Cloud Accounting QuickBooks

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

Written by Stacy Kildal

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

Everyone knows me as the QuickBooks Online Chick. I truly adore QuickBooks Online. I think it’s pretty sexy – 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.

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?”, 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.

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

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.

QuickBooks Online Activity Log

  • 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.

QuickBooks Online Journal Entry

QuickBooks Online Pay Bills

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.

Editors Note: For further comparisons see our article Comparing QuickBooks Desktop with QuickBooks Online.

About the author

Stacy Kildal

Stacy Kildal is owner/operator of Kildal Services LLC, located in Waterford Michigan—a full service bookkeeping company that specializes in all things QuickBooks. As a Certified Professional Bookkeeper and Advanced QuickBooks ProAdvisor, she supports QuickBooks clients all over the country, offering payroll, bookkeeping, training and consulting.

She regularly teaches QuickBooks workshops through the local county planning and economic development department, along with community college and continuing education classes for various school districts.  Stacy is one of the three hosts for the Radio Free QuickBooks weekly online radio show.

As a member of the esteemed Intuit Trainer/Writer Network, Stacy has presented many live seminars and webinars. Her attendees enjoy the passion she exhibits for her work and can easily relate to the many real life examples she uses during these presentations. She has also been featured frequently on Intuit’s Community "Ask the Expert" forums, at various Intuit Academy To Go podcasts, as well as hosting a number of Intuit Small Business Online Town Hall sessions. She an big fan of working mobile and has been recognized by Intuit as being an expert on QuickBooks Online, having written the Intuit Academy courses for the US, Singapore and Canadian versions.

Kildal Services LLC provides consulting, speaking and writing services to clients (including other accounting professionals) nationwide.


  • Stacy – thanks for the article. Another one of my favorites that QBO does better then DT is the “mini statement” that you can put in the header of your invoice template. This format automatically shows the customer balance as of the previous invoice and any payments or credits that were applied since. It is less confusing than having to send both a statement and an invoice for customers that still owe for prior work. What I don’t like is that QBO only allows one template – you can’t use different invoice formats for different customers or different kinds of work.

    • I am considering QBO. My charity is very small and while we can afford this at this time, we may not be able to in the future. If we do not re-subscribe, our data remains as read only for one year, then its gone. Then we have lost all our records? What if the IRS asks us for data that was online and is no longer visible?

      • Sandy, that is a major consideration for online products, or any product that has a subscription basis (which can mean a desktop product as well). You can download your information to a QuickBooks Desktop format, but that might not give you exactly the same results as you had in the online product (without adjustment). You can export all your information to reports to save.

        I’ve not seen a definitive answer to this from any tax expert, so far.

      • I do the books for a non-profit. We just started using Aplos. I love it. It is designed for non-profits so you don’t have to “hack” the software like you do if you use QBO.

    • Hello Stacy – I appreciated the online/desktop comparison but had an unrelated question.
      I’m teaching a 10-session accounting/QuickBooks adult education course at a local community college and would welcome any assistance in structuring lessons and providing review exercises.
      Thanks very much for sharing your expertise.

          • It’s hard to give a specific answer without knowing more about your business. You should contact a ProAdvisor who can look at what you need and recommend the best product for your situation. There are many, many factors.

          • I started a healthy vending business that provides healthier snack/food options. Works just like a regular vending machine business and has credit/debit card options and Right now I use a program called greenlite that shows what is going on in each machine at each location. Pretty neat.

          • The choice of which product depends on many factors, hard to say based on blog comments. If you aren’t interested in managing inventory in the accounting product (if “greenlite” handles that for you) then QuickBooks Online could work, QuickBooks desktop could also work. If you want to manage inventory then the desktop products may be better. It also depends on how you need to access the product – if you want to see your accounts and create invoices (etc.) while out in the field, then QuickBooks Online MIGHT be better, although there are add-on products for the desktop that can help there. Lots of factors to take into account, which is why it is best to work with someone who can sit down with you and go through all of your business needs, and choose the right product for you.

  • If it were me and I had the ability to make such a decision today, I would be off desktop QB and solely exist in the QBO realm.

  • Very informative article but I still prefer DT over QBO anytime, anyday anywhere. It takes me twice a long to do the same things on DT. The only time I ever recommend QBO to client is if they absolutely want to access there data in the Clouds. For the client’s that are already on QBO I’m finding myself saying you can’t do that with QBO. Examples: Can not intergrate with POS system, no option to show portion of hour by minutes or decimal (minutes only), can’t arrange COA the way you want (unless you use acct #)and the list goes on. There is just too much Can’t with no work around. 9 of 10 times I can find a work around with DT. Can’t say the same for QBO.

    Multiple A/P or A/R JE is great though.

    • Good points Julia. The big hanging question is: its now 2013, its been over 20-yrs since Quickbooks was developed, havethe programmers at Intuit become lazy? Why can’t they simply write the code to make all the DT features exist online? I would switch immediately.

