Same old, same old
On the surface, Peachtree hasn't changed much. Installation and configuration are still tougher than QuickBooks. When you install the program, a too-short, wizard-style interview helps you set up basic business parameters such as fiscal year, but it doesn't give you enough assistance in making important decisions, such as whether to use the cash or accrual accounting method. After that, the Setup Checklist takes you to appropriate input screens for entering data on inventory, payroll, customers, and suppliers. Fortunately, if you're already using Peachtree, you skip nearly all of this, since version 2002 does a nice job of migrating data from earlier editions.
Lots of windows
Peachtree 2002 doesn't hit you with any splashy new interface tricks, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Peachtree 2002 retains the graphical, flow-chart-based navigation of last year's edition as well as the alternative, traditional menus at the top of the screen. The only interface twist is that icons now drop down from the toolbars of data-entry screens so that related tools, such as Delete and Void Check, are grouped together.
Our big complaint: Peachtree scatters windows across the screen as you open major modules, such as Sales (and its accompanying flow-chart-like window), and even more windows pop open when you drill down to specifics such as Sales Orders or Sales Quotes. In seconds, you're visually swamped.
But even with its shotgun-style display, Peachtree is easy to navigate. It's virtually impossible not to know what to do; tasks such as inventory and reporting are logically organized and presented with bold icons that you can't miss. And we love Peachtree Today, a set of tabbed, browser-style pages that display links to common chores such as checking and invoicing and that provide a snapshot of your company's fiscal health.
Peachtree's supereasy navigation belies its business-class strengths. Witness Peachtree's new WebAccounting, a service that that costs $10 to $20 per month and works only with this edition of the software. WebAccounting lets you view and print some, but not all, of your accounting data and tasks via a Web browser. After a slick wizard synchronizes the data on your desktop with the data on Peachtree's Web server, you can generate invoices, view inventory and account balances, and create and print 15 different reports from any Web-enabled PC. This feature is no NetLedger, though: you can't print checks, for instance.
Peachtree also introduces WebsiteTrader, a $30-per-month service that adds e-commerce capabilities to your e-store (including a shopping cart), lets you add up to 1,000 items in your online catalog, and integrates tightly with Peachtree Complete itself. That integration makes WebsiteTrader crucial: you can upload product descriptions, prices, part numbers, and more from Peachtree's inventory to create your online catalog and download orders directly into the accounting software to produce invoices. The catch: WebsiteTrader works only with your Peachtree-provided site, not an existing e-store hosted elsewhere.
Peachtree 2002 also plugs a big hole in last year's edition by adding real-time credit card authorization and payment capabilities to your e-store. The price is a reasonable $18 a month, plus 20 cents per transaction and 2.52 percent of each sale.
Gets an A in inventory
Peachtree has plenty of Web sizzle, but it hasn't neglected small-business accounting. It still provides a thorough accounting system that tightly integrates everything from customer information and inventory to payroll and employee records. Once you've entered a piece of data--a customer's billing address, for example--you never have to enter it again.
Peachtree produces everything from invoices to job estimates, tracks it all from employee vacation time to per-project expenses, and churns out reports detailing everything from money you're owed to last month's sales figures. Forms and reports are extremely customizable, but it's difficult to design entirely new reports and forms, since you must wade through the complex design utility.
Peachtree boasts especially capable inventory tools, and they're miles ahead of QuickBooks'. You can now set up to 10 different pricing levels per item, so you can offer discounts. And Peachtree sends e-mail alerts for a host of situations, including low inventory stock levels.
Where's the e-banking?
But Peachtree remains a poor pick in several areas. It still doesn't offer online banking or electronic bill payment; these are embarrassing oversights when those tools can shave hours from accounting chores. And Peachtree's slew of support plans remains confusing and expensive; its top-of-the-line plan is $70 more annually than QuickBooks'. Pick up the phone, and you'll pay $4 per minute. E-mail a query, and it'll cost you $20. Ouch!
Peachtree Complete Accounting 2002 won't knock QuickBooks out of the top-selling spot, but if you're set on selling online, you should take a good, long look at this Web-centric accounting program. It delivers desktop-to-Web integration that competitors can only dream of.