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At first glance, Premier 2005's interface is identical to last year's. The familiar set pieces are there: for example, the Navigators column for single-click access to popular accounting modules and the flowchart-style screens that help you visualize business-management tasks. There are changes, however. Our favorite is the QuickBooks Learning Center, a collection of interactive tutorials that launches at start-up. Tutorials aren't new--any decent accounting app has them--but the Learning Center lessons are particularly helpful because they require your participation. For instance, during the create-an-invoice tutorial, when asked, you must enter a name in the customer field and perform other tasks to advance. This approach is more effective than a passive, sit-and-watch lesson. Premier 2004 had tutorials, too, but its lessons were harder to access (they ran from the setup CD) and weren't as easy to follow.
Unfortunately, Premier 2005 continues QuickBooks' tradition of wasting valuable screen space as a billboard for Intuit's fee-based accounting services. For instance, the Customers, Vendors, Employees, and Banking modules all paste ads smack-dab in the middle of the screen--that's valuable real estate that could be used for other data displays. While QuickBooks' competitors also pitch their premium services, their approach is subtler.Sadly, we were underwhelmed by QuickBooks Premier Edition 2005's slate of new and improved features. While many of these improvements are useful, they don't justify Premier's steep $379.95 upgrade price (first-time users will pay $499). For instance, the new tutorials are great for first-timers, but they don't offer much to QuickBooks experts who already know how to create invoices, enter deposits, and so on.
QuickBooks Premier 2005 includes an Expert Analysis Tool for measuring your company's performance against the competition and the capability to create a business plan, then export it to Excel or save it as a PDF file; merge QuickBooks data with Microsoft Word documents; forecast income and expenses; track inventory; create reports; and even work remotely with an additional annual subscription.
The bulk of QuickBooks Premier Edition 2005's other enhancements span the entire product line, including the $199.95 Basic and $299.95 Pro versions. One welcome change is the new Report Navigator, which provides cogent descriptions of specific reports (for example, standard profit and loss statement) and is easier to browse than 2004's cryptic Report Finder. Another seemingly minor (yet helpful) upgrade: You can now resize column widths in lists by dragging the column dividers like in Excel. And you can also move, add, and delete columns via a right-click menu. Furthermore, the Pro and Premier versions let you schedule both UPS and FedEx shipments from inside the program.
Carryovers from the 2004 version include QuickBooks Expert Analysis Tool, which is very good at comparing your company's vitals--profits, sales, assets, and so on--with comparably sized businesses in your industry. And the Business Plan Tool, a well-designed guide that leads you through the process of creating a business plan, even lets you export the plan to the Acrobat (PDF) format for e-mailing.
Another carryover is QuickBooks' payroll add-on. Renamed QuickBooks Enhanced Payroll, this $499 subscription automatically fills out and updates federal and state forms, automatically upgrades you to the latest version of QuickBooks Premier, tracks workers' compensation, directly deposits paychecks to employees' bank accounts, and seamlessly performs net-to-gross calculations.Intuit's technical support for QuickBooks Premier Edition 2005 is good but very pricey for small businesses. QuickBooks Premier users pay $75 for a 20-minute support call, plus $25 for each additional 5-minute increment thereafter, with a $150 maximum. Larger businesses may want to opt for the annual support plan, which includes phone and e-mail help. It costs $299 at the time of product registration, $399 thereafter.
But there's good news, too. Even without purchasing the annual support plan, you can still enjoy Intuit's one year of free phone support for questions pertaining to installation, data conversion from earlier QuickBooks versions, and program-specific error messages. Our calls to QuickBooks support were answered quickly, typically within a minute or two, and politely and accurately.
While QuickBooks' telephone support plans are expensive, they're standard for the industry. For instance, both MYOB Plus 2004 and Simply Accounting Pro 2004 offer $249 annual plans, as well as pricier options. And MYOB and Simply Accounting users get only 30 days of free installation assistance--far less than Intuit's generous one-year offer.