      • Wayne, that isn’t as simple a task as it might sound. The code in the one product is totally different than the other product. The database is totally different (both in how it is implemented as well as how it is structured). And, to be honest, there is a lot of internal stuff that is in the Desktop product that should just be tossed out.

        They are putting a lot of effort into QBO – many more people working on that than on the desktop product at this point – but you can’t just copy the code from one environment over to the other. New features have to be written from scratch (or – they acquire an add-in or other technology).

        My issues with them are more along the line of their “priority list” – what things THEY decide should be implemented – as well as how they roll out new features.

  • I, too, am still a fan of Desktop over QBO, but QBO is continuously upgrading the program. One of the advantages of QBO is that Intuit can make major additions anytime, rather than waiting to add it to the following year’s DT release.

    Just wanted to remind ProAdvisors that, if you have your QBO clients add you as an External Accountant, you can call in to Intuit and get your client a 20% – 35% (depending on your level -Silver, Gold or Diamond) discount on their monthly QBO fee for the next 12 months. It’s a nice benefit to be able to pass along to your clients.

    • Steve – Do clients who are currently using QBO for the past year qualify for our discount as well or only if they are new to QBO?

      • My experience with outfits like intuit is they heavily reward people who have never been their customers before and those who have been faithful customers for 20-yrs are just taken for granted.

  • Thank you for your interesting article. I am glad to see that it has some “good sides”. I know online has an audience, and serves some needs, and it is good to see information from those who know it and use it well.

    Right now, if I had a choice, I would shut down the online version. It is a “harsh” comment, but the clients I have consulted with (who used online) all had major issues, which is why I was called in to help them clean up their data. In cases where these users had been audited, their accountants could not produce information easily, and none of the users had ever passed an audit. Due to the extreme ease of changing history… and few clear warnings, we discovered users were accidentally changing historical data, and didn’t know it.

    Once moved back to the desktop version, they were able to do their work almost 3 times faster, they understood it, were able to produce better reports and documentation, and felt more in control of their data & business.

    I am hoping that the online version will be upgraded to function more like the desktop version. Until then, with the client base I work with, the desktop version is much better.

    • Tina, I agree. I passionately despise QBO for exactly the reasons you’ve outlined. I try to immediately port my clients to the DT version as soon as I can. It’s so much easier to work with.

      I don’t expect the online version to improve much.

  • QuickBooks Online Chick, I have to agree that the more I used QBO, the more I fell in love. However, it is my understanding that with QBO (monthly subscription) you never really “own” your data or software. You can’t back it up or restore it to a desktop version. You have “pay as you go” books. With a desktop edition. If I go out of business, I can always click and open my books. With Online version…there’s no such thing.

    Therefore, as sleek and sexy as it’s features are… I don’t reccommend QBO to my clients.

    • If you ever have to cancel QBO, for any reason, you’ll still be able to keep your data. You can create an XML backup to keep local, or Convery it to desktop. It’s always your data. Also, if you do cancel, you can reinstate within a certain period o time. I believe Intuit keeps it for 1 yr, but I’m not positive…

      So, you can do the same exact thing with QBO that you can with desktop. I had a client last year sell his business. We converted to desktop, and should he ever need to access it, anyone can open it for him (or he can go buy desktop to do it himself).

  • Another issue is cost. While the desktop version can be had for a one-time fee of about $200 or less (QB Pro), the online version is nearly $500 per year for a single user. All things being equal with payroll, an online user would pay $1300 more over 3 years than a DT user. If they are not using payroll (either not required or using a payroll service), you could get away with using their current version for way more than 3 years. While there are a FEW things in QBO that are advantageous over DT, the additional costs for those few and, IMHO, insignificant features do not justify the additional cost. So, the only REAL advantage of QBO over desktop is the anywhere, anytime access. Is that worth the additional fees paid for QBO which has SIGNIFICANTLY less features than DT? In my opinion, and in most my clients and even my other QB Pro Advisors peers, the answer is no. Logmein, gotomypc, and the free Remote Desktop built in to Windows does the same thing as QBO for significantly less in the anytime anywhere access arena, and gives the user the full advantage of the DT version. QBO – I just don’t get it.

    • Kendall, I agree wholeheartly. I advise clients not to update to the new year version annually if they will not benefit from the update. Most of my clients are able to get away with only updating every 4 or so years. Big savings for clients and in this economy, that’s important.

    • Kendall, I’ve been a “desktop” guy for a long, long time so I understand what you are saying. A few things to point out:

      -No guarantee that the pricing model on desktop software will continue forever.

      -I use remote access quite a bit to get to my desktop, in general I’m happier with a product like QBO if remote access is an issue. If you have a situation where you are in a single location (a LAN, etc) then the desktop works well. If you have multiple remote offices or users, who do this FREQUENTLY, then an online product might be better. It does depend on the specifics. I know that “hosted” solutions are also available, but I’m not always happy with the way those work.

