Microsoft Point of Sale (POS) is a retail-management program for single-store business proprietors who want to digitize their cash register. It consists of two software components: one is a point-of-sale screen, similar to a register, where cashiers ring up customer transactions; the other is a store-management program for logging inventory, tracking employee hours, and creating purchase orders. The $799 Point of Sale isn't a steal, but it's priced comparably to the similar Intuit QuickBooks Point of Sale Pro 4 Basic. The Microsoft program has the superior interface, with large onscreen buttons designed for touch-screen monitors--an important consideration for retailers who need to quickly train cashiers. But we'd like to see a few improvements: for instance, Microsoft POS can exchange data with QuickBooks but not with other small-business accounting programs, such as Peachtree Complete Accounting or MYOB Business Essentials Pro. We find Microsoft POS simpler to learn than its QuickBooks competitor, although the latter makes it easier to find hardware that works best with its system.
Installing Microsoft Point of Sale takes a long time. After loading the software onto a Windows XP SP2 PC (which took us 10 minutes), you must enter your company's customer, employee, and inventory data--which could eat up the better part of a mom-and-pop retailer's weekend.
After installation, the real work begins. Launch the Point of Sale Manager and run the Store Setup wizard, which prompts you to enter basic information about your business, such as employee data, your sales-tax rate, and an employee ID and password for the store owner. The wizard is a snap to follow, and you can use separate wizards to import company accounting data, such as personnel and inventory details, from either Excel or QuickBooks. In our tests, however, Point of Sale failed to transfer some information from our QuickBooks Premier 2004 company file, so we had to manually enter customer balances and estimate totals.
Still, Microsoft POS has an excellent interface for retail transactions. Unlike the QuickBooks Point of Sale interface, which resembles those of Intuit's accounting apps, Microsoft's better fits a retail environment with touch-screen monitors or one where there's a keyboard but no mouse. Large, well-labeled buttons provide access to common tasks, such as accessing customer or inventory lists, while keyboard commands simplify data entry.
The Microsoft POS Manager, a separate program for managing inventory, customers, and employees, looks similar to Microsoft Outlook. Office devotees will recognize the left-column navigation pane and the standard menus-and-icons presentation. The Manager software is easier to learn than QuickBooks POS. For instance, you can easily access Microsoft's Purchase Order wizard via the My Store column in the Purchase Orders module. But creating a purchase order in QuickBooks POS involves clicking the less obvious New PO button on the Purchase Order List.
Before really getting down to business, you'll need to buy hardware, such as a receipt printer and a cash drawer. We also recommend a wireless scanner that allows you to input UPCs while walking freely around the store. Hardware compatibility is a real issue; you want the receipt printer to work and the cash drawer to automatically pop open when a sale is complete, don't you? Microsoft's Business Solutions Web site recommends specific combinations of hardware known to work with its POS software. This takes more research and time than with Intuit QuickBooks POS, for which you can buy a receipt printer, a cash drawer, a credit card scanner, and a bar code reader bundled as a package.