Quickbooks: Desktop or Online?

Small business owners who want to use Quickbooks for their accounting have two distinct options available. First, there’s the desktop package — Intuit offers multiple versions of Quickbooks for PC, and one for Mac. The second choice is Quickbooks Online.

My own choice of whether to go desktop or online was complicated by being a Mac user. The single Mac version of Quickbooks has been panned by reviewers. Accounting software was my “sticking point” last year when I went through the PC to Mac transition that Scott has been writing about.

I chose to run Quickbooks Premier under Parallels on my MacBook. This sufficed for a year, despite an underpowered machine and major inconvenience. Recently, I gave up on the desktop and transitioned onto Quickbooks Online. After a month of use, here’s what I’ve learned about the differences between Quickbooks on the desktop and online.

  • Price: Quickbooks 2010 costs $300 (street price), while Quickbooks Online Plus is $35/month. Even if you upgrade your desktop software every year, you’ll pay more to be online.
  • Accountant access: Providing access for my accountant is what prompted my switch to Quickbooks Online. With desktop Quickbooks, we’d have had to set up port access through our router’s firewall, and she’d have only had access when I had Parallels booted. If my laptop was away from home, she wouldn’t have had access at all. With Quickbooks Online, I simply authorized her, and she has access 24/7.
  • Dashboard: The dashboard and status report screens are different between desktop and online Quickbooks. The desktop screens are packed with more information and options for navigating your data. The status report, called Company Snapshot, is highly customizable on the desktop, but not online. In this area, I definitely miss the desktop version, which gave me a better “at-a-glance” update on my company’s finances, without having to run reports.
  • Security: While I backed up my desktop data, using a single storage location (my home office) for the files left me vulnerable. Quickbooks Online uses redundant back-up; for extra security I can download and store a copy locally as well. Since being online I don’t have to worry about my accounting data being compromised if my laptop is stolen; it’s no longer stored on the machine.
  • General usability: The menu system is simpler and more logical in Quickbooks Online. Client and vendor summary screens are both more usable online, too. Although both the desktop and online versions of Quickbooks carry ads for Intuit’s premium services (like payroll and merchant accounts), the ads are less intrusive online. And being online is definitely more convenient than using Parallels. There are two features I find weak online. You can customize forms, but not as much as the desktop allows. Calling up lists as tables that can be bulk edited is very convenient on the desktop; it’s missing online.
  • Bottom line: There’s a price to pay in cost and features for the convenience and data security of using Quickbooks Online, but I find it well worth paying.

Would you feel comfortable doing your accounting in the cloud?

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Report: The Real-Time Enterprise


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