Accounting and financial software provider Intuit Inc. has officially released QuickBooks 2007.The company has worked hard to build buzz around the latest incarnation of its flagship product - first by unveiling improvements to its ProAdvisor program, and then by announcing a partnership with Google Inc. to tie online marketing services into the software.

And though the latest version of QuickBooks is equipped with the expected bells and whistles, Intuit executives are quick to note that a host of other improvements in the 2007 version focus on making day-to-day tasks easier to complete.

Intuit Small Business Division product manager Samir Khosla said that a number of ideas for refinement grew directly out of the on-site visits to QuickBooks customers that the company regularly conducts. He said that a prime example was the simplified set-up in the 2007 version, geared to helping new users label their income and expense accounts more accurately with a simplified chart of accounts.

"We're trying to get ahead of the game, so we can prevent errors before they ever get to the accountant," Khosla explained, adding that about 85 percent of QuickBooks customers use an accountant.

According to Intuit executives, the financial management software category grew 37 percent last year, with Intuit continuing to hold on to more than a 90 percent share of the marketplace and, at the same time, fending off a new entry into the field, the recently renamed Microsoft Office Accounting, which Intuit said was held to a market share of less than 2 percent. QuickBooks has more than 3.4 million active users, and this year Intuit is aiming to move more than the 1.4 million units that it sold of the 2006 version last year.

Among the other new QuickBooks features that Khosla highlighted were:

* An enhanced payroll function, so that the nearly 1 million businesses that use Intuit Small Business Payroll Services can run payroll for all their employees at once.

* A new "Dividing Date" function that allows accountants to make changes to their clients' company files, while the business owner continues to work on their day-to-day business transactions without interruption. When the accountant is done making adjustments, the business owner can review and import the changes directly into QuickBooks.

* Easier customization of forms, including invoices, letters and purchase orders, with color schemes and logos, while showing users changes as they are made.

Depending on the size and specific needs of a business, the QuickBooks 2007 line adds new capabilities for specialized businesses and growing companies, including enhanced features for product-based businesses, online time tracking for professional services firms, after-the-fact payroll and increased list limits for growing businesses.

QuickBooks 2007 products are available directly from Intuit, at www.quickbooks.com, and also at major retailers.

QuickBooks Premier - including the accountant edition - is priced at $399.95, or $1,499.95 for a five-user pack. The entry-level product, QuickBooks: Simple Start Edition, will retail for $99.95, and a new three-user pack for QuickBooks Pro is priced at $499.95. For midsized businesses, QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions 7.0 starts at $3,000 for a five-seat license and up to 20 simultaneous users.

The Google deal

The Google Inc. services included in the QuickBooks 2007 product line are aimed at boosting the online profile of small businesses.

In a conference call in September, the chief executives of both companies - Intuit's Steve Bennett and Google's Eric Schmidt - stressed that the non-exclusive alliance is a win-win for everyone. Intuit, which has already been working to provide heightened marketing services to participants in its ProAdvisor program, will be able to offer another avenue for small customers to advertise. Google will gain a showcase for its offerings to a broad base of potential clients through an already-trusted source.

"QuickBooks is a best-in-class partner, as well as a great distribution vehicle, to help us reach a very fragmented small business market," Schmidt said.

Brad Smith, senior vice president of Intuit's Small Business Division, said that, depending on the success of the cross-selling foray, Intuit would consider incorporating the Google services in a later edition of its Quicken product line, which has a base of some 2.5 million users.

Intuit cited a number of studies in its decision to target the online marketplace as the place where clients can reach new customers, and Smith said that even for businesses that don't sell products on the Internet, Web research and online referral is still a key advertising vehicle for service-based clients.

Among the Google services available in QB 2007 are:

* Google AdWords: After paying $5 to establish an account, businesses will receive $50 in Google AdWords credits, which allow users to purchase keyword search terms that deliver an ad to Web browsers seeking information about a particular product or service. This feature allows businesses control over their ad budgets, stopping or pausing a campaign at any time, as well as monitoring their spending or changing their advertising message.

* Google Maps: QuickBooks businesses, more than half of which do not have their own Web site, can create a free online business listing. The feature allows customers to find a business, see a satellite image of it and get driving directions, as well as allowing small businesses to provide information such as their hours of operation, payment forms accepted and printable coupons. The listing can be updated at any time.

* Google Desktop: Google's search engine will be imbedded directly into the QuickBooks program, allowing users to search for customer, vendor or financial information anywhere within the program or on their hard drive. A variety of user permissions can be set, restricting some users from having access to QuickBooks data.

In conjunction with the Google announcement, Intuit also announced that it had acquired a partner from its developer network, San Francisco-based StepUp Commerce Inc. The tech company helps local businesses convert online shoppers into in-store customers by displaying products on the Internet. Intuit paid about $60 million for StepUp and its subsidiary, JGSI Corp. The company's founder, Kendall Fargo, is now a general manager at Intuit and will report to Smith.

StepUp's technology will power the beta version of QuickBooks' Product Listing Service. Product-based businesses can let online shoppers know they carry a specific product by using the service to make their merchandise searchable on Google through Google Base. The feature enables users to automatically transfer inventory information to Google Base and, in theory, attract local buyers to their shops.

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