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Comparing QuickBooks Desktop with QuickBooks Online

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Written by Charlie Russell

Intuit is placing an increasing emphasis on QuickBooks Online, but it isn’t a product that all accounting professionals are familiar with. Many of us have been working with QuickBooks Desktop (for Windows) for years and that is our comfort zone. Intuit keeps on trying to push us out of that comfort zone. My viewpoint on this is that whether we like it or not, QuickBooks Online is going to be a big player in our future, so we better get to know it! Let’s start with a simple comparison of features between the two products.

They Are Different

QuickBooks OnlineUsually whenever someone asks me to compare these two products my stock answer is “don’t compare them, they are different products and they fit different situations”. Then I follow that up with “analyze the client’s needs first, THEN decide which tool is the best one to solve their situation”. If you think about it, though, these are conflicting statements. “Don’t compare” but then “choose between them” – how can I choose if I don’t compare?

QuickBooks DesktopI don’t have a problem with someone listing the features and functions of the two products, and then using that to choose the right product to use. My “don’t compare” idea is more of a statement that even though these two products share the name “QuickBooks”, they aren’t related. QuickBooks Online isn’t a copy of QuickBooks Desktop that has been web-enabled. They are different products with totally different database structures and approaches to solving problems, even though both were developed in-house by Intuit. I sometimes think that if these were named “ABC Desktop Accounting” and “XYZ Online Accounting” that people wouldn’t be complaining about the differences.

So, you look at your client and see what they are doing, what kind of situation they have. Is everyone located in one office or do they work from multiple locations? Are they inventory-centric and need a lot of stuff like barcoding, or are they service oriented? Questions like that, which help you get a picture of the client. Then pick the right tool for the job (I say the same thing about the old argument over which is better, PC or Mac).

Let’s Compare

So here is a look at what these two products share, and how they are different. This isn’t a comprehensive list of every feature at this time – the products are a moving target, and it is a complicated process to build these lists – but it is a start.

The basis for my information is a list compiled by Woody Adams of Radio Free QuickBooks (I think he works for Intuit on the side…). Look for the RFQ_QBMatrix link on the tips page. Woody has given me permission to draw on this info for this article. He updates the document periodically, so you might want to check there every once in awhile. I’m going to take his list and organize it in a different way.

Before we jump in, here are a few points I’d like to make:

  • When I refer to QuickBooks Desktop I’m just talking about the Windows version, not the Mac version.
  • In all cases I’m referring to the US versions of the products.
  • Both products have a number of add-on options available from third party vendors. I’m not including the features found in those. Note that at this time QuickBooks Desktop has more add-on products than QuickBooks Online, but that is changing rapidly.
  • I’m not including features that are found in the optional Advanced Inventory feature for QuickBooks Enterprise. I consider this to be the same as an add-on product, since it is only available for a significant additional fee.
  • To try to keep this simple, I’m not going to get into all the variations that we see with QuickBooks. I’ll ignore, to a degree, QuickBooks Desktop Pro and QuickBooks Online Simple Start. I’m not getting into the differences between the various “Editions” of Premier (or Enterprise). The matrix can be really complicated, with some features found in Enterprise but not Premier, or found only in Accountant (which is Premier level) but in all Enterprise versions, and so forth. I’m trying to simplify things a bit.

Features That Are Common To All

Let’s start with some easy stuff. Here are features that you will find in both QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online, although many times the specific implementations may differ.

  • Accept credit card payments from customers
  • Audit trail to track changes to transactions and lists – Note that QB Online has an activity log that also tracks user login/out
  • Bank reconciliation
  • Company Snapshot
  • Custom fields – varies on the number, and how you can use them, so you have to look at the specifics
  • Express setup of QB company file
  • Multi user access (different limits to the number)
  • Multiple windows
  • Online banking
  • Payroll (additional fees may be required)
  • Print Bills
  • Recurring Billing / Memorized Transactions
  • Zoom into details from reports
  • Document management – is much more limited in Online
  • Budgets (not in QB Online Essentials)
  • Class Tracking (not in QB Online Essentials)
  • Create Estimates (not in QB Online Essentials)
  • Prepare and print 1096, 1099 (not in QB Online Essentials)
  • Job costing – although this is quite limited in QB Online
  • Purchase Orders (not in QB Online Essentials)
  • Invoices
  • Time tracking and billing by customer (not in QB Online Essentials)
  • Reversing journal entries
  • Memorized reports

In addition, there are some features that are only found in the Accountant versions of both products.

  • Accountant Center
  • Adjusted Trial Balance (also in Enterprise)
  • Client file dashboard , File Manager kind of stuff
  • Set accounting period

These features will be found in most QB Desktop products, but only in the Accountant version on the QB Online side.

  • See and Undo previous reconcile
  • Client Data Review – some portions available in non accountant desktop if you log in using external accountant, features differ between online and desktop
  • Comparative balance sheet and P&L
  • Adjusting journal entries – only in Enterprise on the desktop side
  • Voided/deleted transaction report

Features Found in QuickBooks Desktop but not in QuickBooks Online

OK, so the QuickBooks Desktop product has been around longer, and in the past it has gotten a lot more attention from the developers. Sometimes I think of the differences between Microsoft Word (which has EVERYTHING but you might not use it all) and Google Docs (simpler, has the basics, but not all the extra stuff). Do you need all these things? If not, QuickBooks Online is an option. If you need them, however, you either need QuickBooks Desktop, or you need to find an add-on to QuickBooks Online.

