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Get a Mac for free by Switching From Windows and have enough money left to buy an iPod: The Cost of Software

About a year ago I bought a Mac mini for a variety of reasons.   And yes buying a Mac appears to cost more than a Windows machine, but does it really?    I had been running a virtual machine to preserve my software investment, but it was getting a little long in the tooth.  So I started looking to upgrade my Microsoft applications.   Talk about sticker shock.  Here's what I was running and what I ended up buying:

Microsoft Office - $349   vs. iWork $79 + OpenOffice $0
iWorks is much easier to use and Pages puts out much better looking documents.   It kind of works exchanging formats with Office.  When I need to edit complex Office documents from others, I fire up OpenOffice.  It works great.  Be warned that OpenOffice looks like it was written by a bunch of Sun Unix engineers.  It ain't pretty, but it works very well under the hood.

Microsoft Project Professional- $779 vs. Merlin 2 $210
Not only does Merlin read and write Project files with no problems, the UI is much, much better and easier (and more colorful) to use.

Adobe CS4 Standard upgrade - $499 vs. Adobe CS4 Standard upgrade $499
I use In Design and Illustrator a lot.  My CS2 is running on an XP virtual machine.  Turns out Adobe will let me upgrade from XP to OSX no problem.   Something Microsoft won't let me do (I'm running Office 2003) and move to Mac.

So here's the total cost of software: Microsoft $1,624 vs. Mac $788.  That's a difference of $836.   Which means you can get a Mac Mini for free and pocketed $237.

The main use I have for running XP now is to run my 2003 version of Microsoft Visio.  It's a fantastic product and there is no Mac alternative that I have found.  But that means the VM only needs to get fired up about once a month now.

Sprint Bait & Switch: Unlimited Data is not the same as Unlimited Data

I think Dan Hesse and Sprint have been doing a good job.   Until today.  Last week I called to upgrade 2 of my 3 year old phones.  I could put them on my plan and after rebates, etc. the cost would be $29.99.  Sounds good.  I went out a couple of days ago to look at the phones.

Today I called to order them, and guess what?  The cost is $179.99 each (no we won't give you the $150 upgrade credit we said we would) and I would have to upgrade my plan for a 50% cost increase.

You see, I have a phone which has a browser, runs applications accessing the Internet and GPS applications.  I have an unlimited data plan.   The new phone also has a browser, runs applications accessing the Internet and GPS applications.  But marketing will NOT allow the new phone to be put on my existing plan. Instead I have to buy a new plan for a lot more money.

Oh, did I mention Sprint is hemorrhaging customers?  Dan, read Seth's post on the value of existing customers.

update:  It's a week later and I didn't hear from Sprint.  So I wrote them again.  Found out that if you upgrade to a Windows Mobile phone, you don't have to change plans.  You're only penalized if you choose an Android or the new Palm OS phone.   

Start up basics: Managing the Money

As COE (chief officer of everything) you are also the CFO.   We're not talking about budgets today, instead, where did the money go?   Here are some things I have learned:

1) Set up a business bank account for company money transactions only.

2) Only 1 person has checks.  You never know when your co-founder may decide to write himself a check to cover a credit card bill (actually happened to me).

3) No debit cards.   Ever.   You need a paper (or electronic paper trail).   

4) Get bill pay service (should be free) to automatically write and record checks.  

5) Download and use a simple expense report form that everyone uses.

6) Before any check is processed there must be a corresponding invoice or expense report form.

7) Use dropbox and create a banking folder.  All statements, bills, etc. go in here.  Now you have a backup of these transactions and if you want to use an accountant, you can share it with them.

I also like to use a separate credit card which has good tracking when I travel or buy anything.  That way you always have an electronic receipt.   I prefer American Express.  One of the better deals is getting a Costco True Earnings American Express Business card.  It's free with your Costco membership.  As long as you only use this for business activities, finding receipts to support those expense reports is quite easy.

Part 2:  If you're Venture backed you need to submit financial reports to your investors on a periodic basis.  I tried something a little different this year and it seems to be working.  First off, buy the latest Quickbooks.  For our purposes, doesn't matter which level.   Next, make sure you have a good spreadsheet for your capital showing who paid what, when, for the number of shares of stock.

Instead of doing it yourself and messing it up, or hiring a bookkeeper to mess it up, I'm doing it myself with a black belt in Quickbooks looking over my shoulder.  Since they work remotely, this works well.   We spent an hour setting it up.  And if I need a little help each month, he charges a very reasonable rate in 15 minute increments.   In the beginning, doing it yourself, and spending $15 - $30 / month for a coach makes a lot of sense.  

When you need to do your taxes or hire a full blown accountant, everything will be in perfect order.

Intuit Quickbooks + Mac + Flash = Disaster

I had been running Quickbooks on XP.   I upgraded to Quickbooks 2010 for Mac so I wouldn't have to fire up the virtual machine and save some memory.  Installed great.

It's when I went for some support that things started heading south quickly.   Since this is a new company I know I needed some help getting the charts of accounts set up and equity accounts and all that fun stuff.   I signed up for an hour of consulting.   

Then the wheels started to come off.  Intuit has this nifty flash based utility for scheduling time.  But it doesn't run on Safari on a Mac.   Luckily I had Firefox and it did come up. 

I'm amazed that people don't test out their systems on different browsers running on different operating systems.  Especially an outfit like Intuit.   Just remember to have a very good test plan before you release anything.