Better integration with the web and easier setup add to value of Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2008, despite a price hike from last year's version.

At £149, the 2008 release of Microsoft Office Accounting Professional is more expensive than last year's version, but the update offers improved web integration, simpler setup, and features that can enhance accountant-client communications for small businesses.

Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2008 is better for neophytes than its predecessor was. Getting started is easier - especially if you currently use an Excel spreadsheet to track your business finances. Microsoft offers templates to set up accounts for particular types of businesses, from retail to construction.

A useful new online Resource Center provides links to general business tips, video tutorials on program operations, a community bulletin board where users can share questions and answers, and more.

Since debuting three years ago, Office Accounting has always had great integration with Word, Excel, and other Microsoft Office apps, letting you use forms and reports created in Office. Integration is even better in this version. Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2008 can now import almost any kind of Excel data, including accounts, transactions (such as invoices and vendor bills), and listings (such as inventory products and customers).

Many small businesses do not employ a professional accountant, instead relying on a public accounting firm to help them prepare year-end financial statements and tax returns. Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2008 introduces innovative features to improve communications between an external accountant and a client.

Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2008 does so by blurring the line between traditional packaged accounting software that runs on a Windows PC and software that is web-based; both are integrated in the Office Accounting menu, which can be customised to let an accounting firm offer enhanced services to its clients.

For example, an accounting firm can now integrate portions of its website into the Office Accounting menu, so an accountant could offer reminders of tax payment due dates, an online newsletter, and links to accounting services for specialised areas such as payroll processing. These accountant add-ons exist in an XML file. Modifying this file requires some technical expertise, but Microsoft says it will soon offer a free downloadable utility to simplify creating and modifying the XML file.

An accountant also can develop one or more customized Business Templates for a specialised company configuration and can create a standard chart of accounts suitable for clients in specific industries. The accountant can then export the custom template and send it to a client to help the client get started more quickly. The app also enables a business to send a copy of its electronic books to its accountant, who can make financial adjustments and correct entries. This transfer capability is available in most other small-business accounting apps (including QuickBooks) as well.

Also new this year is Spanish-language support. You can mix languages, too - you can, for instance, view Spanish accounting menus while preparing customer invoices in English.

NEXT PAGE: the free alternative, multicurrency support > >