Online? Desktop? Confused?
First, let’s clarify what it is we are looking at.
Normally you will work with QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Online Accountant through a web browser. There are advantages to working this way, such as being able to work from any device that has a browser. There also are disadvantages to his, such as slower program speeds and not being able to use the special kinds of keys that you are used to in your operating system.
Several years ago, Intuit released the QuickBooks Online desktop app for Mac computers, a desktop app that provided you with all the benefits that you get from having a native app on your computer (speed, keyboard improvements, etc.), but that accessed your QuickBooks Online account. A year after that Intuit released a similar desktop app for Windows computers.
Got it? You are working with QuickBooks Online (or QuickBooks Online Accountant) but you are running a native app on your Windows or Mac computer. You aren’t using a browser.
New and Improved
Those initial releases had a few rough edges. Some people found that there was a tendency to crash at odd times (although I rarely saw that in my Windows installation). Speed of operation wasn’t as good as it should have been for a “native” app. The Mac and Windows versions had separate sets of code, so it took Intuit work harder to keep both versions updated to the same level.
With this new update, Intuit has changed the development environment, and that should bring a number of improvements. Now both the Mac and Windows versions use the same set of code, which makes it easier for them to update the products (Windows and Mac) and keep them in sync. Speed should improve. Reliability and stability should improve. Note that I have only been using the Windows version for a short time so I can’t really prove (yet) that these improvement goals have been realized, but I am encouraged by what I’ve seen so far.
It is important to note that these apps are free if you have a subscription to QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Online Accountant.
There are two places you can download the app from, although Intuit is in the process of updating their websites as I’ll note below. When everything is updated you can use either location interchangeably because there aren’t different versions of the installer for end users and accountants. When you install the app and log in to your QuickBooks Online account, it automatically sets up for QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Online Accountant based on your login credentials.
- QuickBooks Online Apps: This site currently has the updated version.
- QuickBooks Online Accountant Apps: At the time that I’m writing this article, this site has not been updated to the new version. However, it will be updated soon if it isn’t already.
Please note that at this time this new version is only available for 64-bit computers. If you are running a 32 bit system then you will have to wait until they have that version ready for release.
QuickBooks Online Desktop App
There are five basic reasons why you might want to use this app if you are working with QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Online Accountant:
- You will stay signed in to your account, so it is easy to access your information. If you exit and come back, you don’t have to enter your login credentials again. Also, you won’t be logged out automatically if you “time out”.
- Windows will open faster in the app. This is hard to measure, but at least in some cases it seems that when you open a new window or screen it seems to pop up faster.
- You can have multiple windows open at the same time. Sure, you can open multiple browser windows, but the process of working with multiple open windows is much easier with the desktop app.
- Information in different windows will “auto-refresh”. This is a feature that might not show up in the first releases of this update. The idea is that if you update information in one window, it will automatically update in other open windows without having to select the window and manually refreshing the screen.
- You have keyboard shorts available that are familiar to you. There is less reliance, for example, on three-key shortcuts (like Ctrl-Alt-C for the customer list, which is just Alt-C in the app).
Let’s see how this works using the Windows version.
The first time that you run the app you will be asked to sign in to your account.
Once you have logged in on this particular computer you won’t have to log in again unless you specifically log out. The QuickBooks Online Desktop App will remember your login credentials. The next time that you run the app you will go straight to your dashboard.
This is good, in that you can quickly gain access to your QuickBooks Online account with a minimum of effort, which is very convenient. However, this does raise one security issue. If you are in an office with multiple people, you need to remember to log out of the app (not just exist), or log out of your computer account, when you step away from your desk. Intuit is pushing the security of your online account away from the QuickBooks Online login over to your operating system / computer security. I do have some concerns that people might not pay attention to this. The best solution is to select File/Sign Out to log out of the program, so that the next time you start the app you will have to sign in again.
Here’s what you see when you first log in, using my QuickBooks Online Accountant account.
As you can see above, two additional bars show at the top of the screen. The top is a menu that has most of the operational features of your QuickBooks Online account. The second has some buttons that will replace functions that would normally be found in your browser (navigate forward, navigate backward, refresh).
The addition of the top menu bar will be a major advantage for some people. It can make it easier to find and access certain functions, rather than searching for the right icon or hidden feature. I spend a lot less time trying to figure out which icon to use for which kind of function. I guess I’m just used to top menu bars like this.
Also note that there are shortcut keys for many of the functions. These are the simpler kind of shortcut keys that we are used to in desktop programs, two-key combinations for the most part, rather than three key combinations. Easier to use and remember.
You can get a list of all the shortcut keys from the Help menu.
A big advantage that I like is the ability to open multiple windows easily. There is a keyboard shortcut (ctrl-N in Windows), or use File/New Window. This opens another window so you can be looking at different parts of the program, as you can see below.
This is simpler than opening multiple browser windows. There are many advantages:
- You can drag windows to separate monitors.
- If you exit the program (not signing out), all of the open windows will close (you don’t have to close each one separately. In addition, the next time that you start the app it will remember which windows you had open, and open them all again. It even restores the windows if you reboot the computer. This is very handy.
- If you are using QuickBooks Online Accountant and looking at a client file, if you switch to another client the program will close all of the extra windows, leaving you with just one.
You cannot use this feature to access multiple clients at the same time, although I’m sure that accountants are going to ask for that capability.
Another feature that is not fully implemented at this time is “multi-refresh”. This is something that Intuit talks about in their video introduction to the app, but it is still undergoing refinement. Essentially, if you have two (or more) windows open, and you update a value in one window, that update will affect any related values in other open windows. For example, if I have an income statement open in one window and I save an invoice in another window, that income statement will be updated right away, without your having to refresh the window or open a new one. This is something that Intuit will be rolling out as they update the apps.
Release and Updates
This product is available now to new users (https://quickbooks.intuit.com/apps/ ). Existing users will be updated through the apps auto-updater at some point in the future. At the time I’m writing this there is only a 64 bit version available (for Windows, not sure about Mac), so if you have a 32 bit system you will have to wait.
I haven’t tried this, but if you are using the older version and haven’t been auto-updated to the new version, I’m guessing that if you uninstall the old version and then download and install the new version, you will be able to use that. No need to wait for the auto-update.
If you aren’t sure what version you have now, press the F2 key or select Help and then About QuickBooks. The new version is 3.0.0 or higher.
I’ve only been using this release (on Windows, I don’t have a Mac) for a short time now. I’m very happy with this, although there are some occasional glitches to work around (very minor issues). In fact, I’m going to be using this to access my QuickBooks Online Accountant account on a regular basis, as I think it works moderately faster and much more conveniently than working through a browser.