 

  • Average Cost inventory valuation
  • Balance Sheet by Class
  • Batch Invoicing
  • Batch Timesheet Entry
  • Billable Time and Expense preferences
  • Billing rate level
  • Business Planner
  • Forecasting
  • Calendar
  • Change orders on Estimates
  • Collections center
  • Condense data file – but it isn’t clear to me if you actually would need this in QuickBooks Online?
  • Available Quantity in Inventory
  • Customer Snapshot
  • Convert estimate to a purchase order or sales order
  • Advanced Excel export that can update existing exported reports
  • Industry specific reporting (lots and lots of industry specific reports here)
  • Inventory assembly items, Bills of Material, the ability to build assemblies
  • Inventory Center
  • Lead Center
  • Fixed Asset Manager
  • Mileage tracking
  • Multiple currencies
  • Multiple ship to addresses for Vendors
  • One click transactions (pay bill from bill, create credit memo from invoice, etc.)
  • Price Levels
  • Progress Invoicing/billing
  • Receive partially against a purchase order
  • Report Favorites
  • Report – collapse rows
  • Share report templates with Intuit community
  • Inventory – reorder/rebuild points
  • Shipping Manager
  • Sales Orders
  • Sales Order Fulfillment Worksheet
  • Transaction History Panel
  • Units of Measure

One interesting difference is the ability to give someone a copy of a file that they can look at (like an audit) that isn’t your real copy. In some cases you can say “we don’t need the ‘accountant’s copy’ kind of feature in QuickBooks Online” (or things like Send General Journal Entries) since the accountant can easily log in to my QuickBooks Online account. In other cases there may be times when you want to give a copy of your file to someone that is totally separate (IRS audits, perhaps?), which is more complicated with QuickBooks Online.

Moving up the line, here are some features found only in QuickBooks Enterprise.

  • Auto price markup
  • Default classes with class tracking
  • Enhanced Item Receiving, to split receipt from bill
  • Advanced find/select of items
  • Journal entries, list of previous entries (also found in Accountant)
  • ODBC access for reporting
  • Auto purchase orders
  • QuickBooks Statement Writer (also found in Accountant)
  • Working Trial Balance (also in Accountant)
  • Batch Enter Transactions  (also in Accountant)

Features Found in QuickBooks Online but not QuickBooks Desktop

 

It goes both ways – QuickBooks Online has features that don’t exist in QuickBooks Desktop!

  • Remote access – you can do this with QuickBooks Desktop but you need an additional software product or use QuickBooks Hosting (at a higher price)
  • Auto Send Reports – reports or report groups can be scheduled to send automatically
  • Automatic upgrades – this is both a good and a bad feature, with QuickBooks Online you are almost always running the most up to date version (whether you want to or not)
  • Company Scorecard
  • Delayed charges/billing – enter charges to be billed later
  • Income list/transaction center
  • Invoice automation – automatically create invoice from unbilled activity
  • More than one A/R or A/P account per journal entry
  • Location tracking, a secondary level of class tracking (QB Online Plus only)
  • FIFO Inventory valuation (available in QuickBooks Enterprise but only with the additional cost Advanced Inventory feature)

There Are More Differences

I’m sure that this isn’t an exhaustive list of differences – please feel free to point out others! I’ll admit that I’m still learning about QuickBooks Online, so I can be missing things.

This comparison list also doesn’t highlight other aspects that are different between the two products. I hope to be able to point out more of these kinds of things in future articles. For example, both products integrate with Intuit PaymentNetwork (which I didn’t point out, since it is essentially an add-on feature), but there are big differences in how it is implemented on each side. The workflow is VERY different, and in this case you may find that the feature is much easier to use (at this time) in QuickBooks Online than in QuickBooks Desktop.

I hope that this serves as a starting point for understanding the differences between QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online. You need to understand both products if you are going to make good decisions about which product to use or recommend.

Again, my thanks to Woody Adams of Radio Free QuickBooks for the great information that he has compiled (and is updating).


About the author

Charlie Russell

Charlie Russell is the founder of CCRSoftware. He's been involved with the small business software industry since the mid 70's, and remembers releasing his first commercial accounting software product when you had a one-floppy disk drive system, loading the program from one floppy and then replacing that with the other floppy to hold the data. He has a special interest in inventory and manufacturing software for small businesses. Charlie is a Certified Advanced QuickBooks ProAdvisor with additional certifications for QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Enterprise. He also is a Xero Certified Partner. Visit his CCRSoftware web site for information about his QuickBooks add-on products. Charlie can be reached at [email protected]

He is also the author of the California Wildflower Hikes blog

Connect with Charlie at Google

101 Comments

  • Charlie: Great article (as usual). It is so difficult to learn a product when you don’t have occasion to use it much. But I’d like to add to your list two features that I am aware of that QB Online does better than desktop.

    One is an invoice format that provides a “mini-statement” that is very useful. In the invoice header section, QBO shows the balance as of the previous invoice plus any payments received. The second feature is the way on-line banking is implemented. Any cleared transactions automatically show up in QBO for review without having to log on to the bank and initiate a download. You never miss any activity.

    • Thank you, Ed. Again, the main info started with Woody Adams, so he gets the lion’s share of credit.

      I’ve not gotten into comparisons of where one product does a particular feature better than the other. Thanks for pointing that one out. I know there are more. We’ll get into that in the future…

    • Easy to miss, Woody. These are both rich and complicated products.

      Laura Dion had already sent me an email about the reversing journal entries, probably about 2 seconds after the article posted.

      I’ve updated the article for those two features, and I’m sure there will be others. That is the nice thing about an article like this, we get corrections from all of our readers!

  • Charlie, when I read your comparison it seems QuickBooks online isn’t as bad as my experience has been. You compare many of the features but there are a few things that my office has continued to struggle with using QuickBooks online. The first and foremost is the ability to have multiple forms open at one time. Your list states “multiple windows” can be used in the online version however I have never been able to activate this feature and it makes me think it is refering to having multiple companies at one time (or I would love for someone to tell me how to get multiple windows at the same time). The overall control has been lost by the accountant in many areas of the online version – payroll being the prime example. It is very difficult to make corrections or changes in payroll for quarterly processing or any other payroll processing. Speaking of payroll… a hard lesson learned. If you have employees set up on salary you absolutely can not adjust their hours as it will adjust their rate of pay. I work with many organizations that have salaried employees yet still use QB to track their hours. This has created a huge debacle for one company and they have employees that were overpaid which we are now attempting to correct. My list can go on and on with the problems of QB online. I realize it is the direction of the future but I certainly hope the developers of QB are listening to the accountants because there are some real problems. Our firm has completely stopped supporting users of QuickBooks online and in the past week have had two clients using online come to us begging for help to untangle their mess. We agreed if they agreed to get on a desktop version. PS – the cost of the online version is outrageous. QuickBooks continues to nickel and dime the small business to the point they won’t be able to afford any sort of financial management software.

