Choosing an Accounting Package

By Wayne Kawamoto | Posted January 18, 2007

When it comes to accounting software for small business, you have three main contenders vying for your dollars. Intuit's QuickBooks, the long-time dominant player, has every intention of maintaining market share. Peachtree is the venerable and reliable entry that does everything well. And the rookie, Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2007, trying to gain a toehold in its sophomore year.

As with any business purchase, it all comes down to finding the features that handle your specific business needs at a price you can afford. For the most part, all three accounting programs effectively record transactions, manage payroll, oversee inventory and provide timely reports. But there are key differences you should consider.

The E-commerce Connection
On the e-commerce front, the three programs have taken strikingly different paths. Peachtree offers its own Web-building tools, "Peachtree Web siteCreator Pro," that let you design and publish an online store. Combine the site with "Peachtree Web siteTrader," and you can process your Web-based orders in Peachtree Accounting. While the system helps you create a professional looking Web site (click here to view a sample), they are generally not as sophisticated as those built and managed by Web professionals.

QuickBooks offers no e-commerce features of its own, but its longtime dominance has encouraged third-party e-commerce providers, such as homestead Storefront and ProStores, to support it. Businesses can develop a Web store through an Intuit-recommended third party and, with Intuit's QuickBooks Merchant Service for Web Stores service, they can process customers' credit cards, download sales transactions into QuickBooks and synchronize their physical inventory.

Microsoft Office Accounting screen shot
Sales features in Microsoft Office Accounting can list inventory items on eBay, check listing status and download and process orders.
(Click for larger image)
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Microsoft effectively scooped its competitors by offering a feature that allows you to list inventory items on eBay and to download and fulfill orders. The program even supports payments via PayPal. This is an exciting, breakthrough feature for business people who sell on eBay.

Businesses that want a sophisticated Web store can have one built through a Web site development company that supports QuickBooks. But if you sell through eBay, Microsoft is worth considering.

Contracting and Remote Employees
For service businesses, all three accounting packages offer solid time and billing features. But QuickBooks' Time Tracker service stands above the rest. With this optional service, employees and contractors can enter hours into Web-based time sheets. Workers can enter hours from anyplace with Internet access and have the timesheets recorded directly into QuickBooks, which is a major convenience.

Microsoft Office Accounting offers time and billing features that allow employees to mark appointments in Outlook calendars as billable time and then transfer this information into Accounting Professional to create invoices. It's a good approach, but Intuit's Web-based time and billing submission system will appeal more to companies that have workers and contractors who don't use Outlook and are physically away from the office.

Manufacturing
All three programs manage inventory for retail businesses, but manufacturing is a different world. In this regard, Peachtree wins handily. For example, Intuit's entry, QuickBooks Premier Manufacturing & Wholesale Edition, can create bills of materials and track the overhead, labor and raw materials associated with assembled products. It can deduct raw materials from inventory, add finished goods to inventory and indicate the number of assemblies that are on hand and that can be built from raw material stocks.

QuickBooks screen shot
With QuickBooks' Time Tracker, employees and contractors can enter billable hours into time sheets that reside on Web pages.

However, Peachtree by Sage Premium Accounting for Manufacturing 2007 goes beyond Intuit's capabilities by letting you create advanced sub-assemblies that can consist of up to 300 components. If your manufacturing firm needs such detailed inventory capabilities, Peachtree is by far the best option.

Room to Grow
While mid-market solutions such as MAS 90 and Great Plains offer lots of power, they are expensive and demand lots of expertise and effort to install and run. And you'll need to train employees to learn and use them. Intuit'sQuickBooks Enterprise edition and Sage's Peachtree by Sage-Quantum Editiondelay the transition to a more complex and expensive accounting package by providing enough features and capabilities to keep pace with a growing company.


Peachtree Accounting
For manufacturing, Peachtree goes beyond the competition by letting you create advanced sub-assemblies that can consist of up to 300 components.

QuickBooks Enterprise edition is targeted towards companies with 20 or more employees, multiple office locations, a million dollars or more in annual revenue and that are experiencing rapid growth. It's available in 5-, 10- 15- and 20-concurrent user versions.

Peachtree by Sage-Quantum edition is designed for businesses with up to 250 employees. It supports up to ten networked users and includes free support, upgrades, updates and automatic annual renewals.

Both QuickBooks Enterprise and Peachtree by Sage-Quantum handle larger volumes of data and offer faster performance than their lower-tiered namesakes. Compared to traditional mid-market solutions, both are less expensive, easier to install, require fewer resources and are easier to use. If your business is experiencing rapid growth, Intuit and Peachtree offer accommodating growth paths.

Microsoft Office Integration
Microsoft touts Office Accounting's integration with Office applications such as Word, Excel and Outlook. The links between Office Accounting and Outlook let you make changes in one program and view updates in the other, as well as create and track sales orders, quotes and invoices. It sounds great, but there is a downside; these new features require the latest Office Outlook 2007 with Business Contact Manager as well as Windows Vista. If you're not up-to-date on the latest from Microsoft, you're out of luck.

Both Peachtree and QuickBooks can output data to Excel for further analysis. When Peachtree exports to Excel, the resulting spreadsheet tables maintain formulas and report headers. Also, thorough add-on services for both, Peachtree and QuickBooks can synchronize customers, vendors and employees with Act to track credit information, balances, invoices, payments, sales orders and more.

Office Interface
Microsoft also touts its interface that resembles those found in Microsoft Office applications. The thinking goes like this: if a person already uses Word or Excel, it's going to be easier to learn Office Accounting because the menus should be familiar.

While Microsoft Office Accounting does offer an interface that's consistent with those of Office applications, the interfaces found in QuickBooks and Peachtree are intuitive and easy to use. Some people may prefer the Microsoft-style interface, but it's not necessarily easier to learn and use. And this applies to long-time Office customers.

The Price is Right
Microsoft is clearly committed to capturing market share, which is why the company is offering Office Accounting Express 2007 — its entry level accounting program — for free. At this price, you can hardly go wrong giving it at least a trial run to see if it suits your business.

In the end, the accounting program that you select should be based on the type of business that you manage (retail, service, manufacturing, etc.) and your current and future inventory, e-commerce and employee management needs.

Pricing
The upgrade from Microsoft Accounting Express to Microsoft Accounting Professional 2007 costs $149.

  • Peachtree First Accounting 2007 — $69.99
  • Peachtree Pro Accounting 2007 — $169.99
  • Peachtree Complete Accounting 2007 — $269.99
  • Peachtree Premium Accounting 2007 — $499.99
  • Complete and Premium Accounting five-seat, multi-user value packs —$699.99 and $1099.99 respectively
  • Peachtree Quantum — $3,750 ($2,995 for upgrades)

  • QuickBooks: Simple Start Edition 2007 — $99.95
  • QuickBooks: Pro Edition 2007 — $199.95 (three-user version - $499.95)
  • QuickBooks: Premier Edition — $399.95 (five user version - $1499.95)
  • QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions — $3,000 for a five-user version

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.

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