Tools To Make You More Effective & Efficient
From the January-March 2007 Issue & 2007
Tax Season Survival Guide
It’s that time of year — time for tax, audit, new business plans,
new technology implementation and the cold of winter spreading over the northern
half of the United States. If I had a choice of all the previously listed items,
I would probably choose winter. On the realistic side of life, however, is the
fact that tax and accounting practitioners have many things to do during what
has become affectionately known as “Busy Season.”
You have a lot to do, despite your specialty, client load and commitments.
This article highlights various quality technology tools that can be found,
obtained and implemented NOW, and any of these products can make your work more
effective. You’ll notice that we did not provide you with a glossary of
all printers or all laptops or all cell phones available — not every product
in every category is included. With time at a premium, the information is presented
to give you a few good ideas that you can use now — usable, useful products
that can make your voyage through busy season a little easier.
You’ll also notice no mention of the Vista operating system and Office
2007 in this article. Even though Microsoft will be shipping these products
early in 2007, I strongly recommended that you wait until after busy season
to determine when you want to install these substantial upgrades.
Detail specifications for each product included in this article can be located
at various websites or in company or magazine reviews. All products mentioned
in this article are available in the United States, and all prices provided
are estimated retail prices. Specials, sales, rebates and warehouse stores will
likely offer different prices.
You need printing capacity to handle the additional volume created during busy
season, and you need to have at least laser print quality. The availability
of color can be helpful when printing reports, especially with graphs or images.
Color also enhances spreadsheets and financial statements when colors like red
need to be identified. Certainly, it makes it easier to read. Using a color
laser jet in your office is not overkill. The printers are small enough for
a desktop, but they may be a bit noisy. Whatever printer you choose to use,
make sure that you have at least one spare toner cartridge in-house. It isn’t
worth the risk to see if your current cartridge will last until you can get
to a store and purchase replacement ink. Also, keep in mind that when printing
with color printers, the cost per page for color is five times that of the black
and white page. When printing paper drafts, use black rather than color.
Color Laser (1600, 2600, 3600) — $300 – $500
This printer comes in three models. Besides the price difference of $100 per
model, you’ll notice a difference in the feature set, such as a built-in
duplexer, built-in networking, and increased print speed. All models have
a 14x14x10-inch footprint and weigh 25 pounds without the second paper tray.
This printer would be a good fit for your office or home office.
Phaser 6120 — $500 (currently discounted to $300)
My first Xerox product was the vendor’s 914 copier … a LONG time
ago. The 6120 color laser printer has only been on the market since November
2005. This is a very good printer for a small office; slightly larger offices
can buy two printers. This color printer has an add-on to support duplex printing
and uses a native postscript driver, which makes access to new equipment and
new operating systems easily implemented. With a second paper tray, you can
print 1,000 pages without a refill. Connections include a USB 2.0 connector
and 10/100Mbps Ethernet, along with an old-fashioned parallel port for legacy
lovers. Notebook nomads can use a third-party Wi-Fi adapter. The Phaser 6120
has a 16×17.5×13.5-inch footprint. No color laser is a lightweight, but the
Phaser is relatively luggable (or at least lift-able) at 45 pounds. Installation
was simplified by having the toner cartridges installed. Simply lift it out
of the box, plug it in, install the driver off the CD, and print.
PIXMA MP830 — $300
The Canon PIXMA MP830 is clearly a graphics and photo printer: The inks area
is both pigment-based and dye-based to enhance color rendering. Measuring
19.7×19.2×11.5 inches and weighing in at 32 pounds, this printer can print
in duplex mode and has an extra paper tray. Output quality is better than
most ink jets, and the photo rating is high. Text and graphics are both good.
Most fonts are readable at four points. Graphics are not as sharp as a laser,
but they are acceptable. Good speed and fine output makes the MP830 a quality
general printer and a superior photo printer.
The use of a laptop over a desktop is a personal decision. If mobility is an
integrated part of your work life, then a laptop is essential. You need sufficient
hard disk space (at least 80GB), enough memory to upgrade to Vista (at least
1GB), and a built-in wireless connection. Everything else depends on personal
preferences — keyboard, size of screen, overall weight, CD/DVD drive,
USB, Firewire, audio, etc.
