Microsoft has also lowered the price of the more full-featured Office Accounting 2007 Professional to $150--down from $180 for Microsoft Small Business Accounting 2006--while enhancing the program with more online services, better security, and tight integration with the upcoming Microsoft Office 2007 Small Business Edition.
Given that it's free, Microsoft Office Accounting Express is a good choice for mom-and-pop shops that could use accounting software on the cheap. By contrast, Intuit's QuickBooks SimpleStart for business bookkeeping newbies costs $99. We don't recommend that users of QuickBooks Pro or Premier switch, though, because QuickBooks is the better bookkeeper with a superior interface and more third-party applications that support it. Microsoft Office Accounting Professional, which competes featurewise with the $200 QuickBooks Pro, has a variety of tools that Express does not. For instance, Accounting Pro has multicurrency support, an essential feature for businesses selling to international customers. It has multiuser capabilities that allow up to eight people to use the program, while Express is built for one user only. And Pro's inventory management capabilities are essential for businesses that need to track and reorder products. However, both the free and paid versions of Office Accounting 2007 allow you to manage eBay sales.
In our tests, it took nearly an hour to install Office Accounting Express 2007, a 338MB download, on Windows XP. Once we got it running, the clean, flowchart-style interface earned high marks, borrowing more than a few design concepts from QuickBooks. It's easy to set up a company and manage the accounting basics, such as invoicing, payments, general ledger, accounts payable, online banking with hundreds of financial institutions, and so on. Your accountant can also access your data. Both the Express and Professional versions of Microsoft Office Accounting 2007 can import data from Microsoft Money and Excel as well as from Intuit QuickBooks.
Like QuickBooks 2007, Microsoft Office Accounting can help small businesses venture into the world of online retailing. Whereas Intuit has partnered with Google to make QuickBooks users' products searchable via Google, Microsoft has teamed up with eBay to provide Accounting users with an easy way to market their wares online. Office Accounting 2007, on the other hand, lets you integrate with Microsoft Office Live and its e-commerce capabilities. A wizard steps users of both Accounting Express and Professional through the process of listing products on eBay. We found the eBay tools easy to learn, although we'd like to see a more general-purpose retailing tool that links Accounting inventory to a user's e-commerce site. After all, eBay's selling fees are pretty steep, and many small businesses don't have the margins to pay them. Microsoft Office Accounting also now accepts payments via credit cards and PayPal. Such online-commerce features show how both Microsoft and Intuit's rival accounting apps are evolving into business management tools. We like that Office Accounting 2007 offers better customization of security roles so that you can determine which employees get access to what information and what they can do with it.
Microsoft Office Accounting 2007 also has tight links with Microsoft Outlook 2007. For instance, you can now access all of Accounting Express's 20 financial reports from Outlook; unfortunately, our beta copy of Outlook 2007 with Business Contact Manager was too buggy to give these tools a try. As with its predecessor, Microsoft Office Accounting 2007 is best for small businesses that use Microsoft Office. It's too bad that some Outlook-integration features won't work with Office 2003. So, yes, Express is free, but to get the most out of it, you'll need to buy Office 2007, which isn't on store shelves yet. At least you can still share data between Office Accounting and Microsoft Word, Excel, and Access 2003.
If you're stumped about something, Microsoft offers assistance with questions online and on user groups. Technical support for Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007 is also free via a toll-free telephone number for 90 days. After that, however, help costs a jaw-dropping $49.95 per incident. For the same price, Intuit QuickBooks SimpleStart gives you a yearlong support plan (which jumps to $249 for QuickBooks Premier). Microsoft's support does not include data recovery or online backup, which Intuit's paid options do. At least users of Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2007 get a full year of free support. During our tests, Microsoft had still not finalized its support policies for the 2007 editions of Office Accounting.
If you're new to accounting software in general, then the free Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007 is worth a try--and it's a better pick over a QuickBooks app if you're an eBay power seller who moves a lot of merchandise via the online auction giant. But if you're already using Intuit's software, then we recommend sticking with QuickBooks.