For vendors targeting the small business market, there's a steady stream of new companies forming each year -- which serves to replace the steady stream of small businesses that, unfortunately, fail each year.
There are few absolutes in life, but one is that QuickBooks has a firm grasp on the small business accounting market. For Microsoft, fledgling businesses create a ripe opportunity to gain some market share for its Office Accounting software. While Microsoft dropped the phrase "small business" from the product name last fall, the product is aimed at companies with fewer than 25 employees especially new small businesses.
In the third release of its small business accounting offering, Microsoft today announced Microsoft Office Accounting 2008. In addition to a modest repertoire of new features, Office Accounting 2008 now includes a bilingual Spanish-English version for the U.S.-based Hispanic market as well as a new product for the United Kingdom.
Accounting for Nothing, Software for Free
If you're just getting your business off the ground, you may be particularly interested that in addition to the $199.95 Office Accounting Professional (up from $144.99 from the previous version), Microsoft continues to offer Office Accounting Express for free. The free version is particularly well-suited for home-based businesses and "early-life LLCs," according to Rajat Taneja, general manager for small business at Microsoft.
Microsoft began offering the version last October, and to date Microsoft has recorded to two millions downloads. Taneja declined to say how many of the two million Basic customers have converted to Professional, but did say it's a "nice conversion rate." However, he stressed that Office Accounting Express is a full-function version.
Taneja said that feedback from the small businesses that downloaded Office Accounting 2007 was a significant factor in developing the new features in the 2008 version, which include the following:
- The Resource Center is designed to bring together educational resources in one location. According to Microsoft, you can read articles on a broad range of topics, participate in online product trainings and even find a local CPA.
- Office Accounting 2008 is also designed to make it easier to set up a company. Microsoft claims that by using templates, you can customize Office Accounting to your industry and get started in three steps.
- You can also now create budgets and track how they compare with actual results for better control over your finances.
- The universal transaction import feature is designed to let you import financial data including transactions into Office Accounting from virtually any accounting package or line-of-business software via Excel or comma-separated value (CSV) files.
- Office Accounting 2008 is designed to make it easier to convert sales orders to purchase orders. You can also, according to Microsoft, send bulk invoices in Word or PDF formats with just a few clicks. The new version also supports more financial institutions than before.
The bilingual Spanish-English versions of Office Accounting Express and Professional 2008 represent something unique in the small business accounting market, Taneja said. The Spanish Language Edition will have the same features and functionalities of the English versions, but will allow Hispanic small businesses the capability to manage their finances and communicate with customers and accountants in both languages. "They can toggle between English and Spanish," Taneja said.
"We know that the U.S. small-business market is very diverse, and we want to make sure that Office Accounting 2008 meets the needs of all small businesses in the U.S.," Taneja said. Microsoft cites U.S. Census Bureau data from 2005 that reports that there are nearly two million Hispanic small businesses in the country.
Taneja said that Office Accounting is also debuting internationally in the United Kingdom. That version adheres to the U.K. accounting rules, adding that it is HMRC-certified. "The HMRC is like the IRS in the U.S." The U.K. version also features multicurrency support.
But Can It Challenge QuickBooks?
Why would a small business owner switch from QuickBooks to Microsoft Office Accounting 2008? Not many will. However, newly formed businesses might jump on board. "We help small business take advantage of software and the power of the Internet," Taneja said, referring to the accounting software's tight integration with online services from ADP, eBay, PayPal and others.
And, as you'd expect, no one can integrate with Office and Outlook better than Microsoft.
Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, said he believes that Microsoft has an opportunity to tap into new businesses that start each year. "QuickBooks is entrenched and generally well-liked," he said. "The Initial target [for Microsoft Office Accounting] is businesses that aren't yet tied to QuickBooks."
"The online capabilities for Office Accounting and the connections to e-commerce, business metrics and integration with Office have all stood out as differentiators," Enderle said. "For someone not wedded to QuickBooks, this appears to be a much more complete solution, particularly if they are active on the Web."
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