There are two categories of laptops:
- Desktop Replacements — These have as much horsepower
as any desktop, weigh seven pounds or more with screens that are 14-inch to
17-inch, and can have a TV tuner and widescreen playback as well as a full-size
- Lightweight — These laptops typically have a small
footprint with screens less than 14 inches, weigh less than six pounds, can
have a tablet screen for writing and often have a keyboard that is less than
full size. Laptops are stolen more and more often these days, so it is essential
to control laptops despite your location — client’s office, airport,
coffee bar, in your car, etc. If you are satisfied with the laptop you are
currently using, then migrating to a better product can be postponed until
after busy season. Converting programs, migrating data, and learning new features
may require more time and effort than is available right before or during
the busy time. If a new laptop will significantly improve your work, then
make sure you get the laptop you want and don’t settle for something
less. Making a change to a laptop that is less than what you require is a
waste of your time and money.
XPS M1210 — $1,200
This laptop is a good lightweight and is usable in all venues, including
an airplane coach seat. The XPS M1210 weighs four pounds and has a 12.1-inch
screen. It uses the latest Intel Core Duo processor options and has a performance
ratio that exceeds its small form factor. Overall dimensions are 8.7×11.7×1.2
The XPS M1210 focuses on communications with an optional integrated Mobile
Broadband card, a built-in 1.3 megapixel camera, an omni-directional microphone,
and a mobile broadband antenna. It can also plug into Skype software to
support VoIP applications.
Qosmio G35 — $2,400 and up
This desktop replacement is one of the best in class. Using Intel’s
core duo chipset, the laptop has every feature except a kitchen sink. It
offers a 17-inch screen, a DVD drive that is double-layered, and the TV
tuner is included. The Qosmio weighs in at 10 pounds and has outside dimensions
of 16×11.5×2 inches. The full-size keyboard and all connector ports provide
for a professional, amateur and multimedia set of experiences. Networking
by Ethernet, wireless, dial-up modem and Bluetooth. Even without a separate
keypad, tax and accounting professionals can use this laptop for all computing
LifeBook T4210 Tablet PC — $2,100
The Fujitsu LifeBook T4210 is a Convertible style Tablet PC that boots quickly
and has sufficient memory to run Vista. Battery life of three hours is a
little less than standard laptops, but it’s functional for most airplane
trips. The advantage of tablet PCs is the ability to use handwriting to
take notes on the screen. This makes the laptop useful for students and
for professionals who have a large number of meetings. The LifeBook laptop
has fingerprint software to increase security. In addition, it offers several
one-touch launch buttons to change screen orientation or scroll up and down
within an application. Each button can be set to another function. Portability,
low weight, a swivel screen, and full computing capabilities make the LifeBook
worth a serious look.
Scanning enables the transfer of paper documents to digital format. Very often,
tax files arrive in shoeboxes, audit work papers are prepared by clients, and
so on. Having a scanner will make digitizing documents accurate, quick and easy,
facilitating the creation of digital documents that can be sent using e-mail
attachments or direct scan from your computer, which is especially helpful when
paper documents, such as legal contracts need to be sent across town or across
GT-2500 — $600
This is an excellent office-based flatbed scanner. The imaging technology
and 50-sheet automatic document feeder, automatic duplexing and one-button
scanning combine to support office scanning needs. Affordably priced, the
GT-2500 can scan index cards to legal size at 1200×1200 dpi for quality text
or graphics detail. The Epson GT-2500 is no larger than a desktop printer,
which makes a small enough footprint for any office. Flatbeds make it easy
to scan books, bound workpapers, stapled tax returns and more. Of course,
you do have to keep the glass clean. With the auto feed, unstapled papers
can be fed, scanned and digitized at a speed of 27 ppm for black and white
ScanSnap — $500
The ScanSnap is a spool-feed scanner. The footprint is 5.9×11.2×5.7 inches.
The document feeder holds 50 pages. Its resolution is only 600 pixels per
inch (ppi), which makes it a little light for graphics but just fine for text.
A valuable feature is for the scan to read both sides of a double-side page
so that the rated speed of 15 ppm can be doubled to 30 pages. To take advantage
of this feature, papers need to start off double sided as they are in magazines.
Workpapers and tax returns are most often single sided. The new ScanSnap scans
directly to a *.PDF format. A second choice is *.JPG. Users simply select
the file name and location and then scan the document(s). The ScanSnap is
bundled with a document manager, and users can direct scan to Adobe PhotoShop,
Outlook or other OCR programs.
