Intuit Forces Your Upgrade Hand in QuickBooks 2008

Every year Intuit rolls out a new edition of QuickBooks, however the company seems to have hit a point of diminishing returns when it comes to new and improved features. What’s worse is that if you don’t find a compelling reason to upgrade to the latest version, you may end up doling dollars anyway — even if your current software does everything that you need.

Out With the Old
Intuit claims that it strives to deliver the best products by investing in technology that makes QuickBooks better and easier to use. One of the ways it does this is by managing the costs associated with supporting older releases. The company supports the most recent QuickBooks and the prior two versions.

If you’re using QuickBooks 2005 or older, and you don’t require live support, you can continue using the program. But if you don’t upgrade, you not only lose technical support, you won’t be able to use online billing and banking, payroll and other features. Bottom line. If you use QuickBooks 2005 for Windows or earlier versions, Intuit has made the upgrade decision for you.

In With the New
The QuickBooks 2008 Pro and Premiere editions include new features and improvements, but many are geared toward new customers. An abundance of small businesses still use paper methods to balance the books, and they’re hunting for a digital accounting option, so Intuit can always drum up new business by improving QuickBook’s ease-of-use. But the latest features for 2008 are hardly a cause for celebration among experienced, long-time customers.

QuickBooks screen shot
Improved Help: Click on a “Tip” and QuickBooks darkens its screen to highlight the necessary steps.
(Click for larger image)

The best change comes in the form of improvements to Time Tracker, which was a significant addition to the 2007 version. Intuit has taken a great feature for service-based businesses and made it stronger.

You can now track billable hours from within Microsoft Outlook to designate meetings, e-mails and appointments in an Outlook calendar and bill them via Time Tracker. You can edit client, service and duration information before submission, and it’s easier to transfer un-billed time and expenses into an invoice. Time Tracker is sold separately, but QuickBooks offers a 60-day free trial period.

You can now send e-mails directly from QuickBooks via Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express, which is a major convenience when it comes to distributing invoices, receipts and reports. QuickBooks uses your default e-mail program and even Outlook Express is an improvement over QuickBooks’ former e-mail application.

To send an invoice, for example, you access and choose customers from the customer center and then launch Outlook. You’ll find the customer’s e-mail address automatically inserted into the To: field and an attached invoice in PDF format — just press Send. Microsoft Office Accounting still offers stronger integration with Outlook and Office applications — no surprise there — but QuickBooks keeps chipping at Microsoft’s advantage.

Help Me
The help window now resides on the side next to the main QuickBooks screen so you can easily refer to both, and there’s no more annoying jumping between windows. The Relevant Topics section augments the program’s search features by providing a list of likely questions from which to choose, based on your current work subject.

QuickBooks screen shot
Good Times: You can track billable hours from within Microsoft Outlook to designate meetings, e-mails and appointments in your calendar and transfer them into Time Tracker.
(Click for larger image)

New customers can rely on QuickBooks Coach and Tips that provide an effective introduction to the QuickBooks homepage and its workflows and features. By moving the mouse cursor across the screen, you can immediately view information about topics and access related tutorials. Click on a Tip and QuickBooks darkens its screen to highlight the necessary steps. Nice work here. 

These new help options greatly enhance the workflow interface, but they’re strictly for newbies. If you’re experienced with the ins-and-outs of QuickBooks, you can turn them off.

It’s easier to share records with your accountant who can review your finances and make changes as you continue to work. QuickBooks 2008 lets you create, encrypt and upload your data to a secure Intuit server so that your accountant can download and work with it. Your accountant receives an e-mail telling her that the data is waiting, and you provide the password through a separate e-mail or phone call. This is a great, easy-to-use new feature that increases security.

Beyond accounting, the Google Map and Direction feature lets you view a map from within QuickBooks to locate and view addresses of — and get directions to –customers, vendors and employees. There’s also support for Web listings so you can submit information to business directories such as Google Maps and Yahoo Local.

Pay to Play
If you currently own the 2006 or 2007 version, you probably won’t need to upgrade — save your money. But in two years (one year in the case of the 2006 version), Intui will make the upgrade decision for you, assuming that you use Intuit’s services and require technical support.

Intuit is definitely stacking the deck in its favor when it comes to upgrades, but here’s the considerable kicker. Intuit’s upgrades cost the same as new software, and there’s no discount if you’re a longtime, loyal customer. So much for upgrades as we know them.

It’s a greedy policy that’s designed to generate revenues as opposed to customer goodwill. Essentially Intuit’s is saying that you have to pay if you want to play. But at these prices the very least the company could do is offer an substantive upgrade.

While QuickBooks remains the best program for small businesses, with its ability to balance ease-of-use with raw power and support rapidly growing businesses, you have to wonder if the company is too secure in this fact.


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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