A Comparison of the Features in QuickBooks Online vs Desktop

One is not better than other; they are more like Chocolate and Peanut Butter. Great on their own, but together, they’re special.

Before I get started on this article, I want to set a few things straight. While my first love was QuickBooks® Desktop, I started using QuickBooks 98 at the age of 23, everyone now knows me now as the QuickBooks Online Chick – and with good reason. I truly adore it, I think it’s pretty sexy, it’s always on, anywhere I need it and it’s got new stuff every month.

Just coming off the Sleeter Small Business Technology Road Show, one question I was repeatedly asked was, “Is Intuit® going to phase out the desktop editions?” Each time I was able to say, “Absolutely not. While Intuit is focused on the cloud and mobile, they’ll continue to support the desktop, find ways to unlock the data and make it available for customers away from the office as long as customers choose to use that platform.”

Jill Ward, Intuit’s senior vice president and general manager of the Accounting Professionals Division, recently said Intuit will never force customers to move to a new platform. She used the chocolate and peanut butter analogy … and I think it’s perfect.

Traditionally, I think QuickBooks consultants and QuickBooks 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 in my own practice since 2005, I generally look at QBO first, then go to DT if QBO is not a good fit.

We’re going to focus on features in this article. For a comprehensive feature comparison across QuickBooks products, check out the one we did for Radio Free QuickBooks – just click on the product comparison link.

QBO over 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 at the beginning of the month a Sales Receipt is created, the card is charged, and both the client and myself are sent a copy.
  • No Need to Transfer Data or Share Computer Time – Because you can access your client’s QBO data by being invited as an accountant user and signing up for QuickBooks Online Accountant, there’s no need to transfer backup files, Accountant Copy files or try to arrange to login to your client’s computer. You and your clients can both work whenever you need to, without worrying what the other is doing, with always on, anywhere access.
  • Your Client Always Has the Latest Version – I have to thank Intuit’s Jacint Tumacder for reminding me about this benefit, even though it’s right in front of my face! With new releases every four weeks, QBO users always have the latest and greatest. You don’t have to scramble to reinstall a version of QuickBooks Pro 2007 or try to talk a client into upgrading.
  • 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 the program to do this automatically, any time activity is assigned on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis. QBO can remind the user to do it or automatically create an invoice for the unbilled time and expenses. Depending on your preference, you can tell the user via a message on the home page or not tell the user; it’s your choice.
  • 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 or 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 three different occasions for clients.
  • Automatic email reporting – Another great one! Memorize a report in QBO, add it to a group, and then set that group to be emailed to yourself or your client on a regular basis. For example, you can send your clients their financials each month without ever actually logging into QBO! The best part is that the email “from address” is the user that set it up. 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 QuickBooks 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 or the ability to track different profit centers, but QBO adds one more layer with Location tracking. For example, I have an auto shop client with two locations in Michigan, one in Pinckney and one in Stockbridge. He likes to track his business by location as well as by customer comparing government to walk-in customers. 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.

Desktop Over QBO

While QBO has all these advantages, there are still a few things DT has that QBO does not … yet. I just had the privilege of spending the day with the QBO team in Mountain View and learned that the team is aware of each of these and working toward adding these features to QBO:

  • Sales Orders
  • Inventory Assemblies
  • Progress Invoicing
  • Receiving Partial Purchase Orders
  • Item Receipts
  • Balance Sheet by Class
  • QuickBooks Statement Writer
  • Budget v Actuals for Jobs
  • Printing 1096

With QuickBooks Enterprise and Advanced Inventory:

  • Serial Number/Lot Number Tracking
  • Multiple Warehouse Locations

Keep this in mind: Just because QBO doesn’t inherently have the features your client might need, it 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.

You’ll also want to determine what edition you’ll want your client to use, asking questions such as these: 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 recommend QuickBooks Online Plus with SOSInventory.

Like Jill Ward’s challenge to attendees at Scaling New Heights, to get just one client on QuickBooks Online, my challenge to my fellow ProAdvisors is similar. For your next “new to QuickBooks” client – start with QuickBooks Online + Appcenter and then look to Desktop.