NetBooks: Accounting Meets Business Management

Entering territory ruled mainly by QuickBooks Online and NetSuite, NetBooks a new web-based accounting and management program, is designed for businesses that have between two and twenty-five employees and need to manage inventory, which orients it toward retail and manufacturing companies.

The system not only lets employees within a business collaborate and share data, it also lets you link vendors, suppliers and consultants. While this initial debut lacks key features such as currency conversions, time and billing, e-commerce, point of sale (POS) and more, it’s surprisingly full-featured with powerful sales and vendor management capabilities and it can track inventory and manufacturing processes. Overall, it offers lots of likeable features

With NetBooks, as with other Web-based software systems, you don’t need to invest in a complicated company network or an expensive IT manager. Any business with Internet capability can access the system.

NetBooks screen shot
NetBooks offers powerful sales management tools that allow sales personnel to efficiently work together.
(Click for larger image)

The Goods
At its core, the bookkeeping system creates, manages and tracks invoices, purchase orders and more, and serves reports on the state of your business. With this starting point, NetBooks adds strong features that encourage and allow employees to work together.

Impressive sales management tools let businesses assign customers, prospects and tasks to sales reps; schedule sales-related tasks and summarize customer histories. The features are seamlessly integrated into the program and offer the means to automate a sales force. The system supports pricing levels to accommodate different customers; can be set to require order approvals and accepts credit cards through a provider of your choice.

The program’s inventory features let you view, adjust and transfer inventory across multiple warehouses and track purchased and manufactured items. NetBooks performs automatic conversions to accommodate different units of measure, however, it does not handle currency beyond U.S. dollars.

Production management features oversee the manufacturing of goods, which includes raw materials, subassemblies, work-in-process and final assembled products. These features accommodate various production methods; can track an unlimited number of subassemblies and components and summarize expenses associated with labor and outside services.

Working It
You can view and analyze purchase history and track vendor-related issues through the program’s vendor management features. Customer relationship management features display individual order histories and service issues and organize customers into groups to support pricing levels.

You can quickly convert sales orders into shipping requests, and convenient UPS integration assists with shipping. You won’t find any FedEx integration, but NetBook promises it in a later update. When you ship products, the system automatically notifies customers and provides tracking numbers via e-mail.

An arrangement with PayCycle provides payroll capabilities, which do cost extra. You perform payroll through PayCycle and then upload the payroll finances, so that they’re reflected in NetBooks’ reports. The PayCycle arrangement was a great way for NetBooks to provide payroll capabilities at the product’s launch.

As you would expect, NetBooks offers built-in security that allows administrators to precisely configure privileges to limit employee access to only the areas and data related to their area of work. Security wise, the company said that its servers are located at Equinix, a bank-grade facility that provides full redundancy and fail protection of all major systems.

NetBooks screen shot
NetBooks can manage and track customers and define them in different groups to accommodate pricing levels, apply promotions and more.
(Click for larger image)

First-Timer Gaps
NetBooks lacks integrated e-commerce features, but it can import transactions from web stores. To accomplish this, your shopping cart has to export an XML format file, which most do. However, variations can cause problems. Should NetBooks gain traction, and it has the potential to do so, e-commerce providers will make an effort to ensure that their downloads are seamless and easy to setup and use.

NetBooks plans to provide enhanced Web store capabilities and strong integration with selected shopping carts. At press time, details were unclear, but the feature is scheduled for sometime in January 2008. On the retail side, if you currently enter transactions into a POS system, you’ll have to manually enter them into NetBooks — another aspect that the company promises to fix.

For now, NetBooks definitely slants toward retail and manufacturing businesses. With its emphasis on collaboration, it may appeal less to sole proprietors, except for those who want to tie in vendors, consultants and freelancers. Service businesses that require features such as time-and-billing may also find the system lacking.

The Competition Versus NetBooks
At this stage, NetBooks compares favorably with Intuit’s QuickBooks Online. While QuickBooks Online has a significant following, NetBooks provides a good alternative and more capability inventory and production tracking plus customer and vendor management features.

When compared to Peachtree and Intuit’s flagship QuickBooks, NetBooks lacks POS or time-and-billing features and clean e-commerce integration. However, the program holds its ground in production management and inventory where its flexible collaboration capabilities and customer and vendor relationship-management features work in its favor. If you should decide to jump ship, NetBooks can convert QuickBooks files.

Forget the tussle between QuickBooks and NetBooks. The real battle will be NetSuite Small Business versus NetBooks. NetSuite, a pioneering Internet-based application that offers everything that NetBooks does, including sales and vendor relationship and inventory management, easily fills-in NetBooks’ current gaps. NetSuite is deeply entrenched and has years of development and evolution behind it.

One for the NetBooks
The interface is both polished and easy to navigate. You’ll find clearly marked options for sales, operations, marketing, bookkeeping, reports and administration. It provides intuitive forms and effectively shields you from the double-entry accounting. Many options come with visual, pop-up sub menus to assist your selection — for example, graphical calendars, when choosing dates.

To help you evaluate NetBooks, the company offers only a guided online demo, which is barely adequate. Once you sign with NetBooks, the company designates a concierge who acts as your point person and answers questions and resolves issues. A link from within NetBooks connects you to a support specialist who can view what you’re doing in the program and fix problems.

NetBooks is priced at $200 per month for up to five people. Additional seats cost $20 per month. The subscription price includes all training, support and product updates.

According to the company, prices won’t increase once you sign on. To quote the web page, “you will never pay more for NetBooks than the price at which you sign up. If the subscription price for NetBooks goes up, your price won’t change. If the subscription price for NetBooks goes down, you’ll automatically get the lower price.”

NetBooks requires a broadband Internet connection and supports Firefox and Internet Explorer on the PC and Firefox on the Mac.

Bottom Line
For a new product, NetBooks offers a lot of appealing features, but the lack of currency conversions, time-and-billing, e-commerce and point of sale (POS) capabilities can’t be ignored for long. NetBooks’ challenge lies in catching up with the market leaders. The company is off to a running start, but we’ll have to for the January 2008 changes to see how NetBooks truly fares against its competition.

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 troubleshooting notebook computers. You can contact him through his Web site at

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