    • Hi Heather, I am considering Quickbooks obline. Never used Quickbooks before at all. It is for a construction based business. I just got off the phone with a sales rep from QB & off course they geer you towards the online version & the most expensive, which seems to be about $80 montly before taxes…thenn towards the end of the conversation I was asking about payroll & find out there is an addition $1.50 fee per employee per month, which can add up to an addition $20 – $30+ per month. Are there any other fees that you know of. Is it safe to say that If you had 30 employees the price would be under $150 per month…what other nickel & diming is there? Thank you.

    • We switched to QBO last year and are in processes of moving back to desktop. What a nightmare! The program is okay, after you get past all of the limitations, but what I found to be most annoying is the billing. They have over-billed our company EVERY month! I call the customer service and they “fix” the problem…then I check my statement the next month and they have over-billed again! How frustrating!! I also do not fully trust the reports, such as P&L, I can check the values, log out, then back in and the numbers are different – with no one else logged in… QBO is not a reliable accounting software…There is no option to run a report that shows current inventory with retail price (what good is that??)…not to mention the risk of cyber attacks.

      No thanks, I’m sticking to desktop from here on out.

      • QBO fits some businesses and not others. In my experience I’ve not seen problems with report reliability such as you have described. I’ve found it to be very reliable.

        If a business works with inventory then QBO isn’t a product that I would recommend by itself. Inventory features are minimal and barely useful. With QBO I would recommend an addon product to manage inventory – there are several, depending on your needs. SOS Inventory is a good example. I don’t have any clients that manage inventory that are using QBO by itself.

        Cyber attacks – to tell the truth, I’m not concerned about that in this case. The kind of information that you have in your accounting system just isn’t that interesting to hackers, and trying to attack a bunch of individual businesses for their accounting information is just not a “high value” target. I’m MUCH more concerned with attacks on my banks, where I have my money. Or big box retailers that have my credit card and other information. Or even the University where I worked at over 40 years ago, which was hacked and they got my SSN information. Those are the places that you have to be concerned about.

        • Charlie,
          Hi. Thanks for the QB menu item detail comparison. I give QBO a thumbs up for a service based business whom has no job tracking, unbilled costs or time-slips/work tickets or no need for an API to other desktop applications that the business may be using in their day-to-day opps. QBO is for a small business (one company file) whom only tracks simple bank, AR and AP transactions. Also on cloud accounting and QBO is very limited especially if your business manages inventories.

          On cyber attacks, this day and age privacy theft is big business and the ‘common hacker’ understands this, so lists such as employees have names, addresses, DOB, SS#, routing and bank account numbers for ACH/DD, on file all of which is worth more in sum on the BM than any one companies banking information.

          I agree that these two programs are different in every way and the SB person should consult or research their needs before committing to either software product.
          Have a good day,
          Solomon Guerrero

  • Hi Charlie – thank you for this – we are just starting now to use QBO in Australia, the global team is out at the moment doing a roadshow around the country and we were happy to see a few updates such as the auto send reports and the features in the Accountant edition. We also have now an Integrated inventory solution – SOS Inventory as well as an integrated payroll solution which is helpful. Of course our desktop product is quite different from the US but the comparison is very helpful

  • Charlie, thanks for a great article. I’m a huge fan of QuickBooks Online because it suits our client base of doctors & dentists. The overnight download of all the banking transactions has been a game-changer for us. It keeps my clients (and me) up to date on their business. In 30-60 minutes a week they classify the transactions and avoid having to pay our staff to enter all their info. We have access to current info for tax planning and analysis any time we need it, their information is available to them anywhere there is internet and it is secure (no more worrying about backups!) and updated regularly. For around $20/month (with Pro Advisor discount) it’s a bargain for everyone.

  • Two things I hate in QB Online:
    1) When you delete an account in the Chart of Accounts, it does not go away. It still shows but with (deleted) after the name. What genius thought this was a good idea?
    2) There does not seem to be a way to get all reports to print without the zero accounts, except to customize every time you compile it. The standard balance sheet list all accounts, even with the (deleted) accounts with zero balances. Looks terrible. You have to customize the report every time to make the zero accounts go away.
    The default should be with no zero balance accounts, and you would have to customize to see them, should you ever need to. They have it backwards.

    • On #2, you might want to think about memorizing your balance sheet with the customizations so you don’t have to do that every time

  • The few clients that I have using QBO do not test the limits very much. However, I struggle greatly with the payroll module! You cannot set up payroll items as easily as the desktop and until recently couldn’t adjust a paycheck. There still is a lot to be desired especially with quarterly payroll taxes and minor adjustments necessary.

  • Thanks Charlie! Great article! After getting certified in QB Online and hearing about Intuit’s push in that direction, I committed to giving it a try. I agree that some of the functions earlier poster mentioned are great (auto-downloading, Income List), but I have to echo Heather’s frustrations with (deleted) issues, very misleading. In addition, here are my own frustrations so far- no Custom Summary reports (difficult with my law firm clients re: Client Retainer summaries), no Other Names list (why does everybody have to be a vendor!) and lastly, the inability to edit a time entry on the invoice without affecting the original time entry. Again, my law firm clients and my service-based clients often edit their invoices before sending, whether it be rounding the time or editing the text. But they want the original time entry left untouched for payroll. Such a big difference to desktop where we have great control at the invoice level! Anyone else found this to be frustrating?

  • Great article, having been a desktop user for sometime I switched to the online version in late 2012.

