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 QuickBooks Contact Sync for Outlook utility to make it happen.. 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
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 rivaloffers 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.
While QuickBooks can't match Peachtree's inventory-management skills, Premier 2006 has made strides in this area. In industry-specific versions of Premier, such as the ones for accounting and for manufacturing and wholesale, the new Sales Order Fulfillment feature provides a single-screen snapshot of all pending orders--convenient for planning shipping when inventory is tight. Overall, though, Peachtree handles inventory better; its My Business Inventory screen, for instance, provides a quick overview of your fastest- and slowest-selling items. It's much harder to compile this data in QuickBooks.
Intuit has improved its support for QuickBooks 2006. Users get 30 days of free help for any QuickBooks-related question--not just for installation queries, as was previously the case. You can also contact phone support by submitting a Web query at Intuit's Web site or by picking up the phone. Intuit promises to call within two hours. In our tests, support representatives rang us back within 90 minutes and answered our questions politely and accurately. Unfortunately, support gets costly beyond the 30-day grace period. Plans cost $30 per month or $299 per year ($249 if purchased with QuickBooks), and a one-time support call costs a jaw-dropping $49.95. Support calls to Peachtree, on the other hand, incur a $50 minimum fee at $5 per minute. Support for Simply Accounting Pro 2005 costs $150 for 100 minutes, but some of our test questions went unanswered.