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By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, 28 February, 2011

In the mid 1990s accounting software suppliers focused on developing their applications for Windows or moving them from DOS to Windows, and in the early 2000s many adopted Microsoft’s .NET operating system platform.

Then the internet took off and they adapted their software to run through a browser using programming tools like HTML and ASP.Net. But while HTML provided a common browser interface, at that time, it did not give a rich user experience when interacting with applications, says Steven Cohen, MD of Softline Pastel.

For example, with a browser, graphics are two dimensional, but, with the interface written for the particular operating system the device is running on, graphics refresh much quicker and can be manipulated and rotated.

“Accounting systems run at lightening speed when optimised for a device’s native operating system, and graphics are rendered immediately, but it is much slower with a browser,” says Cohen.

He says this issue has become increasingly apparent with the plethora of sophisticated smartphones and tablet PCs being brought to market that connect to the internet, many of which have proprietary operating systems that are specific to them. On the smartphone side these include the BlackBerry and iPhone, which have their own proprietary operating systems, and phones that use the Windows Mobile or Android operating systems.

Then there is the Apple iPAD, and an increasing number of different makes of other tablet PCs that use different operating systems, says Cohen. “Hardly any of these devices are currently running Windows Mobile.”

He says the days when Windows was the de facto standard platform have gone and more and more operating systems are emerging.

This is relevant for accounting software suppliers because today users need to be able to access information while on the move using smart phones and tablet PCs, as well as accessing it at their desks in the office, says Cohen.

Many accounting applications and business intelligence software tools are already available for mobile devices. He says customers are now wanting to use tablet PCs for mobile activity like accessing customer information, truck drivers taking orders on the road, couriers making deliveries, and warehouse employees taking stock.

In addition, executives want to be able to access financial information in a pie chart format while in the boardroom, using their mobile devices. “So these devices need to interface with the accounting system online,” says Cohen.

As a result, software suppliers are faced with choosing which of these devices they write their software for or developing a version for each one.

He says the answer could be HTML5, the new version of HTML, which promises to provide a much richer experience through a browser and will work with any operating system. But it remains to be seen whether an HTML5 browser based interface is good enough.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist with 25 years experience, and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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