Tag: usability

Xero: The ideal online accounting solution for startups/SMBs?

When going through Jakob Nielsen’s list of the 10 Best Application UIs of 2008 [1], I’ve noticed there’s also an online(!) accounting(!) system for SMBs among the winners:

Xero – The world’s easiest accounting system.

This is a big surprise, as I’ve already tested quite many accounting systems for SMBs/SMEs, both standalone and web applications, but none of them was particularly easy to use. The point isn’t that I couldn’t use a complex accounting system [2], the point is that I don’t want to if it isn’t necessary. In other words, every hour I can save on accounting and invoicing, I can spend on business development and software development. Which obviously makes sense.

Considering this, the price of 49 NZD (34 USD) per month for Xero is a fair deal. The only thing that isn’t customer-friendly at all, is that they decided to go with an opt-out free trial model (i.e. if you don’t cancel the trial within 30 days, you’ll be charged). Definitely worth a try, though.

[UPDATE 20080813: Note that Xero is not available for purchase in Switzerland yet (hopefully soon). You can still try the demo though.]

[UPDATE 20080814: I’ve quickly tested Xero. Conclusion so far: I like it a lot! It delivers, what most startup companies need in regard to accounting and it makes things as easy as possible. In fact, I’ve never seen a more intuitive accounting system before! It will definitely set the new benchmark in its class. Let’s hope there will be a Swiss edition soon. Kudos to the makers of Xero in NZ: You rock!]

[UPDATE 20080815: Xero’s plans are to have a global version of Xero ready by early 2009, see my follow-up blog post]

[1] Also noteworthy: CMSBox, a very user-friendly CMS made in Switzerland.

[2] Among others, two of my majors at the University of Zurich were Management Accounting and Managerial Accounting.

[3] Of course, you could also outsource all your accounting duties, but particularly for a new startup with a minimal headcount, the outsourcing efforts generally outweigh the benefits.

Firefox 3 – suggestions for GUI design improvements

Some suggestions for improving the GUI of FF 3:

  • Why does the forward button have a very different shape than the back button (round vs. rectangular)? On IE 7, both have the same shape (round) which is more consistent and more user-friendly (as they’re both navigation icons, just for opposite directions). BTW: Yes, I know the official answer, but the different size is still no excuse for different shapes.
  • Why does FF 3 try to squeeze as much information as possible into the URL text field? Instead of combining the security certificate information with the favicon display (a fact that likely confuses users, particularly Joe Average), one should rather reserve a dedicated place just for displaying the security information (like IE 7 does).
    The star (bookmark??) icon within the text field is also disturbing as it doesn’t behave the way a sane user would expect it to. Instead, clicking on it creates a bookmark (without asking for confirmation), clicking on it again doesn’t just silently remove it again (without asking for confirmation), but rather displays a dialog box with bookmark properties (and another button to remove the bookmark, eventually). Further, the bookmark icon behaves quite different than the analogous magnifier/search icon in the search box.
  • Why isn’t it visually more obvious to the user whether (or not) a connection is properly encrypted and the server properly authenticated through a certificate? Why not use a light-green (or light-yellow) background color (again) for the URL text field of properly secured connections? Instead, all the user is left with now is an almost unnoticeable background color change of the favicon display area and a “secured lock” icon in the status bar. (Note: IE 7 does it better, but only a bit.)
  • Why did they choose blue as the color to indicate a secured connection (the same goes for IE 7)? I’d rather choose green (or maybe yellow, but definitely not blue).
  • Why does the drop-down icon in the URL text field look different than the drop-down icon in the search field (mouse-over tinted vs. permanently tinted)? Only God and the GUI designer know. But it surely confuses users as it isn’t consistent. (BTW, IE 7 is also inconsistent in this regard.)
  • In my view, placing the reload and abort icons after the URL text field (as in IE 7) instead of in front of the URL text field would be more natural.