Every fiscal year brings new versions of the popular accounting programs. First out of the chute is the venerable Peachtree. While Best Software is touting new product positioning and features, there's little here that will be groundbreaking to most small businesses. And for the umpteenth year in a row, Peachtree maintains its past strengths, including strong inventory and reporting features, and does little to change its longtime standing in the accounting software world.
An Accounting Chicken For Every Pot
Beyond the traditional First, Standard and Complete versions, Peachtree now comes in Premium Accounting and Premium Accountant's editions. Generally, the First Accounting and Standard Accounting packages are aimed towards small firms that are weaning themselves from manual, paper-based accounting systems, and are outgrowing the capabilities found in personal finance management software.
First Accounting is generally for one or two-person shops, while Standard, which may appeal to companies with up to 25 employees, adds inventory, payroll, purchase orders and customizable reports to the mix. Neither offer multi-user options. Complete Accounting adds multi-user features and strong inventory tracking that may appeal to manufacturing companies and some retail firms.
The new Premium Accounting comes with even more reports than Complete Accounting, plus the powerful Crystal Reports program to customize reports, and a module that tracks and analyzes employee compensation. For firms with multiple businesses under a single-umbrella company, there's a useful new consolidation feature that combines and summarizes financials (balance sheets, income statements, budgets and more). According to Peachtree's press materials, its Complete and Premium Accounting editions support companies with up to 50 employees.
While Premium includes some impressive new features, it's also priced $200 more than Peachtree Complete, which is considerable money. Before purchasing Premium Accounting, be sure that your company really needs these features. As the name implies, the new Accountant's Edition is designed for accountants who want to work with their clients' Peachtree files.
Some Things New
While there are no new must-haves, Peachtree Premium Accounting comes with some useful new features. As mentioned earlier, company consolidation tools offer a competent means to combine and summarize business units. The helpful employee compensation module tracks pay information, raises, withholding information and more to analyze labor expenses. New budgeting tools let businesses set up and maintain budgets for up to three years and compare actual performance against planned expenses.
For businesses that are moving from Intuit's QuickBooks, a new wizard steps them through the process. Peachtree has always offered a friendly and thorough setup, and the new Setup Guide and Guided Tour do an even better job of assisting novices with the daunting job of getting started and setting up charts of accounts.
The bulk of the remaining new features consist of fine-tuning to the interface. You can now create your own toolbar a plus for power users and there's automatic spell checking and more intuitive reconciliation and range filtering. Global changes now affect settings throughout the program. Finally, you can e-mail forms such as invoices, sales orders, credit memos and more from within the program, which is a convenience.
I had no problems installing the program onto my test system and Peachtree did a fine job of stepping me through the process. I also found that setting up my charts of accounts was fairly straight-forward. The program offers some 75 templates for businesses from farms to funeral homes, and from veterinarians to video rental companies. Chances are good that the program has a sample charts of account that will suit your business, or come reasonably close.
While accounting novices may still find the going somewhat rough, as is the case when working with any accounting program, Peachtree makes the process as painless as possible. The software also provides helpful tutorials that explain how to perform such tasks as working with vendors and employees, entering data and more. Peachtree has the strongest inventory features of any program in its class. There are tools for tracking assemblies; accepting partial shipments; handling drop shipments; assigning multiple pricing levels; defining preferred vendors; tracking weight, SKU and buyer IDs; creating master items and assigning related sub-stock items; making global changes to price levels; adjusting pricing by percentage and support for LIFO, FIFO as well as average costing. Companies that manufacture goods will definitely want to consider Peachtree. On the other hand, retail and service businesses may or may not be able to take advantage of these powerful features.
The software continues to offer intuitive and powerful payroll features that can account for salaried, hourly and tipped employees; distribute pay using up to 20 levels and can configure a 401(k) plan, and track vacation and sick time. A helpful Payroll Tax Update Service can maintain compliance at additional cost, and Peachtree also has a useful direct deposit service that's available through a subscription. On the downside, Peachtree lacks a full payroll service to assist companies with payroll. However, the company says that capability is under development.
Peachtree has always prided itself on its networking capabilities, but curiously, the company recommends that businesses limit access to a maximum of five concurrent users. Companies can buy two value packs, each of which offers support for five networked users; using both will support ten users. However, Peachtree stands by its recommended maximum of five users at a time.
Other strengths include thorough reporting features with some 140 customizable reports and financial statements; time and billing features and a module to track fixed assets. The program's interface is intuitive and easy to use and offers graphical flowcharts that depict the accounting processes and serve menu options. The software continues to offer excellent summaries that provide business users with information at a glance that may be "drilled-down" to view the supporting, underlying data.
Peachtree offers various services at extra cost. The useful ACT! Link for Peachtree links the accounting package with the popular ACT! contact manager to synchronize data so sales departments may view customer and vendor information from within ACT!. Companies that want to create web sites and make sales via the internet can use the Peachtree WebsiteCreator Pro and Peachtree Website Trader. Notably, WebsiteCreator Pro creates an online catalog based on the inventory information stored in Peachtree, and the Website Trader imports orders into the accounting program. Finally, Peachtree offers an online service that backs up data on its servers.
Adding It Up
Peachtree, while not exactly the 800-pound gorilla in the accounting world, is a strong contender with powerful features that often exceed those of the competition. Manufacturing businesses should strongly consider Peachtree, while service and retail businesses will want to weigh the pros and cons and look at the competition. And unless a company needs the new features, an upgrade is probably not necessary.
Peachtree comes in First, Standard, Complete, Premium and Accounting versions. Peachtree First Accounting 2004 has an estimated retail price of $99.99. Peachtree Accounting 2004 has an estimated retail price of $199.99. Peachtree Complete Accounting 2004 has an estimated retail price of $299.99. A multi-user version is available for $699.99. Peachtree Premium Accounting 2004 and Peachtree Premium Accounting 2004 - Accountant's Edition each have an estimated retail price of $499. Multi-user versions are available for $999.99.
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