Intuit's QuickBooks Pro 2004 is a better deal than its upscale sibling, , which offers many of the same features, plus high-end analysis tools. The $299.95 Pro costs $200 less than Premier and has a slate of easy-to-use tools for estimating cash flow (the lifeblood of small businesses), managing loans, and tracking fixed assets and vehicle mileage. QuickBooks Pro's interface is just as intuitive as those of its primary competitors, and , though its fondness for premium-service ads mar an otherwise clean interface. Its combination of advanced and novice accounting tools, slick integration of online premium services, and comprehensive (yet pricey) technical support earns QuickBooks Pro 2004 an Editors' Choice. Compare Intuit QuickBooks Pro 2004's main interface with that of last year's version, and you might wonder why you upgraded. We're not complaining; the overall look is the same, it's still among the easiest accounting packages to use, and it does have more under the hood. Unlike MYOB Plus and Simply Accounting Pro, QuickBooks can convert a file during the setup process--a handy feature for small-business users who are upgrading to accounting software for the first time. QuickBooks' Navigators column offers single-click access to common accounting modules, such as Vendors, Employees, and Banking. Both Simply Accounting 2004 Pro and MYOB Plus 2004 also have excellent interfaces, but which you consider easiest will likely depend on what you've used before. In other words, Simply Accounting and MYOB users shouldn't switch to QuickBooks Pro, despite its Editors' Choice nod, but should rather stick with their tried-and-true app. QuickBooks Pro is an excellent choice for first-time users. Those with very tight budgets, however, may prefer the $99 Simply Accounting Pro.
|/sc/30631490-2-300-SS1.gif" width="300" height="225" border="0" alt="" />|
QuickBooks Pro 2004 retains its predecessor's polished setup tools, including EasyStep Interview, which helps newcomers configure a company file.
Then again, the three apps show notable differences in interface and installation. QuickBooks Pro and MYOB Plus integrate their credit card transaction and electronic vendor payment services into the main interface. Simply Accounting takes a less elegant approach, requiring an add-on utility for vendor payments and using the Web browser to process credit card transactions.
Another plus for QuickBooks: Its setup routine doesn't require any additional Web downloads (except to search for updated program files), whereas MYOB Plus makes you download its new natural-language help tool from its site.
The only 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.
In our tests, QuickBooks Pro installed in less than 15 minutes without any glitches. Intuit QuickBooks Pro 2004 costs more than either MYOB Plus 2004 ($249) or Simply Accounting 2004 Pro ($99), but it offers more features to justify its higher price. For instance, QuickBooks Pro has a utility for importing data directly from Excel files; MYOB Plus and Simply Accounting Pro don't. All three programs offer employee direct deposit, electronic vendor payment, and credit card processing services, but QuickBooks and MYOB integrate them better into the main interface.
We particularly liked QuickBooks Pro's new Vehicle Mileage Tracker, a handy tool for contractors, salespeople, and other small-business professionals who travel frequently. Vehicle Mileage Tracker allows you to quickly input odometer start/stop miles, change mileage rates, and list multiple vehicles. You can create mileage-expense reports with a single click. QuickBooks' competitors also have expense-tracking tools, but none that matches the robustness of Vehicle Mileage Tracker. Another plus: QuickBooks lets you export mileage data to Intuit's TurboTax software.
|/sc/30631490-2-300-SS2.gif" width="300" height="225" border="0" alt="" />|
The new Vehicle Mileage Tracker, an easy-to-use tool for tracking mileage expenses, is sure to please frequent drivers.
As noted earlier, QuickBooks Pro and Premier feature many of the same improvements, including the Vehicle Mileage Tracker and tools for tracking fixed assets and making cash-flow projections. So which version is better? Larger businesses needing more analytical tools will likely prefer Premier, which includes a business planner and an Expert Analysis feature that compares your company's growth and financial health with those of similar-size companies in your industry. Pro, on the other hand, lacks these high-end analytical tools and is designed for smaller businesses with simpler accounting needs. Intuit QuickBooks Pro 2004 loses some points for technical support, especially when it comes to single-incident reports. One-time phone support (via a toll-free line) costs a staggering $75 for the first 20 minutes and $25 for each additional 5-minute period. Alternate plans are available, but they too are pricey. For example, the Ultimate Support Plan costs $399 ($349 when purchased with QuickBooks) for 12 months of unlimited calls, 24/7. The plan also includes e-mail support with a 2-hour turnaround time during normal operating hours, which are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT. One-time support hours are the same. The good news: Intuit provides 12 months of free phone support for questions about installation, QuickBooks error messages, or converting QuickBooks data from an earlier version.
|/sc/30631490-2-300-SS3.gif" width="300" height="225" border="0" alt="" />|
QuickBooks Pro's support pages allow natural-language queries and provide plenty of do-it-yourself advice.
If you'd rather save money, the QuickBooks site has plenty of tips and troubleshooting advice.