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Installing QuickBooks takes less than 10 minutes. However, although QuickBooks' EasyStep Interview walks you through the process of entering your business's financial data, there's no way to bypass the rest of the extensive setup process--you'll still have to customize QuickBooks for your own business, as with any accounting app. If you own an earlier edition of the software, you can save some time by importing all of your data. But, oddly enough, QuickBooks makes no attempt to smooth the awkward transition from other small-biz accounting programs, such as Peachtree or MYOB Accounting Plus. Instead, you must export data from other apps in spreadsheet or text form, then import the numbers into QuickBooks. Intuit should steal some tricks from its competitors. Peachtree, for example, offers QuickBooks conversion tools.
Same old look
In many ways, QuickBooks mimics its predecessors. Its interface hasn't changed and looks a bit dated in Windows XP, but at least you'll never get confused. QuickBooks still relies on flowchartlike navigational screens, which list tasks, such as paying a bill or writing an invoice, in graphical fashion. Forms are clear-cut, easy to follow, and almost always customizable to some extent.
Full plate of features
QuickBooks retains its rock-solid accounting core; accounting departments will find everything they need to track their companies' finances. You'll even find a complete payroll system (with the option to integrate with outside payroll services), online banking for paying bills, and electronic invoicing via e-mail.
Reports are the cornerstone of accounting, and, for our money, QuickBooks offers the best in the biz--a multitude of easy-to-manipulate choices. The program contains more than 100 reports, including some that detail due accounts, account receivable totals, and inventory totals. (You can download new report templates from the QuickBooks Web site, too.)
QuickBooks still works over a network--up to five users can access a file simultaneously--and it finally includes an archive feature to separate ancient from current data, making for reduced file sizes and quicker loading and access times. Moreover, when you sign up with a QuickBooks Merchants Account, you can process credit cards within the program in real time. (Fees for an account range from $6 to $15 per month and 10 to 20 cents per transaction, with a discount rate of 2.30 to 2.35 percent.)
Share and share alike
In addition to its new features, QuickBooks packs other important improvements. Some of the app's best enhancements result from Intuit's decision to open up QuickBooks' code to third-party developers. What's so special about that? For one thing, when developers create ways for various industry-specific programs (such as warehouse tracking software or Amicus Attorney, a legal-practice management program) to access QuickBooks, customers who use both types of software need to enter data only once. Through such third-party providers, QuickBooks can finally act as the back end for a Web site, which Peachtree Accounting has done for years, or a point-of-sale system, which is great news for retailers. At last count, there were 66 such applications. Click here for the latest list.
Other additions, though not as remarkable, are extremely handy. QuickBooks can now retrieve credit reports on potential customers directly from D&B (Dun & Bradstreet) for $15 each. You can also create multiple estimates for a single job. And this version integrates better with 1099, W-2, and 941B forms to speed up payroll processing.
Premier app; premium price
Though we love the features, we're not thrilled with QuickBooks' price tag. At $280, it costs more than its rivals--Peachtree Complete Accounting runs $10 less--while those who upgrade will get socked for $180. And at $499, QuickBooks' new Premier version is the priciest QuickBooks ever. However, if you need to access your copy of QuickBooks and its data via the Net, Premier's Remote Access feature might justify the price. (Oracle Small Business Suite and Peachtree both offer similar services.)
Support costs a small fortune, too. Other than the free help during installation, your only no-fee options are the user-to-user message boards and the searchable database of online FAQ files. Pay-as-you-go phone support, available 12 hours each weekday, costs $40 per 10-minute increment or $6 per minute, while the 24/7 support plans cost between $399 and $649 annually. Oy!
In sum, QuickBooks Pro 2002 is easy enough for small businesses yet powerful enough for businesses that require e-commerce features. And since this accounting system is now open to outside developers, QuickBooks may eventually integrate with just almost any business app. We predict that such flexibility will ultimately pay off big-time.