturing solutions including bill of materials and job costing, in addition to various third-party add-ons. The software integrates with Microsoft Office, most contact management systems, Crystal Reports, F9, CaseWare and import/export hand-held devices.

BusinessVision 32 was created as a robust, 18-module enterprise solution that was then scaled back to create effective versions for the smaller enterprise.

Though powerful enough for the enterprise, the software is reasonably easy to navigate and use via top-level menus and icons. Because all actions are done in real-time, and are posted as they occur, there are no complicated batch or end-of-period procedures. And if the user interface is somewhat more stolid or less colorful than in competitive packages, there is no arguing with its accounting sensibilities or its cost-effective performance.

BusinessVision 32 rounds out Best Software's presence in the mid-range accounting software market, with a clear upgrade path to enterprise-level software in a well-designed and customizable package.

BusinessWorks Gold 5
Best Software Inc.

BusinessWorks is Best Software's accounting application for companies that have outgrown the off-the-shelf retail packages but are not yet ready to step up to the more robust enterprise solutions. It is a well-crafted, modular package that combines strong accounting features with inventory capabilities in a highly scalable solution.

New in Version 5.0 are a streamlined, wizard-driven installation process, along with enhancements in key areas such as inventory management, data entry, search functionality and reporting capabilities. In addition, a new "export look-up information to Excel" feature enables businesses to easily transfer data from any look-up into Microsoft Excel for on-the-fly report creation.

The full system includes 11 modules: a system manager, GL, cash management, AP, AR, inventory control and purchasing, order entry, payroll, job cost, custom office and the BusinessWorks/GoldMine Link. Inventory control features provide serial number tracking, multiple warehouse management capabilities and multiple costing and pricing methods for complete inventory management. It also supports the e-mailing of forms such as quotes, invoices and purchase orders to help reduce costs and shorten the sales cycle.

BusinessWorks sports an attractive and fresh user interface, consistent with the goal of bringing painless accounting services to small companies as they grow. Status bars, left-panel menus and shortcuts provide excellent navigation, while a Web-enabled main window called "The Launcher" gives access to Microsoft Office applications, the Internet, technical support and the BusinessWorks Services Center. The most frequently used modules and tools are presented in a start-up group each time the program is opened, and other time-saving features include a notepad for client data and auto fill-in for city and state blocks based on zip codes.

These features, combined with a robust payroll system and e-commerce capabilities, make BusinessWorks a first-rate accounting solution for the "tween" company on the edge of becoming an enterprise.

Cougar Mountain Accounting for Windows V. 9.0
Cougar Mountain Software

Not all mid-range companies are alike. Some are not striving for the size of the enterprise, and don't need the sophistication of high-end accounting software. They just need a good accounting solution with a little more kick than retail solutions can provide.

Cougar Mountain Accounting for Windows fills this niche nicely, with a product designed to keep control of the accounting system firmly in the hands of the company's bookkeeper, while providing the broadest possible range of necessary services.

CMS is particularly well suited to operations that have independent point of sale and back-end order entry systems, since it provides for real-time, rapid integration of these systems with the accounting programs. This can eliminate mistakes from double entry of transactions and reduce paperwork. This translates to time savings for employees and reduced order wait times for customers.

The software includes modules for general ledger, accounts payable and receivable, data exchange, inventory, order entry/invoicing, and Liveware's R&R Report Writer Version 9.0. Add-on modules include multi-location inventory, bank reconciliation, payroll, purchase order, point of sale, e-commerce, a report generator, job costing and a barcode generator.

Cougar Mountain Accounting is not vastly scalable or customizable, but relies instead on a solid and business-like user interface that is easily configured. This eliminates the cost and pitfalls of tinkering with the source code, while retaining the flexibility needed by some small businesses.

The major complaint about the software has been that its proprietary database architecture made it difficult to scale and upgrade. That situation has been addressed, and Cougar Mountain will shortly announce a new MSDE/SQL Server version of its software that will be optimized to also permit collaboration over the Internet.

Cougar Mountain Accounting for Windows occupies a unique and necessary niche in the mid-range market, and does it with the kind of solid accounting features that will endear it to accountants and small businesses alike.

CYMA IV Financial Management System V. 7.0
CYMA Systems Inc.

Now in its 25th year - one of the oldest continuously operating accounting software firms in the industry - CYMA Financial Management System is a modular, mid-range accounting program whose best features are its economy and flexibility.

It is sold not as a bundle but rather by module, with modules tied together in the standard manner via a system manager. Modules include GL, AP, AR, bank reconciliation, job costing, inventory control, payroll, purchase orders and sales orders.

Version 7.0, released in October 2004, is a major enhancement to the system and virtually all of its modules. It adds inventory control and sales order modules to the lineup, and significantly upgrades the job costing module. System-wide enhancements include a new consolidated general ledger feature, budget control/encumbrance capability, new payroll departmentalization capabilities, and an AR statement e-mail capability. The upgrades largely resolve earlier complaints of limited capabilities in the software and give it a renewed strength in the mid-range markets.

Still, this is not software for the weak. It demands a relatively up-to-date hardware platform and an operating system no older than Windows 2000. Its core database of Pervasive.SQL has been updated to Version 8.9 (the application will run on Pervasive 8.0 or higher), and Crystal Reports Version 10 has become the standard reports engine. Minimum screen resolution is 1024 x 768.

In FMS V. 7.0, CYMA provides a very straightforward and flexible solution that will have strong appeal among accountants and clients who have an appreciation for its cost effectiveness, its exceptional use of current technologies and its dedication to meeting the expanding needs of businesses as they grow.

Small Business Financials V. 8.0
Microsoft Business Solutions

In Version 8.0, MBS's Small Business Financials takes a solid step forward in the mid-range accounting market. While it is ostensibly a replacement for Microsoft's Small Business Manager product, this is a user-friendly accounting package built on the Great Plains 8.0 engine - powerful, flexible and scalable.

Included in the Small Business Financials bundle are modules for GL, AR, AP, bank reconciliation, fixed assets, payroll, direct deposit, magnetic media, ADP integration, SOP, POP and inventory. It also includes a centralized system manager, report writer, FRx, Crystal Reports 9.0 Standard, and integration with Microsoft CRM and RMS.

There are some limitations imposed in order to differentiate this entry-level product for the mid-range from other, more robust products in the Great Plains family. The number of concurrent users is restricted to 10, the length of account names is limited, and there are only four pre-defined aging buckets for accounts receivable.

One of the most powerful features of this MSDE/SQL Server accounting application is its integration with the Microsoft family. The interface is designed to look and work like the interface on Microsoft Outlook 2003. It offers set-up wizards, AP check wizards, AR statement wizards, predefined aging buckets, and a simpler account structure format, with lots of the complexity "turned off," making it easier to implement, use and support.

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