    I really like it, as I’m out and about teaching I can access my students accounts via the iPhone app, record any payments as and when they happen rather than waiting for when I get home.

    I was really worried about making the switch, but for me it’s been a good choice. The only downside is that in the UK we can’t convert our company files so essentially had to start again.

    Paul

  • Just converted a client to the QBO and was shocked to discover you can’t customize an invoice with a number of days column like you can in the desktop version. You can have rate and quantity, but not number of days. Seems like such a basic function of invoicing. Client now wants to convert back to the desktop version. What a waste of everyone’s time.

  • Charlie, your list of QBO features included working with the most current version (whether you want to or not)…which sort of edges into another feature to consider: server downtime.

    QBO users have experienced some rediculously long server outages in the past–the longest about 2 days, if I recall correctly. (If Intuit were any other provider of Cloud-based services, with competitors offering the same services, QBO would have died a swift death due to users leaving in droves.)

    QBO is like all other Cloud-based products in that the big advantage of having it hosted and maintained by someone else (Intuit in this case) is also its biggest disadvantage: users are totally helpless when the service is down/unavailable.

    • Mark, since you and I are both developers of desktop software, we understand this issue very well. I made this point in an earlier article. Funny thing about this article, I was delayed in posting it because of a four hour Comcast Internet outage…

      These are some of the things that you have to take into account, but note that as time goes on, more of the addons and services integrated even with the desktop product are web-dependent.

  • Great article Charlie. Like lots of other people I am a new user of QBO. When Intuit made the certification available I decided it was time to learn and use it. I like the way you said that the desktop and online versions were two separate programs. When I first started working in the online version I kept trying to work in it the same way I did in the desktop version. I would look for menu items in the same place, want to customize reports the same way, etc. I finally thought to myself that the online wasn’t like the desktop. It really was a different program, so my thoughts on going forward with the online version was to think of it as any other accounting program I have used over the years. Learn to do what it will allow me to do and not expect it to do what it won’t. Once I decided to work that way I have found it easier to work in. And I do like it.

  • In regards to the price of QuickBooks Online, I tell my clients using Essentials and Online Plus how they can get a 35% discount (30% if they are only plain certified) on their monthly subscription by using my Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor client discount.

    All they need is their company ID, my name, company name, phone number, e-mail address, and my PA contract number. It is a nice benefit to hiring me to set up their business, review what they have done, or train them in the program or online payroll. I even have an e-mail template for it.

  • Charlie, Good Effort!
    I am using both versions Quick books desktop and online for my clients. Yes no doubt the future is cloud base accounting and people are moving from desktop to online. QBO does not provide such an extensive reporting as QB desktop provides. At some stages QB desktop edition has advantage and at some stages QBO. It also depends on the business nature if you have manufacturing business so Inventory assembly functionality will not be in Online Quick books, so lots of work need to be done in QBO and I agree with Heather on price. Intuit need to maintain such a price which can be affordable for small size business.

    • Thank you Adnan. Note that there are add-on products like SOS Inventory that will work with QuickBooks Online. And I expect to see more apps in the future now that Intuit has created a better-supported programming interface for QBO.

  • I run a small business and I’ve always used Quickbooks Pro. I decided to give QBO a try and for the last few days have been using it with my imported QB Pro data.

    But each step of the way I’ve seen things that are infuriatingly illogical. I keep trying to talk myself into sticking with it because I’d much rather use an online product, but I just don’t think I can justify it. Not only am I getting less functionality, I’m also paying more for it.

    • There is almost no reason to pay extra for quickbooks online. The bottom line is that it is really expensive! Most “cloud” based things are simply not economical. You can remote into any desktop using remote desktop software thats free or already built into windows on the off chance you may need to access your files and your not at the office. Plus most business owners have more than one business. This makes online versions that much more expensive. You need to pay for EACH company file you have every month vs. buying new software once every 3-4 years. The price isn’t even comparable. I love the intuit fanboys, they make me laugh.

  • I think for most my clients the desktop is still the way to go. Desktop one purchase price and annual fees for add on’s like Payroll. Online version monthly fee’s for as long as you want access to your data. Online is only viable if you always have internet access that is reliable and high speed. For many of my clients in rural area’s this makes desktop their only option.

  • I have a client that recently made the switch from desktop to QBO so they could implement SOS Inventory. One of the main differences i’ve noticed (besides the multiple open window – which is driving me nuts)is that agings seem to be perpetual in QBO so if i run an AP aging now for 12/31/12 it no longer ties to my 12/31/12 balance sheet. Am i missing something in the set up/preferences that would fix this?

  • Good article, Charlie — very informative. I deal with some pretty sophisticated distributors and manufacturers who have thousands of SKUs and use complex pricing schemes and directly tie QB to their 3PL. Most get orders in by fax and email, several of them use add-ons like Open for Business to enable their customers and sales reps to see order forms and place orders online.
    QB Desktop has better capabilities for inventory, including some fields that QBO doesn’t have, notably Qty on Order and Qty on Sales Order. So QBO can’t show reliable quantity information to salespeople or to the person doing reordering for the distributor’s shelves.
    If my distributor client offers different prices to different kinds of customers, QBO is inadequate in because it doesn’t know how to deal with price levels. The client using QBO will have to scrub every outgoing invoice individually to get the pricing right. Which of course is not fun.
    I have talked with several distributors who consider selecting QBO because the cloud model is so attractive – I do my best to explain how QB Desktop brings more inventory management features to the table. In my experience the QBO model seems to be the best fit for services (non-inventory) businesses. This reinforces your point that one needs to carefully choose the right tool for the job early in the process.

    • Susie, although I agree that the base QB Desktop system has more inventory control features than QB Online, I find that for most businesses even QB Desktop doesn’t fill the bill by itself when it comes to inventory control. All to often I’m seeing people use an add-on product to truly get control of inventory. When you take that into account, sometimes QBO isn’t out of the picture – there are inventory add-on products that work with QBO as well. Then, again, at this point there are more desktop add-ons available than online add-ons. So I keep going in circles!

