At Convergence 2004, the Microsoft software users' conference, Satya Nadella asked what he said was a hypothetical question: "What would your advice be if Microsoft were to launch a new small business accounting application?" "You have to remember that what users like most about QuickBooks is what accountants hate about it. How are you going to handle this dilemma?" was my response.
Like what you see? Click here to sign up for Accounting Today's daily newsletter to get the latest news and behind the scenes commentary you won't find anywhere else.
It was pretty obvious from Nadella's asking the question that the product now known as Small Business Accounting was underway at that point. Nadella, as a corporate vice president, heads the development effort at Microsoft Business Solutions.
It is almost impossible for accounting professionals to miss the emerging battle in the market for small business accounting, especially since Microsoft chose that phrase for its product name in its bid to re-enter the low-end market.
The leader in this market is Intuit's QuickBooks family-an expanding family, not just a single product-with Sage's Peachtree family occupying much of the rest of the market space for small business accounting.
How many hurricanes does it take to put the lights out? One.
So with the recent string of storms and smaller disasters that strike businesses, what does it take for a business to survive, or to consider having a disaster recovery plan? Accounting Technology studies this topic in "Weathering the Storm."
Some people think that paying taxes is a disaster of another kind. In "Planning Ahead," Associate Editor Carly Lombardo talks about the tax planning tools that are available to practitioners.
A different kind of tool set is available to resellers and consultants through vendor marketing programs. Lombardo's article, "Vendor Marketing Programs," discusses whether these programs work.
And while it's been a good year for penguins ("March of the Penguins") in film, how are the Linux Penguin and other open source applications faring in the accounting market place? Do accounting professionals want free choice? In "The Freedom of Open Source," Associate Editor Riccardo A. Davis looks at the open source movement.
Why do people who operate small businesses buy software? Better question: Why have so many millions purchased QuickBooks? Ease of use comes up as the principal reason, and Intuit continues to pound the theme of making software simpler.
Microsoft talks about the integration of SBA with its pervasive Office suite and about its accounting capabilities. It has not given the word "simple" anything near the prominence it gets from Intuit. Both Sage and Intuit picture Microsoft as selling on technology, and they say they hope Microsoft continues doing that.
Intuit is addressing accounting issues, putting an always-on audit trail into QuickBooks, a feature that SBA already has; Peachtree has always stressed its compliance with good accounting practices. Accountants like that.
But users largely don't care. Sometimes it seems that it doesn't make a lot of difference to users what their accountants think, no matter how many thousands of accountants are enrolled in one of the programs from the three competitors.
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that the decision is from the other direction: Users adopted QuickBooks and if their accountants did not support that package, many users switched accountants. Many accountants responded by using QuickBooks. Founder Scott Cook says that accountants are one of the largest groups using the software.
Whether or not SBA is a better answer is something for the market to decide, and it may prove easy enough to use that large numbers will adopt it.
But if I had to buy software of this kind and had to choose between accounting and ease of use, I'd put my money on simple every time.