      Personally, I look at all the options we have, and evaluate the needs of the client, before I decide on which product to use.

      • Charlie, I hear you – although, nothing is certain and we can only advise clients on what we DO know…and the QB Online product is just flat-out more money for less features compared to the DT version and I welcome ANYONE to refute that statement. I’m not particularly happy with the hosted QB companies now either, but I do like the fact that my anytime, anywhere access problem is now solved with hosting and I’m not paying any more than I would be paying for QBO. But most importantly, I’m using the full DT version with a hosted company. Someone – anyone – please explain to me why Intuit didn’t start their own hosting service years ago and then there would be no need for QBO and they would get their $500 per year annuity from each user. Believe me, it’s all about the monthly fee…and I have no problem with free enterprise and making billions of dollars…just don’t make me pay more for less and insult me by trying to convince me that QBO is worth it.

  • Thanks Stacy – I have a few clients looking into online (which has improved quite a bit since it was first available) but unfortunately down here in the Turks & Caicos (and probably Caribbean wide) we use the “manual” payroll setting on the desktop version as the US Tax tables obviously don’t apply to us – (and only two payroll taxes)….as there is no way to enable this feature on the online version there are very few clients who can use it. Appreciate the article though – good information.

  • Thank you for your insightful article. The company I work for now is considering switching to QBO. We use the attach documents feature of the Desktop version heavily. Does anyone know if this is available in QBO?

  • Stacy,

    Thank you for your article. My company is moving to SAAS applications for all our needs. We are in the staffing business. However, we have been using Quickbooks Enterprise for AP, Banking, and Financials ( P&L , BS)
    We import payroll and invoicing from another application that is integrated with QB Enterprise , which we are running on a server with 10 users.

    I would like to get rid of the server, my last frontier, since we are running everything online except QB.
    Do you see any issues?

    • Gene, the key issue here is your comment that you “import payroll and invoicing from another application”. The import methods for QuickBooks Online are different than the import methods for QuickBooks Desktop. So before you can make a switch, that is one of the things that you have to look at. How would you do that integration in QBO?

  • QBO Chick, I am a general contractor that has QB Pro Contractor Edition
    2009. Since I write contracts by hand and invoice by hand. I do not
    use many of the features in my Version of QB. I create customers, estimates, and invoices. I mainly do all of this for my banking and tax accounting. Do u think i wouls be happy with QBO

  • We are a 501c3 food pantry looking for software to:
    – maintain financial information: food purchases, inventory, A/P.
    – data entry by various volunteers (assume little or no accounting experience). We do not have internet access.
    – no payroll
    – donations from: anonymous givers, institutions, named givers with either cash or gifts in kind for which we want to maintain accounting and provide year-end IRS information as well as “thank-you” letters.
    – we would like to have a budget reflecting purchases of food items, incidentals, by month. We buy extra items for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
    – Asset purchases are minimal as we use the facilities of a church for which we are not charged.
    – A separate system (MS Access based) is used to keep records on “clients” receiving food. This system meets the requirements of USDA, local government and the distributor of the majority of food we purchase.

    Question: The best software for our mission, QBO or QT? Subquestion: Should the QB non-profit add-on be a deciding factor?

    • Paul, you make the decision pretty simple – you say “we do not have internet access”. So QuickBooks Online isn’t going to work with you, as it is an Internet based software product, not installed on your local computer.

      • Charlie, Paul states they have internet access. We have the same issues as Paul being a 501(c)3 nonprofit and need to have multiple users have access to QB. Please expand on your reply to Paul. Our concern is with inventory control.

        • Looks like it says “we do not have internet access” to me, Bob.

          There are a lot of factors, assuming you DO have Internet access. I’ll admit that I’m not an expert in the requirements for non-profit organizations. Having multiple users itself doesn’t tell me much – are they multiple users in one location? Are they multiple users working from home or multiple sites? That is a big factor.

          Inventory management – QuickBooks Online has very, very simple inventory features. That might be enough, it might not. In a distribution or manufacturing business, QBO itself isn’t adequate, you need to use the desktop product OR use an add-on inventory product for QBO.

          Budget is a big issue. Number of users is a big issue. Desktop on a LAN is probably cheapest, but harder to log in to from remote. Hosted systems can help with that, but the cost goes up. Online systems – some have costs per users, some don’t.

          QuickBooks Premier has a “non profit” version that has special features you might need. Online products don’t have those kinds of features. Do you need them? Maybe not.

          QuickBooks Online isn’t the only option for online accounting. Wave, which we review elsewhere in the blog, is free. That might help with the budget. But it is also very, very simplistic.

          Every non-profit has differences, so it is hard for me to say “all non profits need this particular software”. I would find an expert in non-profit accounting and work with them to find the best solution for your particular situation.

  • I have QuickBooks Desktop (an older version); if I go to QBO, will it be seperate from QBD? Can I pull it in or do I have to start over? I am not that technically knowledgeable here.