      • Charlie,
        To add to Susie’s point about inventory: I think she’s talking about inventory knowledge available to sales reps and customers, not so much about inventory control. With QB desktop, the Open for Business add-on allows reps and customers to see what’s in stock, what the price/price level is for that account, and what’s on order. Can’t do any of that with QB Online.
        So if serving up real-time information to the field is valuable to a client, QB desktop looks like a better choice. I’m inclined to recommend that any business with inventory to manage and sell should go with the desktop version of QB

        • Moving forward, as developers start to get comfortable with the IPP interface and the improved access it gives you with QuickBooks Online, I think that is going to change. Integration tools for QBO have been stunted for years, now things are advancing.

          There are a number of very comprehensive inventory and sales management products that work with QB Desktop (Windows) – some of the ones that I like (ACCTivate, for example) don’t use the inventory features found in QuickBooks, they manage that data in their own database. That approach can be used very well with QBO also.

          The QuickBooks database has major limitations (either desktop or online), and it isn’t unusual for products to use QB mainly for the financial features and then manage an ancillary database for sales management, CRM, inventory control and more.

          Now, having said that, keep in mind that my business (CCRSoftware) creates add-on products that work only with QB Desktop, and that uses only the data stored in the QuickBooks database itself, to enhance certain inventory control features…

    • I like how you did this, Charlie. Did I miss the price comparisons and the number of users included at each price?

      Isn’t the QBO $35/mo? $420 per year. Are there discount sellers on the internet?

      And isn’t it one subscription per company?

      • Pricing is per user, and the price depends on the version of QBO. I tend not to list that in an article as the prices change from time to time, and there are specials sometimes.

        I don’t believe you will find any “discount sellers”.

        And subscriptions are per user, per company file.

  • Charlie, I’ve been researching the differences between QB DT and QBO and your blog is the most thorough and “made for the end user” that I’ve read yet. Thanks.

    I have two questions that I haven’t read conclusive answers to yet:
    1. I am fortunate to have fast internet download and upload speeds. Will I see much difference in speed between the online and desktop versions of Quickbooks?

    2. If I’m making a lot of entries, will the online version slow me down?

    3. Re. using Quickbooks 2013 DT with an online bill pay function with my bank, have you heard much good or bad feedback on this feature yet?

    • Thanks for the compliment, Robert!

      Speed differences are very subjective. I’ve seen instances where QBO would work faster than QB Desktop, because there can be issues with the desktop installation. What you’ll find is that some things are going to be slower in QBO on occasion, probably. However, there are things that are easier to do in QBO, such as bank reconciliation. One of the very nice things about QBO is that you have a free month to try it out in parallel, to see if you like it, before you have to pay.

      I don’t have any real comment about any particular online bill pay function, sorry.

  • Quickbooks online is a horrible product. Choose this for your accounting needs if accounting reliability, ease of use, and quality is not that important to you, and $25-35 per month sounds cheaper than just buying the desktop version.

  • I have attempted to begin using QB Online and have had so much difficulty getting support. I have been on hold at least 30 min. each time I called, and most questions are not answered clearly, but only bring up other questions. I have spoken to several private consultants currently using QBO, and no one has been able to tell me whether Desktop or Online is most suitable for my needs. Each program has it’s place, and I don’t believe my business is that unusual. I need location tracking, inventory, and price levels, yet no one in support can tell me how to use these. I’ve been directed in circles from desktop to online. I am reminded of this when you say that QBO has issues, but they are making great strides. Yes some simple tasks are not possible, but just wait.. it’s going to be great. It almost seems they launched the program before it was complete and we’re all guinea pigs. Very frustrating. That being said, I appreciate this article attempting to clarify some differences. At least it’s a starting point for discussion.

    • Karen, I’ve heard the complaints lately about long hold times. There should be a “chat” option available, from what I hear that is much faster.

      I can’t tell you exactly what is the best option for you, as I would need to know a lot more about your business. As you have found, many “private consultants” just aren’t familiar with the various Cloud accounting products. You need to find someone who is much more familiar with the product.

      QuickBooks Online by itself is not a fit for what you are saying – there really isn’t any good inventory tracking feature built in for locations, and such. You can deal with some of those things with QBO by using an add-on product, such as SOS Inventory. You would have to look into that to see if it is an option for you. \

      QuickBooks Desktop – you have many options for location inventory and price levels, either with QuickBooks Enterprise with Advanced Inventory (several articles about that in this blog) or addons like ACCTivate and others. But, there are many variables, so I can’t give you a firm recommendation based on blog comments.

  • I have recently switched yet another new client off of the dreaded QuickBooks online. The desktop is far superior and online is still just as awful as it has been in the past. Aptly nicknamed the “half” version, it is frustrating to get anything done in there..workaround are a nightmare, payroll corrections are impossible. We switched close to 300 clients from online to the desktop last year and we are continuing to get new clients away from this nightmare. Just say no. It will take your accountant a lot more time to clean up your books at year end to prepare your taxes and that, my friend, will cost you much much more. Run away from the online version.

    • Tim, I’m not sure what your question is. Sync Manager is the program that Intuit installs on QuickBooks Desktop (Windows) systems to “sync” the database from your local system into the Intuit Cloud. From there, developers can access the data using the IPP interface.

      It doesn’t have anything to do with QuickBooks Online – where the data is already in the Intuit Cloud and developers can use the IPP interface to access it.

  • I am new at Quickbooks, I will explain my solution and hope for advice

    I would like to be able to access the same quickbooks company and files from 2 different laptops located in 2 different countries. My partner and I would like to be able to make updates to the same company files, giving me the opportunity to correct his mistakes and vice versa.

    What are my different options to reach this goal?

    We are using Mac, but I am also willing to hear how this could be possible on Windows if it’s not possible on Mac

    • Olivier, there are many questions we would have to ask before we could truly give you the best answer.

      For the Mac, not great options. Windows is more supportable.

      If QuickBooks Online works for you then it doesn’t matter which – that is probably the best solution IF you can get the features that you need there.

