Intuit's QuickBooks Premier Edition 2004 is the best and most comprehensive small-business accounting program out there. With its sophisticated forecasting and business-planning tools, as well as a thoughtful interface packed with helpful tips and wizards for novices, the $499.95 Premier ($379.95 upgrade) is best of breed, outpacing the expert-oriented Simply Accounting and the beginner-friendly MYOB Plus. Despite its power and grace, however, Premier may be too much of a good thing for many small-business owners. Its key new features--including tools for tracking fixed assets and vehicle mileage, estimating cash flow, and managing loans--also come with QuickBooks Pro 2004, which costs $200 less. That said, professionals who purchase Premier won't be disappointed.
QuickBooks 2004's core interface remains pretty much the same as version 2003's--and that's good news for longtime users who know and love this easy-to-use app. All the familiar components live on, including the left-side Navigators column that provides one-click access to key accounting tasks (entering bills, creating invoices, and so on). The bad news: You still can't avoid Intuit's sales pitches; ads for the company's for-pay services, such as payroll management, appear on many screens.
This isn't to say that QuickBooks Premier is one gigantic billboard. On the contrary, practically every screen contains a thoughtful design and easy navigation and includes natural-language search boxes and links to helpful tips, making accounting chores less intimidating for newcomers. And while competing packages such as MYOB Plus also simplify setup chores, they lack QuickBooks' sophisticated forecasting tools, such as the Cash Flow Projector.
Not all of Premier's interface is last year's news, either. There are nearly two dozen new multimedia tutorials that lead you through features such as the Cash Flow Projector and Vehicle Mileage Tracker tools. You can preview these tutorials before setup (via the installation CD) or run them later. The handy step-by-step guides feature audio commentary and are a quick way to discover what's new in version 2004.
QuickBooks Premier 2004 retains last year's easy-to-use interface, complete with Navigator tools for managing accounting tasks.
Setup itself is painless and automatic; it took about 20 minutes in our tests. One gripe: QuickBooks added four new icons on our Windows Desktop--including two promoting third-party software and Intuit for-pay services--an annoyance that's easily avoidable by clicking a no-Desktop-icons dialog during install.
QuickBooks Premier 2004's best new features--the fixed-asset and vehicle-mileage tracking tools, as well as a handy cash flow projector--add more accounting functionality and provide extra flexibility for complex businesses.
Both the new Fixed Asset Tracker and Vehicle Mileage Tracker address the complexities of managing tax-deductible expenses. While tracking fixed business assets--printers, computers, furniture, and so on--in QuickBooks is nothing new, version 2004 allows you to catalog far more information per item, including warranty and serial numbers. Unfortunately, the Fixed Asset Tracker can't perform depreciation calculations--a major shortcoming. You can, however, export the Tracker data to QuickBooks Premier Accountant Edition or any of the QuickBooks Enterprise solutions, which do the depreciation math for you.