QuickBooks remains the best small-business accountants program in the biz. This all-inclusive package offers a comprehensible and comprehensive set of accounting tools (including inventory, payroll, customer and vendor information, online billing, and configurable reporting), copious help files, useful forecasting features, and a number of additional fee-based services such as payroll and online banking. As such, QuickBooks nabs CNET's Editors' Choice award as the top accounting app for the second year running. However, at $499.95, the Premier edition is overkill, both in cost and functionality, for businesses with uncomplicated finances--especially when you factor in Intuit's exorbitant tech-support fees. Small businesses that don't need sophisticated forecasting should try QuickBooks' less-expensive Pro version (the same as Premier but with fewer cool extras) instead.
With QuickBooks Premier 2003, parent company Intuit took the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach. Version 2003 includes some new features and services beyond those in version 2002, such as a business planner and forecasting tools, but its easy-to-use interface and handy setup wizards haven't changed.
QuickBooks' interface remains essentially the same as before: You choose from a series of modules in a list in the left-hand panel to select the task you want to perform. Each module includes a series of icons representing its major functions in a flowchartlike configuration. For example, the Customers Navigator includes icons for the Sales Orders, Receive Payments, and Sales Receipts tasks. QuickBooks also includes links to relevant reports, various for-a-fee services, and much-used functions such as Add A Customer.
The Customer Navigator screen gives quick access to all of the customer-related functions along with related activities and a push to some of Intuit's additional services.
Likewise, QuickBooks' friendly EasyStep Interview format, which runs through a series of questions in order to set up the program for your business, is as easy to use as ever. Although time-consuming, EasyStep's thorough interview makes sure that even accounting illiterati don't miss a step. And because QuickBooks includes copious and front-and-center help files, novices are less likely to find themselves floundering than with programs such as Simply Accounting.
Unfortunately, QuickBooks 2003 still makes it difficult to import historical accounting data from other programs. True, you can import info from previous versions of QuickBooks or synchronize contact information with Outlook or Act via wizard. Try to import from any other accounting package, however, and you'll first have to export your data in ASCII format, then make sure it's formatted to QuickBooks' exact specifications. Peachtree, on the other hand, makes it far easier to import a QuickBooks company file.
In our book, QuickBooks remains the best small-business accounting application available thanks to its excellent and wide-ranging functionality for a variety of businesses, including its payroll system, complete range of modifiable reports, and treasure chest of accounting features. The feature set includes all of the basics for both product- and service-based companies, including charts of accounts, product tracking, invoicing, and reordering--virtually everything needed to run a thriving business. By default, QuickBooks Premier allows two to five simultaneous users. But its supersize feature set suits it best for businesses with complex finances.
Currently, Intuit offers three versions of QuickBooks: Basic ($199.95); Pro ($299.95), which adds time tracking, forms that are more customizable, and networking features; and the new Premier ($499.95), which is basically Pro with the ability to track sales orders, enhanced journal-entry options, and sophisticated forecasting. The top offerings from other accounting program lines we've reviewed, including Simply Accounting Pro 2003 and Peachtree Complete Accounting 2003, lack professional-level forecasting, but their list prices are closer to QuickBooks Pro's--in other words, they're less expensive.
The Premier edition offers sophisticated planning tools such as the Business Planner, a wizard that helps you put together a forecast of future earnings.
The latest version of Premier also adds a number of highly useful planning and analysis wizards such as Set Up Budgets, Forecasting, and Business Planner. In particular, the business planning feature is a big help to small-business owners who aren't practiced business-plan writers. After assembling the appropriate data, the program guides you through writing a complete business plan, using advice and examples to make the process painless.
Unlike MYOB and Simply Accounting, QuickBooks includes a number of integrated online services, including payroll, credit check, and business supplies--for additional fees. While these services are highly useful, they show up prominently on the Navigator screens, which is annoying if you don't intend to pay for them. In addition, as soon as you start to create a new company, the first screen in the setup wizard invites you to "Find a certified QuickBooks professional" (in other words, sign up for this fee-based service), which is a bit disconcerting, especially before you've really started using the program. Rest assured, you can skip this option.
Fortunately for small companies without dedicated IT departments, QuickBooks provides direct access to a number of help functions. The program contains scores of helpful hints; for example, each function window (where you land after you choose a function from the Navigator window) includes a button called How Do I? that opens a drop-down menu featuring probable questions (and answers) about the function. Because of this, a novice should have less difficulty understanding the accounting process than with, say, MYOB or Simply Accounting. Intuit also offers a comprehensive online help and support area (accessible from within QuickBooks), including FAQs, a user forum, and downloads.
QuickBooks offers a comprehensive series of help menus to guide users through the complexities of accounting.
However, if you encounter a serious problem, be prepared to spend some serious cash to fix it. QuickBooks provides toll-free support for installation and upgrade problems, but there's a catch: you still have to give billing information in case the support rep should decide that your question doesn't fit either of those categories. And he or she just might. When we phoned in a simple setup question (concerning the necessity of upgrading Internet Explorer for use with QuickBooks), we were told that it was not an installation question, and therefore not free. This contrasts strongly with our positive experience with Simply Accounting's knowledgeable and willing support staff.
Our tech also immediately treated us to a sales pitch for the $349 Ultimate Support Plan, which offers 24/7 support with a guaranteed response within 10 minutes on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT. The $299 Select Support Plan includes with same hours without the guarantee. If you want to pay by the call, it will cost a hefty $75 for the first 20 minutes and $25 for each five minutes after, with a maximum of $150.