      QuickBooks for Windows in a Hosted environment would work, you could use any computer (Mac or Windows) because you use it via a browser. Note that some hosting companies don’t support a Mac client, so you have to check.

      This article can give you some idea as to what I’m talking about, although it isn’t oriented exactly to what you are asking. See http://www.sleeter.com/blog/2013/05/working-with-remote-quickbooks-clients-remotely/

  • No one has mentioned the continual rapid-fire releases of poorly tested major changes (called “updates” but they’re often really major changes)in QBOE. This results in frustration for the average office worker/bookkeeper, re-training, errors, and expense for the small business user. My users adjusted slowly to the new 2014 version of QBOE over the past several weeks, as they were sporadically forced out of the old version and into the new. The re-design was extreme, requiring them, really, to learn a new program. Today (3/14/14) I discovered that the screens for company preferences (now called “Settings) had completely changed – for half of my users, but not for the other half. Presumably this “update” is being released on just a few servers at a time, just as the 2014 version was. (Are we testing the software “in production” designers?) QBOE could be a good solution for a lot of small businesses that don’t need the wealth of features of the desktop versions, but not when the program design is so unstable. The average $20-an-hour in-house bookkeeper can’t keep up. Frankly, the more complex desktop versions are better choices for them simply because the screens don’t change every few weeks.

    • When you talk about “your users”, I assume that you are talking about different companies – as opposed to multiple users in one QBO company file. In that case, yes, you will find that some company files will move to the new system at a different time than others, and that some users will see different updates than others.

      The ability to release updates on a faster than once-a-year rate is often touted as one of the advantages of online software – you don’t have to wait so long for new features. However, as you point out, too much change in a short term can be disruptive. In addition, usually, the user doesn’t have the choice of installing or ignoring an update (or scheduling it when it is convenient for them).

      Although I would suggest that sometimes Intuit does some of the same things with the desktop product.

      The biggest issue here, to me, is that Intuit (as you mention in your first sentence) doesn’t seem to be doing adequate testing of the changes prior to release.

  • Hello,

    I am using QB Online and I would like to know what I need to do to format my daily transaction registration. What I want is every time I type my Vendor I would like that the system automatic shows me the account that I normally register that entry.

    Can you help me?

  • Hi Charlie,

    Many thanks for your exhaustive product comparison list. While I greatly prefer the desktop interface over the QBO interface, particularly that of 2014 QBO, QBO is convenient when the client and the accountant are each doing some of the work, there are multiple users in different locations, for collaborative purposes, and for access across different devices.

    I just switched a client to QBO from desktop 2009 after doing my due diligence, however, and there still things that the client found he could not replicate in QBO. One such item is the “expense account prefill” settings function (located on the “Account Settings” tab under edit Vendor). A second is that although the payment terms can be selected from a dropdown menu in QBO, there is no option to apply the discount at the time of payment if a bill is paid within the discount period. The client is dissatisfied and I am now switching him over to QuickBooks dektop 2014.

    I thought you might want to know about these so that you could add them to your list.

    If anyone has had a different experience or outcome with these issues, I would welcome their insight.

    Thanks,
    Renee Klivickis Melville

  • The NEW QBOE is AWFUL. It isn’t a matter of small changes it is unusable at best. Used to take 3 tabs and a ctrl+s to enter a bill….now takes 8 tabs and ctrl+ALT+S to do a bill, how is that better? You can no longer pay one vendor you have to pay from the large list of bills.

    I HAVE been using QBOE for 10 years and this change proves that this group at intuit is the WORST and NEVER listens to users. Whomever made this decision should be FIRED.

    Why did they break something that works…….I am switching to desktop or perhaps to ANY COMPETITOR…..

    RUN AWAY FROM THE NEW QBOE.

  • Charlie, your readers should also be aware that Quickbooks will not let switch between an existing subscription and a cheaper 1-year subscription you may have purchased at a Best Buy. I’m on the phone as I type this and to make it near impossible to do, Quickbooks Online has no facility for exporting your transactions.

    I’ve been told I would need to manually re-enter all transactions to switch over. As I’m trying to switch from a monthly sub of Quickbooks Essentials ($21/month) to a 1-year Quickbooks Essentials ($50 on sale), I suggested that since they’ve made it near impossible to switch, then simply reduce the fee I pay monthly to match the Best Buy offer … not possible is what I’m told.

    Before my company grows any more and we end up even further down this dead-end road, I’m using my extensive time on hold to locate a competing product!

    • This is a huge red flag.

      I have had such a love hate with this company for many many years. I just wish there was a viable alternative that allows full direct connect billpay / downloads etc.

      I’m a long time mac guy and small business owner for 30 years. And It amazes me how little respect intuit has for there customers actual needs.

      Appreciate the info! Still sounds to me like DT versions are much better all around.

      The OE version I’m sure is still much better than any other mac support they have ever done.

      I literally refuse to ever call intuit, after the years of customer no service I know I can find the solution answer faster on the web.

      • Intuit does respond to requests, they don’t respond to ALL requests. A very large percentage of the improvements in the 2015 release are things that people have been asking for (for years).

        The fullest featured version at this time is the desktop for Windows, with the Enterprise edition having the most features of all. The Online edition is progressing rapidly, and fits many businesses. The Mac version fits a particular demographic that is fairly narrow – and the QuickBooks App for Mac shows the direction that Intuit will be taking there (using the QBO database).

  • Wow, really comprehensive list. Always amazes me when feature differences seem arbitrary. “Excel export that can update existing exported reports” is an indispensable feature. A move to Online would require a shift in reporting workflow.

    Are you familiar with Transaction Pro Imported or Abacus? Can you comment on integration (or lack thereof) with QB Online?

    Thanks! RMO

  • Is there a way to have my accountant on my quickbooks online account at the same time with me to better answer questions for setting up properly?

    • Not within QuickBooks Online itself – although your accountants can access your file if they use QuickBooks Online Accountant and you invite them in as an accountant user.

