Products with Staying Power

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There are fewer, but tougher, low-cost accounting software packages.

The number of accounting packages for small to mid-sized businesses continues to shrink. Products are bought up, consolidated or discontinued in favor of others. The advantage is that the ones that remain on the market have to be increasingly good just to stay even with the competition.

All accounting software for small-to-midsized businesses does general ledger, accounts receivable, accounts payable and payroll; most do inventory, job costing, and time and billing either built-in or as an add-on.

Partner Insights

You should be able to print quotes, sales orders, POs, checks, and have a wide range of customizable, professional-looking reports. Documentation should be complete and there should be an Internet user forum discussing problems with other users.

The product should also support multiple users with varying security levels, import and export accounting data in several formats, provide customer address books and to-do lists and let you update tax tables and email invoices, statements and reports.

Depending on your business, you may also want to make direct deposits and B-B payments or to set up a Web store using your company's inventory.

This article reviews five Windows accounting packages:

* DacEasy v16

* MYOB Premier Accounting 2009

* Peachtree Premium Accounting 2009

* QuickBooks Premier 2009

* Simply Accounting 2009

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 go to the online help? Did each step in the new company setup make sense? Was it easy to add invoices and pay bills? Can data be imported and exported?

Product features. How complete is the feature set? How many sample charts of accounts are there? Are there add-on features such as Web store creation, fixed asset management or integration with other programs?

Documentation. Was the online documentation well indexed, useful and clean? Were the manuals complete, easy to read? Could I find information quickly?

Trial versions, moneyback guarantee. 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. Is there a good range of reports? Are there filtering and sorting options? Can you easily export report info and financial data to other formats?

DacEasy v16

DacEasy v16 from Sage has come a long way since its last review some years ago. It's made a successful transition to a full-featured Windows product. It has a few shortcomings in its look and feel, but it offers enough to keep current and new users satisfied.

Installation was a bit sparse, but DacEasy is noted for being somewhat less frilly than other products. Setting up a new company is not bad, although again not as smooth as you might expect. There is only a single chart of accounts, but you can customize it as necessary.

DacEasy is noted for being modular. The basic accounting module handles GL, AR and AP. You can add modules for such things as PR, POS and OE functions. You can run modules separately or you can open the DacEasy Business Center, which looks like a Web site.

From here, you can run all the modules as well as get extensive information about how to use the product, accounting process flows and many other features.

There are also a number of analysis and business visibility options: for example, you can examine your bank accounts, customers or inventory with several pre-set reports. You can also set business alerts using rules (similar to setting rules in Microsoft Outlook).

Entering information can be done through standard menus or through the Activities portion of the Business Center as you prefer.

Reporting features are very acceptable. The number of reports available to you depends on which modules you have installed, but the basic accounting module offers 38 different reports. The online help is very good, although a bit dense in places. Nevertheless, you'll be able to find everything you need and there are good navigational options for finding information.

There are some rough spots here and there. The screens are adequate, but also a bit dense and hard to follow. Modules always are separate on the Business Center menu, so reports for each module remain under that module's Reports menu rather than one Report menu that covers whatever's available. In addition, menu commands and screen names aren't always intuitive and warnings and errors could be timelier.

For example, DacEasy will let you set up a user with a two-character password without comment, but when you try to open the Crystal Reports module, you then get an error message and have to go back and fix the password in the Edit Passport screen.

Overall, the program doesn't feel nearly as smooth as some of the others in this review.

DacEasy is $499.99 for a single user for accounting, PR, POS and OE modules or $899.99 for a five-user pack, which is somewhat pricier than comparable products in this review. DacEasy v16 retains the modular features that longtime DacEasy users will appreciate, but the product has enough features and in-depth documentation to make it worth a look to the new user as well.

MYOB Premier Accounting 2009

MYOB Premier Accounting 2009 has not changed its look and feel from the previous version, but there are several enhancements that keep the product competitive and worth considering.

The new company setup in MYOB is unchanged: you can select one of 99 charts of accounts. You can start with the minimum or use MYOB's Easy Setup Assistant to add information for accounts, sales, purchases and company payroll. The Command Center maps the accounting tasks in the order you're likely to do them and has good, easy-to-follow graphics in the process flow maps.

In addition to the standard GL, AR, AP and PR, the software also does inventory, job costing and time and billing. There are add-ons for direct deposit, payroll, credit card transactions and EFT. MYOB also supports multiple currencies, recurring transactions and sales tax codes, and has good auditing tools for reconciling your invoices and purchases, checking your audit trail and transactions and examining inventory pricing and tax exceptions.

Once you've identified the problem, you can undo your last reconciliation, enter correcting transactions, and then reconcile again. There are also batch email options for sales forms, payment notifications, POs and statements. Payroll, W-2 and W-3 forms can also be batch-printed instead of individually.

In addition to the budgeting information, this release also retains the prior year's paycheck data.

There are strong enhancements to reporting in this version. You can now preview your forms prior to printing with actual data (instead of the sample data). The 223 customized reports and forms also have improved filtering options. There are drill-down features that provide additional detail on many of the reports. The application also comes with a forms designer that lets you customize, including invoices and POs.

Office support includes the ability to export contact information from the MYOB card file to Outlook, and there are more than 300 templates for Word and Excel for reports, business letters and other documents.

Besides the many reporting enhancements, MYOB 2009 supports editing non-financial transaction information for recorded transactions, such as the account, ID, memo and date information. Credit card information is now more secure and complies with the new, tougher Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard for encryption.

And the new spell-check feature ensures that your communications with your customers always look professional.

MYOB Premier Accounting 2009 costs $299. Additional seats can be purchased at $149 each, or in a five-pack for $499. MYOB BusinessEssentials, which provides just the basics without as many reports and add-on modules, costs $99.

There are also Mac versions called AccountEdge and FirstEdge. All versions have a 30-day moneyback guarantee and there are timed demos you can download from the MYOB Web site.

MYOB Premier Accounting is doing a good job of adding features and enhancements that keep the product competitive.

MYOB's solid basics and great reporting options makes it very desirable for any small to mid-sized business that doesn't need every possible accounting bell and whistle.

Peachtree Premium Accounting 2008

Peachtree Premium Accounting 2009 continues to have an exceptional range of features and options. It's an excellent choice for small to mid-sized businesses that want a complete accounting solution at a reasonable price.

New companies can choose from 80 different charts of accounts. Peachtree Premium Accounting does GL, AR, AP, PR, inventory, job costing, time and billing and fixed asset management.

There are extensive enhancements to payroll such as tracking FSAs, insurance and retirement programs, logging additional kinds of vacation and sick leave, and tracking a number of company-paid state and industrial taxes. In addition, you can purchase online payroll services that let you make direct payroll deposits to your employees.

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