QuickBooks Simple Start 2005 is Intuit's play for the smallest of small businesses: mom-and-pop shops that stuff receipts in a shoe box and manage the books with a spreadsheet or (gasp!) a pencil and paper. And while this $100 (desktop version) accounting program is indeed simple to use, it's too bare-bones for the money. For instance, it doesn't manage inventory or payroll--two essential features found in the $50 Simply Accounting Basic. And Simple Start can't import data from Microsoft Excel, a real drawback given what a popular accounting tool Excel is for small businesses. Positives? Simple Start's interface is very easy to navigate, and Intuit has done a fine job of replacing accounting jargon with plain-English terms. Still, you're better off with Simply Accounting Pro or a pricier, more powerful version of QuickBooks.
QuickBooks Simple Start 2005 installs in about five minutes. An installation menu offers two choices: the desktop or online version. If you choose online, you'll pay $9.95 per month, after the first year, for as long as you use the software. This fee includes daily data backups and phone support. While you won't be out a monthly fee with the desktop version, you won't get free backups and phone support either.
The setup interview is very brief--too brief, in fact. It covers three basic areas: company name and address, organization (for example, sole proprietorship or partnership), and customer-billing method. It deftly explains jargon such as S corporation, which it describes as "a small business with one or more shareholders." But the interview ends too early. It should ask if you're currently using Excel (or another spreadsheet) to keep the books; if so, it should offer to import your data into Simple Start. Other versions of QuickBooks, including Pro, Premier, and Online, import Excel data.
Simple Start's interface has the classic QuickBooks look, including the familiar flowchart that illustrates business-accounting basics. You access a particular module--Write Checks, for instance--by clicking a corresponding icon in the flowchart. The flowcharts are easy to navigate and nicely organized for beginners.
If you're still lost, Simple Start comes with seven interactive tutorials that are easily accessible via the Get Started Now menu on the home screen. These walk-throughs demonstrate how to bill a customer, write a check, and handle other basics. The minilessons run a brief two minutes or so and are easy to grasp.
QuickBooks Simple Start Edition 2005 covers the basics well. You create estimates and invoices via the Money In section of the Home screen and print or e-mail (as a PDF attachment) these documents with just a few mouse clicks. It's equally simple to print checks, pay bills, and generate sales reports. Simple Start even exports tax information to Intuit TurboTax. Unfortunately, Simple Start Edition 2005 doesn't include a sample company file--a staple of other QuickBooks versions--that fledgling accountants could explore for tips and tricks.
Given its $99.95 list price, QuickBooks Simple Start 2005 should offer more. To track inventory and payables and receivables, you'll have to upgrade to the Basic ($199.95), Pro ($299.95), or Premier ($499.95) versions of QuickBooks. Want to manage your employee payroll? Sorry, Simple Start can't handle it. Nor can it create or track spending budgets. In contrast, Simply Accounting Basic, at half the price of Simple Start, manages budgeting, inventory, and payroll tasks.
If you're not sure which accounting app fits your level or lack of expertise, you could try out Simple Start, and if you find it too elementary, upgrade to QuickBooks Basic or Pro for an extra $100. Better yet, save some dough and try Simply Accounting Basic.The desktop version of QuickBooks Simple Start 2005 offers 30 days of free phone support. After that, help is a costly $24.95 per month. For online users, the $9.95 monthly fee includes phone support. Phone hours are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT on weekdays only--a letdown if you work on weekends. In our tests, wait times were typically less than five minutes, and Intuit's tech staff was friendly and knowledgeable. Surprisingly, Intuit doesn't offer e-mail support for Simple Start. On the positive side, the company's support site has a good knowledge base where you can post natural-language queries such as, "How do I process credit cards?"