  • Thanks for the article. I have a love-hate relationship with QB. Mostly hate. I like the idea of QB Online, and periodically check it out. Looks like they have improved its graphics and features, BUT I still can’t make use of it because my desktop file size is too big. Lots of inventory etc. So, I am stuck with desktop. Regardless, I think the QB programmers are stuck in the 90s and are trying to let us know by sending us their programming.

    • Sean, too big as in all the historical transactions? You can shrink your desktop file by getting rid of old history (don’t try it yourself, seek a professional to help), if that is the reason.

      But, I would recommend trying the free demo with just some data you enter, to see if you like how it works and if it does what you need.

      • Hi Charlie,
        I worked the QB solution for my company file for a number of hours. Archived etc. Didn’t work. I did play with the online version a bit. The inventory part is my biggest concern. Although, one of my main pet peeves with QB in general is with regard to online banking. They haven’t updated that in quite some time, at least with regard to desktop. With many vendors, their ID is different with each credit card transaction (e.g. UPS shipping services uses the tracking number/transaction). So for those of us that have thousands of transactions with these vendors, you have to enter them one at a time…creating aliases does nothing for you. I wish they would allow you to modify IDs and account info en masse, or improve on this in other ways.
        Thanks for the feedback. If QBO becomes more enticing I may look for someone to help me with my company file.

        • Sean,

          They completely uploaded the online banking last year – it’s now called Downloaded Transactions. Myself & many other ProAdvisors will argue it does a better job now than online banking in desktop 🙂

          As for inventory, QBO itself doesn’t have assemblies, avg cost, receiving against partial POs, etc – but there are some fantastic add-ons that do offer those features. SOSInventory & DucoTrax are two of these.

          I’d be more than happy to work with you on a conversion, just say the word!


          • Sounds good, Stacy. Thanks! Just updated to QB 2013, so will likely hang with it for a while. We are online with our records and schedule, so I suppose it will be inevitable. The fact that they can’t import a data file from their own product is not confidence building with regard to the robustness and stability of the online product, though. In that light, the pricing structure becomes questionable and a deterrent as well. Especially if you are having to add apps that also incur a monthly fee, all to just get you to where you are with the desktop product. But, like I said, I am sure it will be an inevitable, if not forced, change. The Downloaded Transactions in QBO does seem like an improvement, and, overall, seems faster than my current desktop networked experience.

        • Sean, integration with online banking in various products is really advancing. I haven’t used the feature in QuickBooks Online yet (Just getting into that) but I’m told that it is better than with QuickBooks Desktop. I’m looking at several other online accounting systems, such as Wave and Xero (and others down the line). Both of those have some interesting features in bank reconciliation. A review of Wave is coming out very soon (but it is probably too small for the situation you describe). I just took a full day of training on Xero (article on them next month sometime) and they have great online bank reconciliation – but it is VERY different than QuickBooks in many ways.

  • So glad I stumbled on this site. I work for a church that recently switched from the desktop QB version to QBO. It’s been a love hate relationship for me ever since. I get support from the QBO people but am at a point that I really want to consult with someone to help us unravel a possible “situation” we find ourself in that I just can’t trust the data. We made the switch in January and before too much time passes we may want to retreat to the desktop. Anyone in the Southern California area who I can contact to explain more fully our situation?

  • P.S. I think I read in one of the posts about a way to use QB desktop and access it from another software program remotely. If so, what program is that? Thank You!

    • Victoria, there are quite a few different ways to remotely access a computer running QuickBooks from another computer via the Internet. Many different products, each with different features. Which is best depends on many factors. You can look at products like LogMeIn, GoToMyPC, Teamviewer, and a whole host of others.

  • Stacy,

    I am in Houston and hoping to find an online course in QBO or one in a classroom setting. I can’t seem to find anything like that. Do you know of any? I would really appreciate any help.


  • Quickbooks online is crap. Going to just be blunt. Sure, there are not may solutions out there, but let’s call a spade a spade. QBO is slow, clunky, and reminds me of the 1990’s. The information architecture illustrates just how dysfunctional Intuit products are.

    Having said that – there is not much choice. You have to keep your books and you need to be semi SAS based in order to be competitive. So you just forced into it cause you don’t have the 1k a month to blow on Netsuite. The amount of time wasted with the number of clicks to complete things and the slow response time kill productivity and brain cells.

    Bottom line: you use the bathroom, you have to use toilet paper. you run a small business, you need to use quickbooks. Both the toilet paper and the quickbooks elicit the same sense of excitement.

  • lol @ Dave. As a small business owner I have to agree. I know it dominates the small business sector but QB truly is garbage. It’s mind boggling how many basic accounting tasks it can’t do properly.

  • Dave and David,

    I have scoured the internet for an option beyond Quickbooks. Unfortunately, nobody is quite there yet. Freshbooks is close but it doesn’t do payroll.

