QuickBooks 2006 review: QuickBooks 2006

We tested the $399 QuickBooks Premier 2006, which, like the $199 QuickBooks Pro, is targeted at small businesses. What's the difference? Premier is designed for companies with up to 20 employees, while Pro is for a business with 10 or fewer workers. Premier has advanced features, such as tools for creating business plans and an Expert Analysis tool that gauges your business's financial health against the industry norm. Industry-specific versions of Premier include manufacturing and accountant editions. For tiny shops with an employee or 2 (or none), Intuit sells the $99 QuickBooks Simple Start package, which provides a basic toolkit for generating estimates and invoices, writing checks, and so on.

What's new in the 2006 edition? Longtime users of QuickBooks Premier will appreciate the new SQL database, which offers faster performance. It also allows QuickBooks to provide an always-on audit trail, which leaves electronic bread crumbs that can lead you or your accountant to potential errors in the company file. If an employee is cooking the books, an audit trail can save your hide. In previous versions of QuickBooks, you had to manually activate the hard-to-find audit trail, and many small-business owners failed to do so.

QuickBooks 2006 tightens its links with Microsoft Office 2003. While prior editions of QuickBooks swapped contact information with Microsoft Outlook, Premier 2006 strengthens the bond by adding a Synchronize icon to your Outlook toolbar and handily exchanging contacts from within Outlook. This is convenient, but you'll need to download the free QuickBooks Contact Sync for Outlook utility to make it happen.

Also new: Premier now has large Word and Excel buttons on some screens, including the Customer and Vendor Centers, to make it easier to transfer data to those two programs. In QuickBooks 2005, you had to comb labyrinthine menus to find the Excel-export tool. The rival Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting 2006 offers even tighter integration with Microsoft Office, and it farms out tasks, such as invoice creation, to Word. Still, Premier's integration with Microsoft Office apps is strong.

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