Microsoft Accounts for Itself

By Wayne Kawamoto | Posted September 08, 2005

In the accounting world series, Microsoft's Small Business Accounting 2006 (SBA) is a late entry that offers an impressive array of features and powerful integration with Microsoft Office applications. In part one of this review, we evaluated SBA on its own merits. And in this story, we contrast and compare SBA against its fortified, dug-in competition: current market leader Intuit's QuickBooks and perennial runner-up, Peachtree by Sage.

SBA, the rookie, is a full-featured accounting program that adequately supports the needs of small businesses. On the other hand, Peachtree and QuickBooks — experienced, grizzled veterans — have evolved over the years and established dedicated, long-time followers. Even with an outstanding program, SBA would have a tough time coaxing customers away from the competition.

An Accounting Package in Every Pot
Both Peachtree and QuickBooks come in different versions for different businesses and offer specific titles for particular industries. Peachtree comes in First, Standard, Complete and Premium versions while you'll find QuickBooks offers Simple, Basic, Pro and Premier editions. The higher you move up the version ladder, the more capabilities the programs offer, the more employees they support and the more you can expect to pay (see pricing table below for more details).

SBA, on the other hand, comes in a single flavor that you can buy in stand-alone form or as part of Microsoft Office Small Business Management Edition 2006, which combines SBA with Word 2003, Excel 2003 and the other mainstream Office applications, along with Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager, a special business-oriented version of Outlook.

For purposes of this article, we compared SBA against the top-of-the-line Peachtree Premium and QuickBooks Premier.

Industry-specific versions of Peachtree and QuickBooks offer all of the features found in each company's top programs and then add specialized features.

For example, Peachtree offers versions for construction, distribution, manufacturing and non-profits. And in the same vein, Intuit offers industry specifics for construction, manufacturing, non-profits, professional accounting, services, retail and wholesale businesses, as well as an Enterprise version for bigger companies.

If your company can take advantage of the specialized features found in the industry versions, they're worth the extra money. And SBA's feature set, while impressive for a version-one application, can't — for now — compete with the high-level capabilities found in these programs. Microsoft is relying on its partners, Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and service providers to expand the software's capabilities. Read this article to learn more about Microsoft's partner plans for SBA.

Business Basics: Payroll, Inventory and Sales
All three programs offer features that let you manually process payroll, and let business owners buy convenient, automated payroll services that save time and minimize errors and penalties. While the services vary, they all calculate federal, state and local taxes and deposits and create W-2s, print 1099s and handle deductions. Here, SBA is at a slight disadvantage because it's missing some tools, for example, the ability to calculate commissions.


Microsoft Small Business Accounting
Click here for a larger image.

Inventory
Peachtree has long offered powerful inventory management features to track assemblies through manufacturing; handle drop shipments; adjust prices by percentage; apply multiple pricing levels and work with master and sub-stock items. And Peachtree offers a high-order, industry-specific version just for manufacturers, as does QuickBooks. According to Intuit, the upcoming QuickBooks 2006, which will debut at the end of this year, promises to provide status on committed and sold inventory, as well as manage backorder.

Manufacturing firms will likely find that Peachtree does a better job of meeting their needs than either QuickBooks or SBA. But retail and service firms will probably find that any of the three packages can adequately manage their inventories. Something to consider — QuickBooks offers specific software versions for retail and wholesale businesses.

E-commerce
To sell goods through the Internet, Peachtree offers a comprehensive solution that builds a commercial Web site, uploads inventory items into online catalogs and transfers sales orders back to the accounting program. It's an effective, well done system.

QuickBooks doesn't offer tools to create Web stores but offers options to integrate data with major e-commerce solutions such as Actinic and ShopSite. The advantage here is that sites created through third-party e-commerce services are generally more flexible and deliver more professional results.


 QuickBooks Premier
Click here for a larger image.

SBA currently lacks built-in e-commerce features for building Web sites or for making and recording sales from them. At press time, it was unclear whether major e-commerce providers were building applications to work with SBA.

Setup and Interface
All three programs offer excellent start-up wizards that walk you through the process of setting up the software and choosing a chart of accounts. SBA falls short of the competition and only offers 17 predefined charts of accounts, however, these should be enough for most service and retail businesses to get started.

