QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Is One Better than the Other?


No. They are more like Chocolate and Peanut Butter – great on their own, but together, they’re special.

I think it’s pretty decent – it’s always on, it’s anywhere I need it and it’s got new stuff every month.

But my first accounting love was QuickBooks desktop. I started using it when I was 23, using QuickBooks 1998 right after it was released. So before I start this article, I wanted to mention this, and to set a few things straight.

One question that floats around in the blogosphere “Is Intuit going to phase out the desktop editions?”, and each time I was able to say: “Absolutely not.” Intuit’s Jill Ward recently used the chocolate and peanut butter analogy and I think it’s perfect.

Traditionally, I think QuickBooks consultants and ProAdvisors have always instinctively looked first to the desktop (DT) editions when trying to determine what to recommend to a client, and have actually avoided QuickBooks Online (QBO) altogether. This is the attitude I’ve been on a mission to change for a number of years – since I’ve been using QBO for my own practice since 2005, I generally look at QuickBooks Online first, then go to QuickBooks Desktop if QBO is not a good fit.

Where QuickBooks Desktop is Better than QuickBooks Online

There are a few features that QuickBooks Pro, Premier and Enterprise have that QuickBooks Online does not.

  • Sales Orders
  • Inventory Assemblies
  • Progress Invoicing
  • Receiving Partial Purchase Orders,
  • Item Receipts
  • Balance Sheet by Class
  • QuickBooks Statement Writer
  • Budget v Actuals for Jobs

With QuickBooks Enterprise and the optional Advanced Inventory feature:

  • Serial Number/Lot Number Tracking
  • Multiple Warehouse Locations

Where QuickBooks Online is Better than QuickBooks Desktop

What many people don’t know about are the features that QBO does better than DT.

  • Invoice/Sales Receipt Automation – While DT has memorized transactions, they still have to be sent to the customer manually. QBO’s counterparts, recurring transactions, can be set up to be emailed automatically to the customer and the QBO user/owner can be copied on each one. All of my monthly clients are set up this way. We establish the fee, they sign the engagement letter and credit card authorization form, then each month on the first, a Sales Receipt is created, the card is charged and both the client and myself are sent a copy.
  • Delayed customer charges/billing – DT has unbilled time and expenses, but again, the user still has to manually go in and bill the customer for them. In QBO, you can turn on a preference to tell QBO to do this automatically – either any time activity is assigned, daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. QBO can remind the user to do it or automatically create an invoice for the unbilled time and expenses and depending on your preference, either tell the user via a message on the home page or not tell the user.
  • Activity Log – one of my favorites! DT has the Audit Trail, which tells us when a transaction was created, modified, or deleted. QBO, does this this better. The activity log shows when a user logs in, logs out, edits a customer, vendor, item, account. It shows when a third party add on accesses the data, when bank transactions are downloaded and when those transactions are matched or added to registered. I use this to track my time and have been able to use it to determine employee fraud on 3 different occasions for clients.

  • Automatic email reporting – Another great one! Memorize a report in QBO, add it to a group, then set that group to be emailed to yourself or your client on a regular basis. For instance, you can send your clients their financials each month without ever actually logging into QBO! The best part – the email from address is the user that set it up, and QBO sends these out in the middle of the night, so your clients will think you work till the wee hours JUST FOR THEM.
  • Bank transactions automatically downloaded nightly – In DT, the process of downloading bank transactions into QB has to be initiated manually, and if we’re doing this for our clients, we have to have their password. In QBO, the client can set up the connection, and QBO goes out each night and automatically pulls in the transactions. There’s no need for us to have the user name or the password any longer.
  • QBO has Class AND Location tracking – DT has class tracking, the ability to track different profit centers, but QBO adds one more layer with Location tracking. I have an auto shop client with two locations. One in Pinckney, Michigan and one in Stockbridge, Michigan. He likes to track his business by location as well as by customer – government vs. walk in customers. So he uses Location tracking for each shop location and Class tracking for the customer type.
  • For Accountants: Multiple AR/AP lines in Journal Entries – I’m not even going to comment on this one. It just speaks for itself.

Keep in mind – just because QBO doesn’t inherently have the features your client might need, that doesn’t’ necessarily mean the client can’t use it. Stay tuned for future articles dealing with enriching the QBO experience and exploring the QBO Ecosystem with add-ons from the Intuit App Center…

The last pieces of the puzzle in determining what edition that need to be asked: Who needs to access the data? From where do they need to access it? What is the budget? These are all important questions to take into consideration when determining whether you recommend QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions 10 user with Advanced Inventory, in a hosted environment, or you recommend QuickBooks Online Plus with SOSInventory.

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