    Quickbooks is truly a dinosaur waiting for the meteor to fall its head.

  • I am small business owner and we have a in-house developed a web based inventory and ordering program written in PHP. Currently our account department uses older version QuickBooks desktop version. First we tried our web program with QuickBooks online version and that worked seamlessly. But accounting team’s suggestion we brought QuickBooks Premier 2013 desktop version. But since then it is a nightmare to get the QuickBooks configure with our web application. After many days and hours we realized the Intuit technical support is extremely poor. We installed QB with no problem but now during configuration we are getting the error in authenticating the apps in web connector. The Intuit sent us the following link for help but that didn’t work either:

    Any help you can provide will be appreciated. Thank you.

  • Hi Stacy,
    I see from your bio that you have done some work writing Intuit Academy courses for Canada.

    I live in Canada, and attempt to do the unthinkable: Use a Mac for Quickbooks AND live in Canada. This appears to be an unthinkable combination according to Intuit.

    You see, for many years, many past its best-before date, I used QB 2005 CAN edition for Mac. At some point near 2010, they simply stopped supporting this, and when updating my computer, suddenly it locked me out of the program.

    Without anywhere to turn, I began using QB 2010 for Mac, the 2010 version. Because there simply was no other option for me. For another business I manage, I was forced to buy a PC computer just for the purpose of this program. And yes, I tried using Parallel to get it to run. THis wasn’t working well at the time.

    About two years ago, before I bought the PC, I had been in touch with the Inuit help centre, and they *alluded* to an online version. But it seems it was very late, and I had to move on to file YE.

    Now, the QBO is available, and it even works in Canada! When I spoke to customer service today, they informed me that I still cannot migrate data! From either source, and that the US version data from 2010 QB will cause problems. TO NO AVAIL!!

    After a longer conversation, he allowed that it was possible to input data by hand, using Excel documents. ANd watch out for duplicate transactions.

    I’m wondering if you have had any experience with this and if it is worth the effort? It seems like a lot of work to manually input data from two companies. And I still need to have the legacy data there to work with.

    WOuld be very happy if you had some resources to point me to.

    Great posts. Appreciate the love of QB…

  • Hi Stacy,

    Thanks for the great article! I have just been hired by a small non-profit to manage their finances. All their data is stored in monthly spreadsheets. I’m trying to decide which would be better for us QBO or Quickbook Premier Non Profit. We have a limited budget, but need at least 3 people to be able to access the data to run reports, and want to be able to run donor reports (donor lists, donor history, giving by category in summary and individual details (alumni, corporate, foundation etc), giving by alumni class, giving by board members). There is absolutely no inventory to manage. We basically accept payments for tuition and pay expenses for meetings, independent consultants and supplies.

    I’m concerned about speed over the internet, the fact that you can’t import transaction data into QBO, the recurring monthly costs, and the non-profit fund accounting. Is there a way to create custom reports in QBO that are similar to the reports in the DT Premier Non-Profit version?

    Thanks muchly for your great article and your feedback!


  • Thanks for the article – it helped clarify several items. I am working on the books for a small start up non-profit. We are trying to automate our books from a spreadsheet based product. We are interested in QBO because we have no office and need input from multiple volunteers. We are concerned about the comments made above and have not found a better product. Particularly concerned when an accountant mentioned that you could not import data from spreadsheets beyond one time. We are hoping that is not correct. Our biggest need as a fundraising group is interfacing with donor software. There are multiple products that work with QB products. Interested in advice on QBO vs DT for a very small distributed group – any key features we should evaluate?

  • What product would you recommend for a small educational consulting LLC business? We (two of us) are considering QBO and like the idea of using the app as well. We need to generate quotes, create invoices, manage online banking, business expenses, keep track of invoices paid; but as our “product” is consulting and we have no hard product inventory to sell, what would you recommend we use to get started?
    We want to keep it simple!
    Thank you . . . we really appreciate your advice!

  • Thanks for the quick response 🙂

    I was hoping for the Simple Start version as the Online Plus seems a little more than we would like to spend right now. What might I not be able to to if I use the Simple version?

    thanks again!

  • Simple Start is plain and simple garbage. Intuit will have you in the $39 a month option before you can do much. Just get the desktop version…it works better and is substantially less expensive.

  • We are a very small all-volunteer nonprofit wanting to set up QuickBooks for the long term. My board suggested QBO. But I think we can do better cost wise with DT.

    My board wants to set up a simple budget with probably no more than 20 accounts. Example: website expenses goes into a website budget line. I could give a report on the status of that budget.

    I’ve noticed in reviews that QBO doesn’t do budgeting. Yet on another matrix, I’ve seen it does. Does QBO do budgets or will we have to use DT?

    Also, I utilize my bank’s online Bill Pay feature for most vendors and individuals, so I hardly ever write/mail checks anymore. I go to the website, fill in the information on the payment and the bank mails them a paper check within 5 business days.