      However, if you are looking at your account on your computer, your accountant can “share” your screen and see what you are seeing, and even control the mouse to show you things, by using any of several “remote support” tools that are available on the market. I use a product called TeamViewer for that, but there are quite a few other similar products.

  • Hi! There is a 14,500 name limit in QB Pro and Premier. Does this limit exist in the online versions? We use Enterprise, which has a very high limit, but are exploring conversion to QBO
    Thanks!

    • Intuit doesn’t state a hard limit on the number of records in a list, such as they do with Pro and Premier. However, in a very general sense, the product is aimed at smaller businesses. That is a vague statement which doesn’t help you.

      If you are using Enterprise then I’m not sure if you are a good candidate for moving to QuickBooks Online. In general, businesses that NEED Enterprise are using features that are not available in QBO at this time, although those features may be available via add-on products.

      You should consider sitting down with an advisor who understands both QuickBooks Enterprise and QuickBooks Online, who can look at what features you need for your business and evaluate which product works for you.

      Why are you considering moving away from Enterprise to QBO, and what kind of business do you have?

    • George,
      Inventory or No inventory?
      Hi, my name is Solomon Guerrero and do yourself a favor and consult with Charlie or someone else whom understands the IT issues behind a hosted financial database, because QBE and QBO are not the same products. I have worked on and setup financial database such as QB and Sage (aka Best Software) products for over twenty years and I still see this all the time with new/small businesses, an owner/decision makers not making an well informed/planned decision but rather a decision based on what was ‘presented’.
      If your business has inventory, need to consolidated company financial statements from multiple QB company files, data access through ODBC/API for other operation software, or ad hoc data access then QBO is not for you. I know this with 100% certainty.
      Thanks
      Solomon Guerrero

      • Thank you, Solomon. A few comments on what you said, though:

        -There IS an API for QuickBooks Online. it isn’t simple to work with, but it exists, and many add-on developers are working with it now. You also can use “Method” to work with the QuickBooks Online database, and other options will be available later this year.

        -Inventory-centric businesses don’t have to stay away from QuickBooks Online. There are some very good inventory management add-on products that will work with it. I agree that QuickBooks Online by itself isn’t good for inventory, though.

        • Thanks for your reply and your welcome.

          I have used the API and it is great for QBO only. But it is still limited on what you can write to in the online db, for example, importing transactions and assigning the line sequence number or toggling the FQSaveToCache field.

          It amazes me that something so profound in the IT/DB industry such as a UDF cannot be utilized in an accounting system such as QBO, but I suppose the reason with QBO (or any other cloud based financial DB) not to offer UDFs is because it would cause a fundamental shift in their business model. The strategy behind online DBs is a steady stream of residual income and maintain an identical product that can be resold to multiple customers. So adding one UDF to one of QBO customers is not is possible (under current model) but not feasible because it will require separate QBO databases for each customer who needs UDFs, thus intuitively against the original model to begin with. An entirely different subject.

          But to Mom, Pop and the under experienced bookkeeper that Mom and Pop higher do not know the difference until their needs are not met and resources are spent or both.

          In the twenty plus years I have been involve in accountancy and AIS, I have not met one client that does not need at least one UDF. In the world of AIS and the APIs that we develop, we are all for open source and locking and confining something as import as your financial data in a cloud is not in the best interest of most clients. The primary reason to develop and API is for data access so why lock something up that is already available on the desktop, i.e. MS office integration especially Excel to access and analyze data.

          Case in Point: I had a client spend over 200 to get a custom report; a customer days to pays report in which took more than a dozen attempts by support personal who obviously had no accounting background before my client got what they wanted, intuit even charged for each draft, this all because of data access…
          …So to avoid repurchasing your data in the form of reports or APIs, my advice to new clients and new business owners is purchase a mainstream small business accounting software (cloud or desktop) that has a large support pool and that is flexible enough to at least read from using ODBC or SQL queries, this is key, because it is the data you will need tomorrow that you do not realize today, and it will unnecessarily cost you tomorrow based on your decision today.
          Thanks
          Solomon Guerrero

  • Loosing Excel report auto-update sounds like a deal-breaker. E.g. we
    – Export P&L by class to Excel
    – Customize sheet; e.g. add columns summarizing class groups
    – Update, preserving sheet customizations

    Please let me know if there are any changes in the way applying payments against invoices is different with QBO vs desktop. Thx! RMO

  • You are so cool! I do not believe I’ve truly read a single thing like
    this before. So great to find somebody with original thoughts on this subject matter.
    Really.. many thanks for starting this up. This web site is
    something that is needed on the web, someone with a little
    originality!

  • Hi Charlie,

    Thank you for such a helpful article. I was wondering if we have a client set up a QuickBooks Online Account then anyone can be added as a external accountant or does he have to be a Proadvisor?

    • My understanding is that to get QuickBooks Online Accountant you have to be a ProAdvisor or at least an accountant. I don’t know how Intuit checks on that. And to be invited as an external accountant you would have to be using QuickBooks Online Accountant. But I haven’t dug into the details of that.

  • I’m a deer in headlights right now regarding move from QB12 to 14, QBO, or another product, so I’m saddled with the 256 column Excel export limitation, which makes Actual v Bud reporting a hassle. It’s interesting I’ve got around this in the past using .CSV export, but now when I export, the .csv is messed up. Data are attributed to the wrong columns and appear to be duplicated, with incomplete heading. It’s almost as though the sheet is “word-wrapped”, or may “column-wrapped”. Does this sound like something I might fix? I did a data validation.

    Anyhew, I’ve resorted to running multiple reports, filtering on class. We have many, many.
    Thanks all,
    Robert O’Connell
    Finance Officer, Thread Inc

    • Robert, I’ve never had to deal with a report that had that many columns in it, so I don’t have an answer for you. QBO isn’t going to help. You might want to see if you can get this report using QQube (www.clearify.com), although I’m not sure if budget information is available through them (check with them).