Everybody has at least one cell phone. Some of you may have more than one. The
key is to understand the difference between what you use the cellular equipment
for and the features that are currently available on equipment that is used
to make and receive telephone calls. Do you have a need to receive e-mails,
take pictures, listen to music, watch television programs, access the Internet,
use computer applications, edit documents, and so on? It is important to know
your use and search for the equipment that maps to your need. For example, if
you need e-mail and Internet access, the monthly fees for cellular service will
double — one fee for telephone access, a second fee for Internet. So make
sure you get all of the information before committing to a particular phone
and service provider.
Ericsson W600I — $360
This phone is very usable as a Walkman, and, by the way, it is a phone. The
innovative form factor is 360° swivel action, so you can talk with the
phone opened, closed or angled to your own style. EDGE technology gives you
faster data transfer, and W600 supports all existing GSM network frequencies,
creating a reliable world phone. Plug in your headphones, crank up the volume
and experience the music-phone revolution.
CU320 — $200 plus service
The LG CU320 takes advantage of Cingular’s new 3G high-speed network.
With a two-inch 262K-color screen, the CU320 works well with video services
for streaming entertainment, news and sports. Videos are sharp, as long as
you keep your eyes on the road ahead. Features also include Bluetooth, a 1.3-megapixel
rotating camera, video and audio capability, and a TransFlash memory card
port. The CU320 is a robust entertainment package for the road warriors, providing
access to multimedia messaging, e-mail access, and live chat through instant
messaging service providers. The busy mobile professional can decide which
services work best during their travel time.
Cell Phones/PDA Combo
One step up in price and a lot of steps up in features, the Cell Phone/PDA
combos can replace two handheld devices with one. The key to using these devices
centers on how much you use each of the two devices. If you have a need for
on-the-road activities such as e-mail access, Internet access, text messaging,
etc., then the combo unit is for your consideration. Important when doing
your review, the total price has to include the equipment PLUS the extra monthly
service cost for Internet connections. This monthly service fee is typically
$30 to $50.
Moto Q — $200 plus service
The Motorola Q combines ultra-thin design, Windows Mobile software, and standard
cell phone features to provide a very usable PDA/phone device. It is the best
designed device in this category, as of today. The Q can be synched with your
computer e-mail program of choice through USB, infrared or Bluetooth. Integrated
Bluetooth also enables earphone connection so you don’t have to hold
a larger box to your ear. Many reviewers have identified that the Q is more
like a PDA than a cellular phone. With this assessment, you would have to
decide which features you would use more — the phone or the PDA. Other
functions include a 1.3-megapixel camera and an MP3 player.
BlackBerry 7130C — $200+
This attractive and well-designed BlackBerry makes the statement that the
age of e-mail phones is here. The BlackBerry 7130c with its bright 240×260
color screen, one hand phone functions and overall usability makes it a definite
option for the cell phone/PDA combo category. Its size is 4.2×2. 2×0.8 inches,
and it weighs just 4.2 ounces. The typing keys are separated enough that fat
fingers like mine can get at them. The keyboard is RIM’s SureType hybrid,
which has two letters on most keys and uses a very good predictive text system
to decide which letter you want to complete the word or phrase. It will take
practice to arrive at a comfort level. Previous users of BlackBerries will
have an easier training time. Of special note is the recent announcement from
the AICPA that RIM has been added to its growing portfolio of AICPA Member
Elite Values Programs. AICPA members can now get the best available pricing
and support services for the BlackBerry handsets, software and accessories
by visiting www.blackberryforthecpa.com.
8125 — $250 (special deals with two-year service contracts)
The Cingular 8125 is one of those Swiss army everything included smart phones.
Unfortunately, with all these features, the phone is a bit large and heavy.
While the call quality is just okay, mobile professionals can obtain all the
tools they need. Cingular offers two versions: one equipped with a 1.3-megapixel
camera and one without (the Cingular 8100). The phone measures 4.3×2.3×1 inch.