    Can either/both versions of QB talk to the bank so I’m only paying vendors/individuals in QB. Or will I have to pay the vendors at the bank website as I’m doing now and QB will pick this payment when it imports from the bank?

    Thanks for this very helpful comparison article and all of the comments.


    Bill B.

  • Hi Stacy,
    We are looking into switching over to QuickBooks for our company and I had a question I thought you might be able to help me with. We have an employee that travels and therefore would do most of her work away from a desktop, but the rest of us work from the office. I am wondering if there is a way that QuickBooks online links to the desktop version so that we can utilized the benefits of both versions. Our main concern with the online version is not having the records from previous years backed up on our own server.
    If you can let me know what you think that world be great!
    Thank you,

    • QuickBooks Online is a totally different product than QuickBooks Desktop. They don’t share info.

      Another approach to consider is using QuickBooks Desktop in a “hosted QuickBooks” environment. Then you have the QuickBooks desktop product you are used to, but it is stored in the Cloud on a server system, that you can access from any location that has the Internet. We don’t have a comprehensive article on that approach yet, but you can see some info about it here:

      The best choice depends on a number of factors, you may want to work with a qualified advisor to explore what you need. Hosted QuickBooks doesn’t work for everyone, but it can be a good option. Stacy works with Uni-Date, I work with Cloud9 Realtime, there are several good choices.

  • It is wonderful you all have had success with online or desktop. I’ve been caught in a NIGHTMARE with Intuit and the desktop. I was called in to clean up a mess when the bookkeeper was caught embezzling and forging. One of my assignments was to create payroll checks with the Pro 2012 the company had purchased (I reviewed the cancelled checks for purchases). Unfortunately, the bookkeeper had put the software in the name of her own company and we couldn’t access it, so the company I’m contracted with had to buy QB Pro 2014. And the nightmare began. I have spent 9 hours on the phone with “experts” showing me how to create payroll checks and we finally have the 11 checks for employees and 1 of the many I need for 1099 contractors. This method of “do this, no cancel that, now do this, no cancel that,” REPEATED FOR HOURS has not taught me how to do payroll checks. Guess I’ll have to call back next week for a repeat of this! Because the owner has a dozen corporations and I’m in the process of cleaning up messes in all of them, I haven’t had time to sit and spend time learning QB Pro 2014 or the Payroll. I did just order a “how-to” book for the software. My expertise is in taxes and organization, not Intuit, but I’ll get through it. The Payroll is Desktop and I’m sure it is great once one knows how to use it. Also, I should have been told when we purchased QB Pro 14 and I first called about how to create checks with the Desktop Payroll that I needed to ORDER pre-printed checks. The “bimbo” I spoke to said the totally blank check sheets I had would work fine. This was seconded by another person a week later when I called back to get help on making sure the check form printed the routing number, account number, check number, etc. After a few hours, I was transferred to another dept. and learned QB does NOT print routing and account numbers, so naturally a week was spent waiting for pre-printed checks to come in (and I purchased from another company – I’d NEVER buy from Inuit after this nightmare!). The point of this “rant” is, while you all are doing great on QB, there are some of us out here (I’m sure I’m not the only one) who are in HELL with Quickbooks. Now, I just need to find a book on learning the desktop payroll! Thanks for letting me complain and I hope Intuit starts training their phone people better! I have written the head guy to suggest they IMMEDIATELY EMAIL EVERYONE who buys the desktop payroll program that pre-printed checks will be necessary!

    • Lee, sorry you had so much trouble. This points out that, as with any complex software, you need to learn the product before you jump in. And, if you are picking up on a messed up situation such as you were, it pays to work with someone who understands the product. It is hard enough to use the product in a situation where everything was done properly, much harder when you jump into a mess.

      The Intuit ProAdvisor program has extensive training available, if you had the opportunity to do that before starting this task then you would have avoided a lot of pain. Unfortunately, that takes time…

  • I am inquiring about a rumor I heard, that in a couple of years the desktop version of QuickBooks will no longer be available and everyone will have to switch to online. Is this true?

    • Intuit officially has said “there will always be a desktop”.

      See my article at from last Fall, when I interviewed Dan Wernikoff, a senior VP at Intuit, about this. I will also have another article addressing this in the next couple of weeks.

      Short answer is, they are still selling a lot of units of QuickBooks desktop, they will continue supporting the product as long as that continues (my words, not theirs). Pro and Premier users will see continued incentives to move to QuickBooks Online. New development will be focused on QuickBooks Online.

  • I started out as a micro business, we are now taking a step into a small business as bakery/cafe. I bought quickbooks for mac 2013 and found it way too confusing. Would QBO be a better fit? From the demo’s I’ve watched it seams to be more user friendly.

    • I guess that depends on what you are trying to accomplish, and what you found confusing about the Mac version. If you don’t have a basic understanding of business accounting then they both will be about the same. And if you are going to have across-the-counter sales, such as at a cafe, then you need to be thinking about how to handle the cash register.

