First Look: Small Business Accounting Apps
The 2005 releases of small-business accounting software from Intuit and Best Software head in different directions. Intuit's QuickBooks emphasizes ease of use with a Learning Center, chock-full of useful tutorials, featured in all three editions (Basic, Pro, and Premier). Meanwhile, Best's Simply Accounting heads upstream, adding to its lineup of Basic and Pro versions a new high-end Premium edition that handles multicompany financial consolidations plus industry-specific features, including specialized terminology.
QuickBooks' New Navigator
I looked at shipping versions of all three QuickBooks 2005 products: the $200 Basic, $300 Pro, and $500 Premier. Among the most notable changes in all three is the redesigned Report Navigator, which continues QuickBook's focus on ease of use. The software now groups its numerous reports more logically, which makes finding the one you want simpler.
The new versions also make it easier to apply customer payments to the correct invoice, whether you are paid by check or you download credit-card charge details from an online account at a financial institution.
Some improvements are available only in the advanced editions of QuickBooks. In the Pro and Premier editions, you can transfer invoice data to Microsoft Word and add a personal comment, if you wish, before printing out the bill. It's a nice addition, but not as slick as the two-way Word transfer I saw in the free beta version of the upcoming Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting. (Note: The final version of Microsoft's product won't ship until late 2005.)
This year Intuit includes all of its industry-specific versions of QuickBooks Premier on one CD, which also provides the generic setup. Just select the industry you want at installation: contractor, manufacturer, nonprofit, professional services, retail, or accounting. The package contains added financial analysis and business planning capabilities, as well.
While all three versions of QuickBooks offer a handful of new features, the major improvement is that each is easier to learn how to use. That isn't much benefit to seasoned users, however, who may not find enough new stuff here to justify an upgrade.
Simply More Options
Best Software, which makes Peachtree Accounting, acquired the Simply Accounting product line when it bought ACCPAC International in 2004. Best brings two notable changes to the Simply Accounting 2005 lineup: the addition of a $500 Premium edition and a price jump to $300 for the Pro version (up from $100). Unfortunately, Best also has removed bilingual (English/Spanish) capability from all but the new Premium edition.
I tested shipping versions of all three editions. Each includes a new dashboard that calculates key business performance measures, such as estimated cash available and financial ratios. A simplified forms designer is easier to use (but less capable) than the still-included Crystal Reports from third-party developer Business Objects.
The good news is that Simply Basic still sells for just $50, a great bargain compared with Intuit's $200 QuickBooks Basic; it's also half the price of Intuit's less feature-filled Simple Start edition of QuickBooks. For small businesses just starting on the accounting trail, Simply Basic offers outstanding value.
One reason to move up from Basic to Pro: The Pro version includes Pocket PC integration, which lets you create orders, invoices, and time slips on your handheld and then synchronize with the accounting software.
Simply Accounting's all-new Premium edition extends the software's reach by providing consolidation of multicompany financial results, useful for a group of related small businesses. Similar to QuickBooks Premier Edition, Simply Premium provides special reports and terminology to suit different industry types, though in a more flexible manner; for example, you can change Customers to Clients, Donors, or Members as a more appropriate descriptor for service businesses, charities, or clubs.
Simply Accounting 2005 deftly manages to maintain its ease of use for newbies yet adds enough headroom to satisfy growing small businesses with more complex requirements.
Intuit QuickBooks 2005
Best Software Simply Accounting 2005