    • Robert,
      Hi. QQube (www.clearify.com) is a bi-directional relational database (probably SQL/C#/JSE) that is synchronization between your QB and an external/secondary database for the purpose of BI reporting tools such as Access, Crystal Reports and to some degree Excel, among others. (I have never used it but have read some good things about it on the web.) In the traditional sense, QuickBooks (not Enterprise) is a flat, closed, quasi relational database in which BI report builders have problems connecting to or not. I had a client faced the same problem. Their options were to upgrade to QBE or use Access. I trained them on Access and they later upgraded to QBE. MS Access is a great BI companion tool for QB reporting and data mining. One of the material aspects of a report tool is that it allows us (the business developer/manager) to get close to the data and see what, when and who posted/entered the correct/incorrect data. This gives us an opportunity to correct the ‘not so Best Practices’ in our day-to-day operations. Too often I find quotes like this… “All you have to do is drag-and-drop and spend your precious time actually building reports – not figuring out how the data is put together” and as a business developer/manager we better know how our data is put together, because it really does mean garbage in garbage out. Also one of the most time consuming processes in report writing is ensuring that the data is good, …anyway just my thoughts.
      Thanks for the blog Charlie!
      Solomon Guerrero

        • Hi. Bi directional relating to API, SDK and db attributes. I have worked with dbs and report writers since onset of Crystal Reports in 1995 when Seagate owned them. Bi directional can related to many attributes in a schema, and writing data to a db is subclass of this workflowsdata

          • And I’ve been working with computer software (and report writers, and databases) as well as educating people on how things work since the late 70’s. I’m pointing out to readers who see “bi-directional” who would expect that this means that the data flows both ways, which it doesn’t. How you expressed it is misleading to many people, therefore I made the clarification. Sure, the SDK is bidirectional, the database (both of the ones involved with QQube) are bidirectional, but the practical matter is that QQube (an excellent tool) is a read-only report writer, it isn’t a tool that will use any of the bidirectional SDK and db attributes to push any data back to QuickBooks.

  • When I hand-write a check in QB Pro 2012 desktop and add it via the Write Checks feature, it does not appear in the register. When I download bank transaction, I cannot match the cleared check since it’s not in the register. How come?

    I can use the Find feature in Write Checks to confirm I added the trx.

    Help,
    Robert O.

    • Robert, that is way off the topic of this article. Which “register” are you talking about? If you are looking at the check transaction, if you enter Ctrl-Y do you see it on the transaction journal, and is the “account” the proper checking account? Hard to determine what is going on without hands on the file…

      • Sorry Charlie, I forgot which forum this was. Feeling like a moron: I penned the problem description below, then figured out what I did wrong, which is pretty obvious in hindsight. Care to take a guess? Clue: mistake was made in step 1.
        Sorry again, RMO

        p.s. Why on God’s green earth can’t you sort the check register in Match Transactions?
        ———–
        1. Write a check manually and enter it via Write Checks from the Banking menu
        2. Download bank statement
        3. In Match Transactions, the manual check is listed with Downloaded Transactions; QB 2012 Pro does not match the transaction automatically.
        4. When you Show Register, the manual check is not in the Register list at top of screen. If it were, it would be able to match (and clear) my manually entered transaction with the downloaded transaction, as I do all other unmatched checks.

        So, looks like I have to delete my manual check and add the downloaded transaction. I fear voiding the manual check since it shares a check number with the downloaded trx. Deleting trx in QB can get you in trouble. This is ugly and I can’t understand why.

  • Is anyone familiar with a “Think Manager Corruption”? We have been reconciling the bank statements each month and when we go back in to reconcile the next month all the past transactions are not reconciled. We called the QuickBooks Online support and told that we would have to pay $199 a year for support or $99 for a one time fix.

  • Thanks for the QQube tip Charlie. Apart from outputting many columns, which I believe is resolved in QB 2015, I can’t figure out easy ways to summarize data by class. Please let me know whether
    – QB can do this fairly simply
    – Whether migrating to QB Online (or product) might provide richer function
    – QQube might be the answer

    In particular, we must
    – roll up P&L summaries on multiple Class columns
    – Apply conditional math for particular Classes; e.g. Class1*.85 + Class 2; Class1 *.10 + Class3

    Also, I’ve been advised not to layer Classes or Accounts more than 3 levels deep due to performance issues. Do you agree? I believe I could simplify reporting by aggregating subclasses.

    Kindly advise,
    Robert O.

    • QuickBooks Online isn’t the answer, it is generally a step backwards in this regards.

      You won’t get that kind of match calculation out of QuickBooks itself.

      QQube may be the answer for you, but I would suggest that you talk to them about it before you make a purchase. With QQube keep in mind that it is mainly a data extraction tool, you would be pulling the data into Excel or Crystal Reports, and then doing your calculations with that tool. So it is up to you to get the report.

      The issue of how many layers deep to limit yourself depends on multiple factors. Generally I recommend avoiding that, but it does depend on the version of QuickBooks, your operating environment, and the volume of transactions you are running through the system.

  • Thanks again, Charlie. Any recommendation for where I should go for additional direction re subclass depth? Pay QB support? Original advice was from reliable QB consultant, so I’ll return to them first. FYI, Windows 7 desktop, maybe 15,000 records in database, usually 5,000 processed per report.

    Thanks again, Robert O.

  • Charlie:
    My company currently uses Quickbooks Enterprise Solutions 15.0.
    I am trying to find out if Quickbooks offers any software that will allow more than one employee to use the “Vendor – Pay Bills” function at the same time. Example, if Employee A is in the pay bill window…and Employee B goes in to the pay bill window…it gives an error message to Employee B saying that the application is currently in use by Employee A and cannot be accessed at this time. Does Quickbooks online offer the function that more than one employee can pay bills at the same time?

    • Interesting, Stephanie – I’ve not run into that as the clients I work with usually have one person handling bill payment in the company. I believe that QuickBooks Online won’t have that restriction, but I haven’t tested that yet.

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