Alex (yakshaver) wrote,

But why does it have to suck so much?

I own a small company that manages to eek out a small profit from domain registrations, consulting, and co-location. I am president, senior consultant, chief carryer of heavy objects — and bookkeeper.

When I started the company, I tried to evaluate small business accounting software as I would evaluate any other application. I'm a pretty smart guy who's been making my living using computers for over twenty years; I have learned literally hundreds of apps, many of them specialist apps for fields where I was not an expert, but was nonetheless able to get work done using them.

To make a long story short, I found software that looked very promising. But I also figured out two other things:
  1. The accounting software you use determines which accountants you can work with: an accountant isn't going to buy learn software just for one tiny customer, and if you want to print out your books and take them to the accountant in that form, like everyone used to do twenty years ago, you're going to pay a lot more then if you just email it to them in a format they know how to work with.
  2. Finding the right accountant is far more important than finding the right accounting software. I don't know what's happened to the accounting profession since I was a kid, but damned near every accountant I talked to three years ago gave me the creeps in a way I normally associate with used car salesmen.
So I decided to change tack, focus on finding an accountant I wanted to work with, and go with whatever software they recommended. I got very lucky when a friend referred me to someone she knew from having sung in a choir with him. Rich is an old-school sole-practitioner in his sixties. He wasn't very interested in taking new clients, but agreed to meet with me, and we immediately took a liking to each other. His experience has enabled him to point me in the right direction when the (not always accounting-related) issues that come up running a business might otherwise have left me completely adrift. Rich, like nearly every other small-business accountant, uses QuickBooks.

So I bought QuickBooks and learned to use it. It is, by a huge margin, the market leader in small business accounting software. And it is a steaming pile of shit.1

Where to even begin? How about the help system: If you have a help window open, you're locked out from the rest of the program's windows. You want to be able to look at switch back and forth between the documentation and the thing documented? Why would you want to do that?

Or suppose you want to enter a transaction that's just like an old transaction. Imagine any other modern GUI application — a drawing program, for instance. Once you've created an object, if you want to create another object a great deal like that one, you copy the existing object, paste, and edit tne new object. Not so in QuickBooks. Say you have an invoice from that needs to be broken out into seven expense accounts, just like the invoice the same vendor sent you last month. If you were doing your bookkeeping in a big ledger-like spreadsheet, you'd just copy the entry for the old invoice, paste it in to a new blank line, change the date and amounts and, and you'd be done. In QuickBooks, you have to enter all the new data by hand.

QuickBooks has, as you would expect of accounting software, a concept of accounts. Accounts can have subaccounts. Accounts have certain characteristics — for instance, what tax line an expense maps to. Suppose you have an account, Postage and Delivery, and you want to create a subaccount under it for FedEx expenses. Can you copy the existing UPS account and change the copy's name? No, of course not. So you create a new subaccount. Can you do this by some such straightforward method as control-clicking on the account and selecting "create subacount" from the popup menu? No, of course not. So you go to create a new account. A dialog pops up with the new account's characteristics, starting with account type. Which defaults to Bank. Because we all know bank accounts are the most common sort of accounts for a business to need to set up. My company has thousands of bank accounts, doesn't yours?

picture of the menu discussed in the following paragraphSo the first thing you have to do is go to the account type menu and select Expense. You might have thought the reason Bank was the default is that it's first in an alphabetical menu. Ha ha. You very funny. Expense, which is going to be the most common account type for any kind of business, even one that did have hundreds of bank accounts, is the third to last item on a menu whose order appears to be entirely arbitrary.

Having selected expense from the menu, you now get to select the "subaccount" checkbox, and select "Postage and Delivery" from the menu. If you were still so optimistic as to imagine that this program does anything right, you might at this point expect the "tax line" field to be automatically filled with same information as in the Postage and Delivery account. Alas, your hopes would be dashed.

I could go on endlessly. I spent two hours this morning trying to get the program to download my credit card statement. It starts with a dialog where you can select your bank from a pulldown or click a button to view a list of banks they claim to work with. The pulldown has only one item, "QuickBooks Platinum". So I click the button, wait for a list of what appears to be several thousand banks to load, scroll down the list to my bank, click the accompanying checkbox, click the done button, and find myself back at the previous dialog. Where the pulldown menu still has only one item in it. Lather, rinse, repeat. Google for documentation. Read documentation. Conclude that the available documentation is insufficient to determine whether I am in fact doing something wrong.....

I understand Sturgeon's law. What I don't understand is why it is that in the software industry, not only is 95% of everything crap, but in categories where there is a product that is so dominant as to be effectively a monopoly, it is inevitably among the shittiest software on the market in any category?

1 One of the, uh ... benefits? ... of growing up on a farm is that I have actually seen steaming piles of shit. QuickBooks smells far worse.
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