Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting 2006 installed in less than 10 minutes in our tests, and we didn't experience any glitches. As with any accounting program, however, the difficult part comes later--long hours of entering your business details, such as employees and customers, addresses, bank and credit card account numbers, and so on.
Like QuickBooks Pro, Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting 2006 provides setup shortcuts. The Import Data Wizard, for instance, makes it easy to pull in company information from Microsoft Excel. Data conversion went smoothly in our tests, and we particularly liked the wizard's Map Fields screen, which lets you drag and drop Excel fields to match their counterparts in Small Business Accounting. Microsoft's bookkeeping app imports data from only the 2002, 2003, or 2004 editions of QuickBooks Basic or Pro, which explains why it didn't import our QuickBooks Premier 2005 company file.
The nicely structured interface of Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting 2006 resembles a fusion of Microsoft Outlook and QuickBooks Pro. From Outlook, Microsoft Small Business Accounting borrows a left-side navigation pane with links to popular modules, such as Company, Customers, Vendors, and popular tasks, such as New Account, Pay Sales Tax, and so on. Users of Microsoft Office 2003 will immediately recognize the menus and tools along the top of the screen. From QuickBooks, Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting lifts the helpful flowchart screens that outline the progression of accounting tasks. Converts from QuickBooks should take to SBA right away--hardly a coincidence, we're sure.
Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting 2006, like any good bookkeeping app, isn't designed for professionals, but rather for cost-conscious entrepreneurs and mom-and-pop shops of up to 25 employees that manage their own finances using spreadsheet applications. Unlike its competitors, though, Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting doesn't come in multiple flavors. The $179 version, with roughly the equivalent features of QuickBooks Pro, is the only choice. By comparison, Intuit offers multiple versions of QuickBooks, from Simple Start up to Premier.
Microsoft has done a fine job with the accounting basics by creating an easy-to-learn, aesthetically appealing interface that keeps jargon to a minimum and offers plenty of wizards to help novices. If you want to create invoices, track sales, and perform other core chores, Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting works well. Lower-price competitors, such as the $50 Simply Accounting Basic, do the same tasks. But Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting offers features not found in bargain competitors, including a well-designed tool to forecast cash flow--the lifeblood of every small business. Still, Microsoft's product lacks many features available in the pricier accounting packages, such as QuickBooks Premiers' Expert Analysis Tool to compare your company's profits and sales against those of comparable businesses.
Small Business Accounting integrates so tightly with Microsoft Office 2003 that we don't recommend it if you use non-Microsoft word processors and spreadsheets. For instance, if you want to add your company logo to an invoice in Small Business Accounting, you'll need to export the invoice to Microsoft Word. Similarly, the client accounts in Small Business Accounting blend nicely with Outlook's Business Contact Manager (a basic customer relationship management tool), so you won't have to duplicate data entry between those programs. You can also opt for the $669 ($100 less after rebate until March 31, 2006) Microsoft Office Small Business Management Edition 2006 package, which bundles Small Business Accounting and Outlook with Business Contact Manager.
But let's say your shop uses WordPerfect Office, your e-mail program is Eudora or WordPerfect Mail, and your database is FileMaker Pro or Paradox. In that case, the Small Business Accounting hooks into Microsoft Office won't amount to a hill of beans.Like other small-business accounting vendors, Microsoft charges steep fees for technical support. Users of Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting 2006 get two free e-mail or phone queries at no charge. After the two freebies, though, support questions cost $35 each. Help for Intuit QuickBooks costs $75 for a 20-minute call and $25 for each 5 minutes spent thereafter. A year of support for Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting 2006 costs $249 per year, the same as for the 2004 versions of MYOB Plus and Simply Accounting. You can also pay Microsoft $149 for five support incidents within one year. Microsoft's accounting tech-support hours run from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT on weekends. A less expensive alternative is the Small Business Accounting 2006 support site, which offers plenty of free additional information on potentially tricky issues, including tips on how to import QuickBooks data.