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 (s msft), and one for Mac (s aapl). 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



Taken a look at a upcoming accounting company called KashFlow. 3 time winners of the software satisfaction awards they look like the real deal. Heard excellent things about their support. There website is http://www.kashflow.co.uk.

Gary McDivitt

The upgrades that Quickbooks online implemented in October 2010 have made it so cumbersome and user un-friendly that I am migrating back to either Quickbooks desktop or to Peachtree.

Larry Gable

Quickbooks online is probably fine for a small sole proprietor. For a more complex business with fixed assets and need for productivity, not so.
We have a T1 internet connection and still waited for fields to populate, slowing us down dramatically.

QB online is a “work in progress”. Used it for 2 weeks and went back to the desktop. Two problems we discovered:

1)Statement of cash flows does not work for multiple periods in a side by side report. This is an acknowledged problem by QB with no timeline for a fix. “Sorry for any inconvenience” was their printed response.

2) Printed a monthly statement for clients with detail in the body and an aging along the bottom. The two did not agree, QB online was dropping the 30-59 day balances from the aging. Fun explaining that one to customers.

I really feel that Quickbooks blew it by bringing this product to market. In my world, they have damaged their reputation.

Brandon Kennington

Even though Quickbooks Online is slightly more expensive, you can get bookkeepers for half the price by looking online, instead of locally. Since they can access your books from anywhere in the world, you can even hire out of the country. I wouldn’t recommend doing this with a CPA, but a bookkeeper… definitely.

Annabananna of Arizona

After spending hours, days, weeks trying to figure out the specifics with PC Quickbooks on a MAC you’ve put everything into a great nutshell for me to understand. Thanks for clarifying this topic which NO ONE but you have addressed.

Have a great year with your business!

Many blessings and much peace your way!
Annabananna of Arizona


Moving your data from desktop version to online version wasn’t a problem?

Nancy Nally

Not a problem at all. There are instructions for creating an export file from your desktop that you then import into the online version. Only took me a few minutes to do it, but my data file wasn’t exactly huge or complex, either.


I’d be curious if you tried Xero as a comparision to Quickbooks Online. I struggled for quite some time choosing between QB Online and Xero and in the end…Xero won out. I’ve been extremely happy with Xero’s ease of use, GUI and continual upgrades. Also, they integrate well with others…including Freshbooks.

Nancy Nally

Never heard of Xero. They never came up in all of the research I did trying to solve my accounting software problem on the Mac. Looks like they are most widely known in New Zealand/Australia from taking a brief look at them. However, it wouldn’t have made a difference if I had heard of them because I am signed up with a large accounting firm that uses Quickbooks so I needed to stay in that system for them.

Mita Beach

I’ve been using the Quickbooks online for about 3 months now and I love it. First of all Intuit doesn’t offer a Network version for OSX. Second I Like the Idea of my Accounting in the cloud. There are redundant backups and if Intuit doesn’t have a secure site who does.

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