      I would recommend that you work with someone who understands that kind of business, who can recommend the best product for your situation and provide some assistance in getting set up.

  • I just have a newbie question for anyone with QBO experience. I use QuickBooks POS can it be connected to my QBO? If not then I need to try to cancel my subscription. Being a millennial I of course can’t understand why an online program couldn’t connect to another program. I’m finding that accounting is a field that I will never understand. Dang. Thanks for any suggestions.

    • QuickBooks POS is a desktop system, connecting to QuickBooks Online is not practical (or possible, I believe).

      There are a number of POS systems that are on the market that work with QuickBooks Online. Many, many different options. Vend, Reveal, Square Register, iConnect, and many more. I would suggest that you work with someone who has experience in this area who can make recommendations that would fit your particular type of business.

  • Get all the benefits of QuickBooks desktop and access it from anywhere with QuickBooks cloud hosting. You just need an internet connection and you could easily connect to the QuickBooks you know and love from any device at any time.

  • Thanks for the article. I am glad I found it now as it reaffirms my findings after popping the hood and digging into QBO this afternoon.

    I preface this by saying last worked with QB desktop version about 8 years ago when I was Controller for a software company. Over a 4 year period I learned the desktop version inside and out. When we outgrew QB and moved to an expensive ERP I remember my Finance team complaining about things that QB did so well that the new ERP wouldn’t allow them to do as easily. QB always had ease of use and flexibility as a key selling feature.

    I recently took a bookkeeping contract to help a small consulting practice. They want help getting their books off of spreadsheets and into QB Online. The online aspect appealed to the client and me as everyone works from home and at odd hours, so the online aspect was important, as was the flexibility that QB has been known for.

    After designing a CoA to support their desired reporting, I logged into QBO to figure out the configuration steps and how to setup the opening balances. I assumed that they would get the same user experience I remembered from the desktop version.

    Now let me say that I’m a pundit for SaaS software but after spending today in QBO I’ve immediately figured out that this version is far too simplistic and inflexible to be practical or cost effective to my client. Intuit really hype the online, anywhere aspect and one would assume that this release would be very much like the desktop version. It does have some updated graphics, prebuilt reports, simple to understand dashboards and some nifty integration to online banking. But as an accountant, it kind of falls flat as there are some serious functional gaps from the desktop version.

    I’m very surprised that Intuit released an online version of this product with a feature set that is a fraction of the now 20 year old desktop version. Fail in my opinion. We will be looking at other options

    • Sean, if Intuit hadn’t named this “QuickBooks Online”, it would have been better. It is a totally different product. However, most of the online accounting products are similar in the sense that they are fairly incomplete when compared to many of the desktop products. That is changing, but it is taking time.

      I suggest that you look at Greg Lam’s series of articles comparing some of the top online products, starting at

      Also, look into “Hosted QuickBooks”. I talk about that a bit at the bottom of my article at

      • But Charlie, you and Stacy have been heavily promoting QBO over QBDT in the couple of posts and comments sections I’ve perused. And now when Sean points out the very significant drawbacks to QBO you fall back on “It is a totally different product” and “online accounting products . . . are fairly incomplete when compared to . . . desktop products”. Come on now. That’s just a copout.

        I’ve used QBDT for most of my career, in three different small businesses. Both times that I’ve dipped my toes in the QBO waters (helping with my wife’s startup businesses), I want to pull my hair out. She chose or was talked into QBO twice because of online access (and ease of her accountant’s use, not hers, I think). But the bottom line is that QBO is a slower environment to work in, has less functionality, and is more difficult to navigate. The most aggravating problem I run into as a company accountant is the fact that you can’t have multiple windows open to move between different active reports, ledgers and transactions. That may be fine for a very small company with minimal transactions going through, but I can’t see recommending QBO for any company that’s gotten big enough to have its own staff accountant or controller.

        • Derek, “heavily promoting QBO over QBDT” is far from the truth as far as my opinion of the product. I my own articles I have been REPORTING about features and capabilities, because people are interested in the product and Intuit “heavily promotes” it. My contention (expressed in a variety of forums, in various ways) is that:

          1) QuickBooks Online is just a very different product than QuickBooks Desktop. It is suited for some business types, but not others. There are MANY businesses successfully using it. However, it does NOT fit all businesses. I should note at this point that NONE of my clients who are currently using QuickBooks Desktop are suited for QuickBooks Online by itself, although some might be able to move up to it if they wish, with appropriate add-on products (mostly inventory issues).

          2) Many of the complaints about QBO that we hear are from people, like yourself, who have been using QBDT. It is not a simple transition, both because it just is a different product and won’t work the way you expect it to (based on your experience), and it doesn’t have many features that you are used to from QBDT. New users find it easier to work with IF it suits their business.

