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Search is the New OS

is the New OS

Gregory L. LaFollette, CPA.CITP,
Executive Editor

From the January 2005 Issue&

In the ’90s it was all about operating systems (OS). Microsoft led us through a dizzying parade
of “new and better”
OS, from all the flavors of DOS
into Windows 3.1, 95, 98, SE, ME,
NT, 2000 and finally XP. Each meant
billions to the vendor and the bloat
and scope creep had the Intel’s
of the world happily selling us
more and more horsepower to take
advantage of new features and functionality.
As a profession, we didn’t
mind because we were experiencing
the initial euphoria of rapid increases
in productivity. Everybody played;
everybody won! New software genres
were invented, and the competition
improved everyone’s product.

accountants spent many a technology
CPE hour deciding when to “make
the leap” from a current (read
stable) OS to the bright, shiny,
new one just released. Even today,
with security risks at an all-time
high, we have practitioners debating
the wisdom of applying a major service
pack to the XP operating system.
Now it appears the “OS juggernaut”
is about to end. Microsoft has all
but formally announced that Longhorn,
the much-awaited replacement for
the XP operating system, won’t
be released until probably 2007.
But fear not, we have a replacement
to confound and confuse us! “Search”
is the new OS!

Accounting firms have been quietly
bumping into the “search”
problem for the past few years.
A rapid expansion of services, clients,
internal and external programs,
and, mostly, the drive toward paperless
engagements and paperless firms,
has elevated the concept of search
to the rank of “Most Important”
in many mid-sized firms. Smaller
firms are also beginning to notice
and are preparing to actively attack
the problem. The problem is an explosive
growth in data and no clear-cut
method to account for it. In a presentation
at the ITA’s Fall Collaborative,
Sue Torgeson, product manager for
CCH Tax and Accounting, talked of
their “STARSSS” model,
citing accounting firms’ need
to Store, Track, Access, Retain,
Search, Secure and Share each piece
of data. And while Torgeson’s
product, ProSystem fx Document,
and several of its category competitors,
meet each of those objectives, there
are unstructured, raw desktop search
engines emerging that many feel
may provide, while not the entire
STARSSS, at least the “S”earch.

I’ve been hearing the term
petabyte lately. I was just getting
used to firms having to manage hundreds
of gigabytes and now some, admittedly
forward-thinking, thought leaders
are talking about the management
of data stores that are orders of
magnitude larger. The problem is
growing inexorably larger and is
simply begging for a solution. When
we started managing electronic files,
we all seemed to gravitate toward
a tree structure that rather mimicked
our file room. Folders and a series
of sub-folders, etc., such as Clients
| A – C | {Client Name} |
Year | Service | …, etc. Note
that computers never actually NEEDED
all that structure, but rather WE
did. We wanted to organize in a
familiar fashion, and the technology
so allowed.

problem here is that each document
must be accurately deposited or
it may be forever lost. Many a technology-adverse
practitioner has accosted me on
exactly this point, hoping to find
a reasonable argument for avoiding
the (inevitable) move toward electronic
documents. My response? Based on
over 25 years of practice, I KNOW
that paper documents can be and
occasionally are misfiled. Thus,
it’s a management and training
issue, not a technology issue.

Now, suddenly, SEARCH is the new
OS! Unless you’ve been living
under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly
heard about Google and its (perceived)
full attack on Microsoft. It seems
the world’s latest golden
boys, Google founders Larry Page
and Sergey Brin, think they may
have an answer. If an onboard search
engine can search EVERYWHERE, and
do so INSTANTLY, do we really NEED
to organize files? Please be aware
that I’m not (yet) advocating
a “junk drawer” approach
to electronic documents, and I’m
fully aware that “search”
is only ONE of seven very important
functions so succinctly described
in the STARSSS model. But if you’re
a wise planner, you’ll want
to be very aware of the looming
“search wars.”

In point, a few months ago, Microsoft
purchased Lookout and has been quietly
working to improve the already wonderful
Outlook search add-in. Google released
it’s wildly popular “Google
Desktop Search,” and companies
such as Nelson Email Organizer (NEO),
Copernic (Copernic Desktop Search)
and Idealab (X1) are seeing interest
in their products absolutely explode.
Early next summer, we’ll be
offering a webinar to examine these
and other emerging solutions to
the “problems and opportunities
of search” for practicing
accountants. Until then, you may
want to experiment with one or more
of these new tools

knows, you may even find that long-lost
misfiled document!

P.S. — I confess to being
an incurable gadget junkie. I simply
could NOT resist the e-mail that
announced the new Treo 650. Even
though my Treo 600 is less than
a month old (I’ve actually
had it for nearly a year, but Sprint
recently replaced it because of
a circuit problem), I bit. Hard.
And my initial reaction is “Wow!”
I honestly didn’t expect such
improvements. I’ll report
more later. Check my blog at
for updates.

LaFollette is Executive Editor of
The CPA Technology Advisor. He was
a Tax & Technology partner in
a large local firm for 23 years,
and VP of Product Strategy for a
major tax and accounting software
developer for five years. He is
the President and CEO of Accounting
Technology Resource Network, LLC
and can be reached at
He also publishes the tax and accounting
blog at