In addition to many more charts of accounts, Peachtree offers 20 instructional demos that explain tasks such as making backups, drilling down into data and more. In a similar vein, QuickBooks includes interactive tutorials that show how to perform tasks such as paying bills, creating reports, receiving and recording funds and more. SBA doesn't include any tutorials.

Both Peachtree and SBA let you import data from QuickBooks. The move from QuickBooks to the other programs is much easier than the other way around – which indicates Intuit's strong influence over the small business accounting market.

The Peachtree and QuickBooks interfaces have evolved over the years into a relative sameness, which SBA seems to be following. No interface clearly stands above the rest. And if you're accustomed to using one program, chances are, you're probably not inclined to change.


 Peachtree Premium
Click here for a larger image.

Out of the Office
With the introduction of SBA, integrating data with Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Excel and Outlook, has become a hot topic. If you already use Word to write letters and Excel to analyze finances, it makes sense that you'll want to use these same applications to perform accounting-related functions. And this also prevents data from being entered twice into different applications.

When it comes to Office integration, SBA offers the most comprehensive features. In SBA, you can export every list and report to Excel for analysis and the resulting tables are professional, complete, stand-alone reports. You can also import customer, product and vendor lists from Excel into SBA, as well as create custom templates in Word to use as sales orders, credit memos and quotes.

SBA works with a special version of Outlook to manage contacts, tasks and schedules in one place and link accounting documents. The program is harder to use than regular Outlook, but it can be worth the extra effort. Keep in mind that to use these Office-related features, you must own the latest 2003 version of Office.

Peachtree integrates data with Word to write letters and reports and provides templates that can form the basis of collection letters and other documents. Peachtree has always let you export reports and financial statements to Excel for additional analysis.

Small Biz Accounting: What You'll Pay
Peachtree Products Price
Peachtree by Sage Premium Accounting 2006 $499.99
Peachtree by Sage Complete Accounting 2006 $299.99
Peachtree by Sage Accounting $199.99
Peachtree by Sage First Accounting $99.99
Peachtree Complete Multi-User Value Pack
(five-seat license)
$699.99
Peachtree Premium for Construction, Nonprofits,
Manufacturing and Distribution
$1,199.99 each
QuickBooks Products Price
QuickBooks Premier 2005
QuickBooks Premier 2005 (five-user license)
$499.95
$1,499.95
QuickBooks Pro 2005
QuickBooks Pro 2005 (five-user license)
$499.95
$1,499.95
QuickBooks Pro 2005
QuickBooks Pro 2005 (five-user license)
$299.95
$749.95
QuickBooks Basic 2005 $199.95
QuickBooks Simple Start Edition 2005 $99.95
Small Business Accounting Products Price
Microsoft Small Business Accounting $179
($149 after mail-in rebate)
Office Small Business Management Edition 2006 $669
($569 after mail-in rebate)

Likewise, QuickBooks can take data and create letters, print envelopes and fill-in forms that were created in Word. You can import contact and other information from Excel, as well as export data to Excel and Outlook. If you spring for the optional QuickBooks Customer Manager, you can automatically synchronize contacts with Outlook.

Making the Change
Each accounting program has its strengths. Peachtree offers a wealth of powerful features and tools. QuickBooks offers a strong feature set and strength in its sheer number of services and customers using the product. Newcomer SBA is a scrappy first entry that stands on its own and offers unprecedented integration with Microsoft Office applications. But its feature set trails the others.

Is there enough in SBA to pull customers away from Peachtree and QuickBooks? Probably not. But when it comes to new customers who are just starting to automate their accounting systems, SBA offers an alternative to Peachtree and QuickBooks. And beyond comparing feature sets, don't forget to ask your accountant which application will work best for your business.

Over the last ten years, Wayne Kawamoto has written over 800 articles, columns and reviews about computers, new technologies, the Internet and small businesses. Wayne has also published three books about upgrading PCs, building office networks and effectively using and troubleshooting notebook computers. You can contact him through his Web site at www.waynewrite.com.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!


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