Web-based accounting software didn't used to be amazing stuff-but it's getting to be that way. The first versions of Web-based accounting software were fairly primitive. Most looked okay, but they were expensive compared to their disk counterparts and there weren't many features. Today, Web-based systems surpass disk-based in many ways and they are increasing their lead. There are even Web applications that let you make purely disk-based software Web-accessible. What should you look for in a Web-based accounting product? Web-based accounting products should handle GL, AR, AP, and PR, print quotes, purchase orders, sales invoices, checks, and lots of reports. There should be good documentation (printed and online). Most packages are network-ready and can also import and export accounting data in several formats, provide customer address books and to-do lists, and let you update tax tables and transmit data over the Internet. There should be security options that let you restrict access to certain features or types of transactions.
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Web-based products should display information and let you move from one screen to another reasonably quickly. You may also want to check with the product's provider to find out how your company's data is stored and what kind of back-up and disaster recovery provisions are in place.
Evaluating the Products
Each product was evaluated using the following criteria:
Overall ease of use. Is the product easy to install and configure? Did the product feel easy to use? Was it necessary to pick up the manuals or use the online help? Did the new company set-up make sense? Was it easy to add invoices and pay bills?
Product features. How complete is the feature set? How many sample charts of accounts are there?
Documentation. Was the online documentation well indexed, useful, clean? Could I find information quickly?
Trial versions and money-back guarantees. Finding the right accounting package is a challenge. It's a little easier to determine which package is right for you by trying before you buy.
Reporting and exporting options. Are the reporting options complete? Can you easily export report info and financial data to other formats?
Web-based products Is the speed with which you can move from screen to screen acceptable even on a 56K modem? Is the product browser-specific? Are there data security issues?
ePeachtree is the standalone Web-based package from Peachtree. Not much has changed in ePeachtree in the last couple years, but that's okay: It has lots of solid features, first-rate documentation, and good pricing.
ePeachtree handles all basic accounting features you're likely to need: GL, AR, AP, job/project costing, and inventory. (For a small fee, you can add payroll.) The new company set-up procedure covers the minimum necessary to get you up and running quickly. There are 75 charts of accounts offered.
ePeachtree's interface is uncomplicated, easy to use, and very functional, which makes the data entry process straightforward and uncomplicated. You can select commands from the menu bar or from the process maps available on the Navigation Aids screen.
(If you're already familiar with one of the disk-based Peachtree Accounting products, you'll find yourself at home immediately.) In addition, when you change customer, vendor, or inventory IDs, ePeachtree automatically updates transactions with the new ID.
There are 121 predefined reports, which you can export into a variety of useful formats for further analysis. You can also drill down to old transactions in many of the reports. The online help is exceptional, and has well-written procedures with effective graphics and navigational aids.
Sadly, ePeachtree still has not added a data importation feature: All data must be entered directly into the system. You can export reports to HTML (which can then be emailed manually or put up on a Web server), but you can't email reports, invoices, or vendor statements from within the product itself. You're also stuck with the predetermined display options and preferences.
ePeachtree comes with some great add-on features, such as Peachtree WebsiteCreator Pro, which lets you build a Web site quickly, and Peachtree WebsiteTrader, which builds an interactive Web store tied to your online accounting data.
ePeachtree basic service for a single user is $149.88 per year or $44.97 per quarter. The basic cost allows for one free accountant account as well. Multi-user is $251.76 per year for up to 10 users, flat. Payroll service is very reasonable: $95.88 per year or $29.97 per quarter. You can try it out for 30 days on a money-back guarantee.
ePeachtree has a full range of accounting features and a minimalist and attractive screen design that parallels the disk-based Peachtree Accounting versions. In addition, its support for add-on Web sites and Web stores make it a good bet for companies looking to add an integrated Web sales presence.
Price: $149.88 per year or $44.97 per quarter, (includes one free accountant account).
QuickBooks Online Edition
QuickBooks Online Edition does everything you could want in a Web-based accounting product, and it continues to have a well-developed user interface that sets a standard for other products.
QuickBooks Online Edition handles all basic accounting functions. There are two payroll options, both of which cost extra. If you want more features, there are two Plus Packages, one of which contains class tracking and budgets and the other of which containss time and expense tracking, custom invoice styles, and delayed charges. New user set-up is smooth and simple, with 131 charts of accounts. And if you get stuck, there is fast online support during business hours. It doesn't have a fixed assets module-nobody in this review does yet-but it does allow that you might want to do this and tells you how to make general journal entries for it. There are also add-ons for such features as custom reporting and e-commerce.
QuickBooks Online Edition has a great user interface and first-rate navigational tools. There are 39 customizable reports, most of which support drilling down to get additional information. You can also export reports to Excel for additional analysis. Besides emailing invoices, you can customize fields, styles, graphics, and borders. The online documentation is well indexed and easy to use, although the interface is not as coordinated with the screens as it used to be and the increased use of help pop-ups is even a little annoying at times.
QuickBooks Online Edition costs $19.95 per month for up to three users, $29.95 per month for up to 10 users, and $49.95 per month for up to 20 users, the cheapest of all the Web-based accounting products in this review. There's a 30-day trial that lets you experiment with your own data, and you can play with the sample data at any time for free. It's a solid, full-featured product for the person who wants the greatest flexibility in their Web- and disk-based accounting software options.
QuickBooks Online Edition
Mountain View, Calif.
Price: $19.95 per month (up to three users).
The e-Accounting Center
This review talks about a number of exciting, powerful applications that allow you to do your accounting online. But what do you do if you're running a legacy application that doesn't have a Web component yet or that will never have a Web component?
Consider trying Insynq's Virtual Desktop, part of its e-Accounting line.
The idea behind the Virtual Desktop is that you open a browser window into what looks and behaves exactly like a typical Windows desktop, even if you're accessing it from a Mac. You are actually making a seamless, transparent connection to a high-speed, commercial server at Insynq's data center across the Internet. You can install and run most Windows applications on the Virtual Desktop, then save the data to the data-center server the application is installed on or to a local hard drive.
What's great about this is that you can have Insynq host the accounting application of your choice on a Virtual Desktop, then access it via the Web. You have all the mobility and flexibility of Web-based applications combined with the appearance and behavior of a disk-based application you already know. Even better, suppose you like QuickBooks Pro but not QuickBooks Online Edition? Insynq already has several accounting disk-based accounting applications set up for you to work with in their e-Accounting line; all you need to do is supply the licenses.
There are some other advantages, too: Accountants can network with their clients directly as if everyone was on the same LAN and they can even take control of your computer to show you what it looks like when they step through an operation (like remote control software). You also have greater flexibility for saving, backing up, and migrating your data to a new application because you can save data in your preferred formats and locations.