I have worked in finance for many years, and the most widely used accounts package for the small companies I have worked for seems to be some version of Sage Accounts, of which there are many. This one is the one my current place of work use, and although this review is under the 2013 package, we bought the 2012 one and receive regular updates from Sage, rather than having to buy a new package each year. This effectively means we are running on the 2013 version.
Installing Sage software is about as easy and idiot-proof as you could possibly imagine. You will receive a disk, with an activation code, and it's basically a case of inserting the disk, following the prompts (hitting "Next" when prompted), and at the end it will ask for your activation code. The activation code will be specific to your purchase, and is to verify that you have bought the software and not copied it or borrowed it from someone else. The Sage helpline is also excellent, so if you encounter any problems with installation you can call them (this is usually part of the package and well worth the money), and they will talk you through it or dial in remotely.
The software has the functions you will need to run an all-round accounts system. This includes sales and purchase ledger, VAT, bank accounts, stock, and will allow you to produce accounts up to trial balance level. Once you open the software, there are tabs on the left hand side which you can open depending on what you need to do. These are broken down into:
This is where you manage your sales ledger, by creating accounts for each customer, raising sales orders, invoices, receiving payments, issuing refunds, chasing debts, and so on. There are tabs for each of these activities (and more) so if you have a logical brain it's very easy to figure out what you should be doing. From here, you can also raise queries if invoices are unpaid, and Sage can manage your credit control by using the reports function and using their standard letter template.
Similarly to customers, your purchase ledger is managed within this tab, allowing you to enter purchase orders, purchase invoices, deliver orders, make payments and so on. Again, there are comprehensive reports which help you to manage your purchase ledger, allowing you to pay invoices when they fall due (or some time afterwards in my company's case!).
This tab is where you can set up and amend company settings and functions such as VAT, department codes for analysis of nominal codes, journals, amendments and the chart of accounts. You can view the nominal activity (basically a list of all transactions), and set up new nominal codes if you need them. The company tab also allows you to produce a trial balance, P&L and balance sheet.
The bank tab lists your bank accounts, and enables you to pay suppliers or receive payments from customers through this screen, post payments, transfer money between accounts and do bank reconciliations. You can also manage your petty cash and credit card through this tab.
This is basically where stock is managed, and thankfully I've only had to use this in one company I've worked at because I found it quite difficult to manage. It relies on accurate information (obviously), so if you're not getting delivery notes passed to you, it's impossible to track back where you've gone wrong during the month and your stock on Sage won't actually reflect your stock levels. If properly managed, I expect this would be quite useful.
I'll be honest and say I've never used this tab, which in ten years of working in finance for several different companies, probably goes to show how useful it is.
Again, I've never used the diary, preferring to rely on Outlook and setting myself reminders for things like monthly deadlines, credit control and so on.
==Ease of Use==
The software is very user friendly, so even if you've not used it before, as long as you have a grasp of accounts and the double entry system, you shouldn't have too many problems working it out. The program has bars along the left hand side representing each function, and so it's obvious when you are attempting to do something which screen you need to be in.
The only issue with Sage is that if you make a mistake and post a transaction in error, you can't just press an 'Undo' button like in Microsoft Office, instead you have to reverse the transaction through journals. This can look messy on the transaction history, and you also need to have a good understanding of the T-accounts (debits and credits) system, otherwise you can end up in a pickle if your correcting journals are wrong!
I would recommend buying this software directly from Sage, as this way ensures you are obtaining a legitimate copy of the software. The Sage 50 Accounts Professional packages begin from £1,170 plus VAT, and include one user and one company licence. You can add additional users and companies at an extra cost.
One thing to bear in mind with Sage, as with any other software, is that you will need to run regular back-ups of the software. If you fail to do this you can risk losing data if the system is corrupted, and I have learned through experience that this can cause many a sleepless night!
Overall this is an excellent package for maintaining your sales and purchase ledger, and running monthly and annual accounts. It cuts down on your workload as it posts the double entry transaction for you, you just have to choose the correct nominal code. I would say it's most useful in small to medium sized companies, and if not too many people have access to enter transactions as it's not really designed for lots of people to be using it at the same time. Although our Sage is networked, there are certain tabs you can only access when nobody else is in the system, which would become problematic in a larger company.
(Review also appears on Ciao under the username Gingerkitty)