          3) If you put aside your experiences/expectations of QBDT, you may find that navigating QBO is easier. It does some things very well as far as navigation. There are a lot of complaints about navigation in QBDT as well. I do believe, however, that since the initial “Harmony” UI revision of QBO that Intuit is straying from the simpler navigation methods and making things, once again, more complicated than they should be.

          4) QBO speed, much better in the new version than the old version. I will agree that in many cases QBO is slower than QBDT, but there are some functions that are faster in QBO. And, it also depends a lot on the hardware configuration you have.

          A lot of what Sean says are problems are issues where he/she is comparing QBO to the experience in QBDT. I say again, they are different products. You aren’t going to see the same experience in both. And, a lot of the issues that people have in QBO are situations where they aren’t the type of business suited for QBO. My contention is that accounting professionals need to understand both QBDT and QBO (as well as other online products such as Xero) so that they can make an informed recommendation to their clients. There are times when an online product is better than the desktop product, you need to know what those situations are.

          Along with that, I’ve written and speculated a lot about the future of QuickBooks desktop products in several articles. Whether we believe that QBDT is better than QBO or not, there is going to be a time when the desktop product just isn’t a viable solution. Technology is advancing rapidly, QBDT is not. It is built upon VERY old technology that is getting harder and harder for Intuit to maintain, and at some point it is just not going to be supportable. That time isn’t here yet, but accounting professionals need to be prepared for that time when it comes.

          And, to repeat, I am NOT promoting QBO over QBDT – none of my clients (I focus on inventory-centric businesses) are well suited for QBO at this time.

  • Just a small business owner trying to avoid ALL paperwork. I’m trying to decide weather to go quick books desktop or online. I really don’t need another acc. payable every month, in this line of work you never know how the future will work out. the features im looking for are. tracking expenses by using smartphone to take pics of receipts for file. accepting credit cards. issuing quotes instantly by smartphone, the same with invoices. syncing business bank acc. to computer. but i don’t mind manually joining the 2 devices daily to sync info. i also would like to print payroll checks. The business is also a corp, and i need to do a better job separating the financial part. is all of this available on the desktop version? could anybody give a little guidance?

    • It is difficult to give specific advice without sitting down with you and going over your business processes, the details of what you are doing. I do recommend that you work with a knowledgeable professional who is familiar with your industry and the options that are available.

      Multiple options in payroll, depending on the detailed needs. If you just need to print checks based on calculations that some other service is doing, that is one thing, or you can use a Payroll product that integrates with the accounting product you decide to use. Calculating payroll is going to be an add-on service.

      Tracking expenses via smartphone, taking pictures of receipts, there are several products that can do this, again the details of your business make a difference. In general you are going to be using an add-on product/service for this. Look at Tallie, for example (I reviewed this awhile ago at – but there are some other articles here – use the search box in this blog to search for “Tallie”).

      Accepting credit cards, tons of options there. Again, an addon service, the choice depends on a number of factors. QuickBooks desktop and Online have that as an add-on option, as do other products.

      Issuing quotes is more complicated, as that depends (yet again) on the details, and what product you use. Take a look at this article, although there are some updated features for some of the products mentioned here: – also, there are good add-on products that you may find better than here.

  • Hi,
    I would like to move to QB online, However I am told I cannot send and track progress invoices like you can do on desktop version?
    is that correct or has it been added? If not I am stunned as most contractors like myself send progress invoices!
    Thank you

  • Stacy,

    Is there an add-on app that you recommend for allowing you to automatically email memorized reports in QuickBooks Enterprise?

  • Hi.

    I would have loved to read the response regarding the church going back to desktop. I am with a small church and we’re moving to Quickbooks. I’m trying to decide to go online or desktop. We have a maximum of 5 users. Any suggestions pros / cons that can help my decision?

  • Hi. We are a manufacturing and distributors. Most important for us is the customers sales order. Be able to tract back orders. Which version is best?

  • I’ve been using QB desktop and recently my bank quit providing IIF files for download and only QBO. This has caused me a LOT of problems and I am currently in the process of trying to resolve this issue.

    For many small businesses this may work OK, but for my business it is absolutely dreadful. I have a business that needs to process literally hundreds of transactions and I do not have a dedicated accountant. For me it is MUCH, MUCH easier to import those transactions and quickly process them on my desktop than go through the trouble of dealing with them individually on-line.

    My customers also don’t want e-mailed invoices since I also have to submit job paperwork for them. They prefer the invoice and paperwork sent to them in a PDF file, which I generate by scanning the invoice and paperwork at my office. This also gives me a hard copy I can use for reference if necessary.

    Bottom line, Quickbooks Online may fit some companies, but is virtually useless for others.

  • I’m currently “testing” out quickbooks online for the 6o day trial period. I have an old version of the desktop (2013) that needs to be updated. However, I’m leaning toward just getting the QB 2016 desktop version instead. We are a small company. In QBO how do you write items off? When we receive checks from insurance companies I always need to write a portion off because they do not pay in full. Can anyone help?

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