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Like its 2007 predecessor, QuickBooks 2008 is essentially a tune-up of QuickBooks 2006, the last major overhaul of Intuit's industry-leading small-business accounting program. The decision to stick with what works makes sense. After all, the changes made in 2006--including a redesigned interface and a faster database--were so good, why mess with success?
However, Intuit's annual upgrade cycle demands new features every fall, and QuickBooks' designers manage to come up with some worthwhile stuff, particularly for new users. The new Coach Tips, for instance, help rookies learn the steps necessary for specific accounting tasks, such as how to create a bid, then convert it to an invoice. The upgraded Help system offers better content sensitivity, which is a fancy way of saying that QuickBooks is now smarter at dispensing advice relevant to the task at hand. Version 2008 also integrates nicely with Google Maps, making it easy to get directions to, say, a business address in your customer database. It also works better with Microsoft Outlook, and simplifies the task of sending a QuickBooks company file to your accountant.
As in the past, QuickBooks comes in several flavors, and prices have risen for the first time in five years. The Pro edition provides a fairly sophisticated assortment of payroll, invoice, and expense-tracking tools. Premier, which we tested, comes in industry-specific versions, and it adds business-forecasting and inventory-management features. At the low end, QuickBooks Simple Start offers basic invoicing and check-writing tools--probably the best choice for start-ups or very small shops with few or no employees.
Setup and interface
A sophisticated accounting program isn't easy to master, even one as user-friendly as QuickBooks. Version 2008 has upgraded its user guidance in several ways, and the results are good. The flowchart-style main interface now features QuickBooks Coach, a help window anchored in the upper-right corner. The Coach has two buttons: View Tutorials provides one-click access to the instructional videos in the QuickBooks Learning Center; and the more helpful Coach Tips guides you through a particular task.
Say, for instance, you're not sure how to process a sales order. If you click Show Coach Tips, the main screen darkens and information icons appear. Next, click the icon beside Sales Orders, and QuickBooks highlights the steps involved in processing an order. Drag the mouse over each icon, or step, in the workflow, and a text window explains that step. Of course, longtime users may find these training wheels annoying. If so, it's easy to turn off this feature by clicking the Hide Coach Tips button.
QuickBooks' core accounting tools have been honed to precision over the years. As a result, they don't change much from one upgrade to the next. Rather than fix what isn't broken, Intuit has chosen to add value by incorporating business-oriented features that expand QuickBooks' usefulness beyond its bean-counter niche.