Sage, the old-fashioned software goliath, has joined the modern world by launching a software-as-as-service (SaaS) accounting package. Sage One, which is aimed at sole traders and small businesses, offers online, on-demand and pay monthly accounting software along with 24/7 support services. It is also the first software release by Sage UK that is designed to support both Mac and PC.

Sage says the new software’s ease of use, value for money and 24/7 telephone support “set new standard for small business owners” to take control of finances and collaborate with their accountants. However, Sage One is already being criticised for racing yet another product to market that is only half-finished and hardly market-ready.

Sage One is designed to give small business owners a simple, secure, low cost way to manage their finances and collaborate with their accountants in real-time. According to Sage, it has been developed with sole traders, small business owners and accountants in mind.

The software offers three different services, tailored to particular requirements.

Sage One Cashbook (£5 per month, ex. VAT) allows sole traders and cash-based businesses to manage customers and suppliers, enter transactions, record banking, and share data with their accountant. Sage One Accounts (£10 per month, ex. VAT) is aimed at business owners who want greater control over their accounts and provides the ability to create invoices, calculate and submit VAT returns online and view a snapshot of business performance. Sage One Accountant Edition (£150 per year, ex. VAT) gives accountants access to client data and the ability to work collaboratively with clients in real time.

With no upfront costs, no installation charges, no maintenance or support fees and free, automatic upgrades, the Sage One pricing model is suited to business owners who want to spread costs and manage their cash flow. Free 24-hour support is available, either on the phone, via e-mail or on the Web.

Don’t get too carried away, yet. Sage One is lacking in “useful” features and has only three reports (Balance Sheet, P&L, Trial Balance) – comparing badly to the 40 or so in competing packages. The apparent absence of an API would also seem to be a huge oversight.

Security is a big issue for any software provider, and it seems Sage has gone overboard this time at the expense of user experience. You have to set three security questions when you register for a trial. And if your answer to the question “What is your favourite car” is less than 5 letters, then you have to choose a different answer. Also crazy is that if you want to try all three versions, you’ll need three different e-mail addresses – you can’t try more than one with the same e-mail address!

One user who has tested Sage One from beta to launch (just under a year) reported that “while fairly functional, it’s incredibly sparse on some of the most fundamental features and a million miles behind the superior KashFlow, FreeAgent and Xero.”

The version that is currently live reportedly has no discernable differences to the beta version he was given to test 11 months ago. According to this user, “Sage One will do reasonably well because of the brand name alone, however unless they have some major tricks up their sleeves it’s not one for the long-haul.”