It is thicker and heavier (5.2 ounces) than a flip cell phone so you would
have some travel questions to ask. The keyboard is the best of all combo devices,
but do you need it? Entering and exiting applications requires the use of
a stylus. With USB synch to Outlook, your e-mail, contacts, tasks and appointments
can be easily uploaded and downloaded. Because it uses Cingular technology,
the 8125 can be used around the world. Standard phone-type features are included,
such as vibrate mode, a speakerphone, voice dialing and Bluetooth. The Cingular
8125 is rated for five hours of talk time and up to seven days of standby
Treo — $400 (with service contract and data plan)
The Palm Treo was one of the first combo units, and the good keeps getting
better with the Treo. The Treo 700p runs Palm OS 5.4.9, has 128MB of memory
with 60MB available. It’s currently available only in a CDMA version
so it is only usable on the Sprint and Verizon services. The PDA functions
are controlled by various buttons and will take a little training to speed
up the use. These buttons do support one-handed use for basic functions. Any
Internet activity is hobbled by slow access connections. A ton of third-party
applications have been developed under Palm OS, everything from usable business
applications to games.
PORTABLE HARD DRIVE
Maxtor will soon merge with Seagate, but, at the time of this writing, products
carry individual names. Maxtor has been making fixed and portable hard drives
for a long time. This pocketbook-sized device has 100GB. The device ships
with software for automatic data backup and synchronization. The System RollBack
feature allows restoring the system to a certain state in the past. This is
a great device for putting in your briefcase for full or partial backups of
valuable data. Remember that you would be best served to put a password protection
on the files, as portability can lead to a thief deciding where to port your
Maxtor drive to.
2-Bay Network Storage — $230
D-Link has a 2-Bay Network Storage Enclosure designed to enhance all kinds
of usable file sharing — data, music, video, etc. The enclosure supports
any two internal 3.5-inch SATA hard drives that you purchase separately. A
built-in FTP server enables the accessing of stored files through the Internet,
built-in UPnP audio visual (UPnP AV) or a media server. Backup and mirroring
applications are part of the base components. There are four different hard
drive modes (Standard, JBOD, RAID0, RAID1) so the user can select the configuration
best suited for his/her needs. This device is especially useful for SOHO networks
that want to use advanced features when connecting external file storage.
D-Link ships with an Easy Search Utility software that permits easy location
of files and data.
Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 — $60
Carpal tunnel syndrome sufferers, meet the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000.
Although awkward to use at first, especially with the reverse slope attachment,
the keys conform to the finger bend. The keyboard has a great tactile feel.
If you know how to touch type, then go to your nearby computer store and give
it a try. A small miss is that there are no USB or Firewire connectors through
the keyboard. If you like this keyboard, remember to buy two so you can have
one available when you travel away from your main computer.
Optimizer Keyboard — $50
How is your typing speed? Do you need shortcut keys and faster access to program
commands? If so, then you’ll want to check out this keyboard. Holding
down the added “optimize” key transforms many of the keys to command
functions. See the graphic for examples. You can convert the number pad to
lots of cursor moves like arrows, page moves, home and end. Combining the
optimize and shift keys offers even more selections. As with other keyboards,
be aware that if you really like this keyboard, you will have to keep it with
you (it connects via USB). Using a different keyboard will be difficult.
MojoPac — $50 MojoPac (www.mojopac.com)
from RingCube Technologies allows for the temporary use of programs and data
from one computer to another. Applications such as tax planning, financial
planning, decision analysis and so on, can be used at a distance with ease.
MojoPac software is installed on any USB or Firewire Flash Drive with enough
disk space to install your version of a program. Your data and program preferences
are also copied. At no time is the software disabled on your main computer.
You plug the flash drive into another computer and run your program(s) as
if you had lugged your multi-pound laptop with you. When finished, you unplug
the flash drive, and the temporary host computer is back to the way it was.
Your data and program were not saved on the temporary computer, and there
is no security issue. MojoPac has tested and verified a lot of programs, but
you should check with the company before the dreaded “assumptions”
push you over the edge. It should be easy to test; all you need are two computers
and a large flash drive or iPod.
Belkin Notebook Expansion Dock — $200
Another terrific accessory from Belkin has hit store shelves. Belkin’s
new Notebook Expansion Dock connects through your laptop’s ExpressCard
port. This allows for faster throughput for transmitting large data files,
images and video. USB ports on the laptop remain available for any other connections.
The Dock has a vertical design for a smaller desktop footprint. It also reduces
any problem of resting the laptop and its battery on top of another electronic
device. When you carry the laptop away from your office, it is very useful
to have an easy one-plug connection between the laptop and accessories, such
as a second monitor, network connections and audio speakers.
Richard Oppenheim, CPA, CITP, has used and written about technology for
more than four decades. He currently provides advice through the Oppenheim Business
Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.