Finding Software That Fits

Tips for choosing home office applications

The pieces are beginning to come together. Your office has become the picture-perfect work-at-home environment. But there’s more to a home office than meets the eye. In today’s office, the personal computer is the focal point–and the workhorse. But without the right software, your PC might as well be an expensive video game machine.

According to Anne Griffith, senior research analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based Software Publishers Association, price, ease of use, features and customer support are the key points to consider when looking for applications for a home office. “Don’t buy on price alone,” Griffith warns. “You may buy a low-cost package that turns out not to have the features you need.”

The first step to making intelligent software decisions is (once again) to define the critical duties that need to be performed in your office. Word processing is almost a given, since most people will have to draft some sort of correspondence. A contact manager–which keeps track of appointments, phone numbers and other client- or date-related information–is a offices, especially sales-people. It can be set to notify you of important meetings, deadlines, etc.–a potential lifesaver if you can’t afford a personal assistant.

Other specific programs such as accounting and desktop publishing should be addressed on an as-needed basis. An occasional flyer or newsletter won’t require a desktop publishing application, but if your business is based on creative presentations, don’t expect the average word processing application to do the trick. The same applies to accounting programs. A simple spreadsheet application may suffice for infrequent freelance assignments, but if you have a full-fledged home-based business, you can’t do without a good personal accounting program like Quickbooks or Peachtree.

“Choose software programs you are familiar with or that a friend or associate has recommended,” suggests Griffith. It’s a good idea to test out software before buying. Most home office adherents would rather spend their time using their applications–not learning them. Try out your friends’ versions first. And make sure you ask about all of the nuances, good and bad, they’ve encountered with the program.
For general home office needs, an office suite is a good choice. Most include a variety of applications, including spreadsheets, word processing, databases and presentation programs. Microsoft Office 97, Corel WordPerfect Suite 7 and Lotus Smart Suite are the major players in the market. If you don’t need a full-featured office suite, consider a low-end integrated application such as Claris Works 4.0, Perfect Works and Microsoft Works. They’re more compact and less expensive than the actual suites, and perform many similar tasks.

Shop around before you buy any software. Don’t allow yourself to be sold an expensive program or suite of applications with an abundance of features you’ll never use. Staying focused on the core needs of your home office operation will help you make the best moves in the software scramble.