After years of improvements, modifications and tweaks, there doesn't seem to be much about QuickBooks that needs improvement. But every year, like clockwork, Intuit releases a "latest and greatest" version, and this year is no different.
While QuickBooks 2006 lacks ground-breaking new capabilities, the designers have successfully reworked the interface so that it's faster and easier to use and allows you to work more efficiently with clients, vendors and employees. And there's a powerful new inventory management feature in the Manufacturing and Wholesale version. For the first time in years, there's an update with lots to like.
More Than Skin Deep
QuickBooks customers will immediately notice the modified home page that was designed to efficiently present the program's functions and provide access to almost any task within two-clicks of the mouse. In this regard, the revamped interface succeeds and indeed offers an intuitive and effective layout.
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The home page retains the flowcharts of prior versions, but instead of treating the accounting tasks customers, vendors, employees, inventory and banking as separate functions, it integrates them into a single screen. And the flowcharts extend across the accounting functions to provide a concise overview. The new home page may look sparse when compared to its more colorful predecessors, but it works well.
The answers that you provide during the program's setup form the basis of the home page structure, which you can reconfigure to reflect business changes down the road. For example, if your business begins to carry inventory, you can alter the main page to provide access to inventory features.
Customers, Vendors and Employees
A key improvement comes in what Intuit calls centers, various areas that let you effectively work with customers, vendors and employees. Centers, which are actually well designed, multi-paned pages, let you quickly sort customers, companies or employees and click on them to instantly view information and relevant history. You could obtain this information in previous versions if you knew where to look, but the slick new interface quickly finds what you need.
Within the Customer Center, you can click on a client and immediately view estimates, invoices and payments, transaction histories and billing terms in a single window. The screen makes excellent use of filters too. For example, it lets you list customers with open balances and select them from drop-down lists. And you can also filter transactions the same way.
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With the Vendor Center, you can view and sort contact information as well as past activities, bills and checks. And in much the same way, the Employee Center lets you view employees, as well as contact and paycheck information.
The Sales Order Fulfillment feature displays pending orders and lets you make "ship-to" decisions based on projected revenues and customer priorities. For example, you can set the order priority based on criteria such as the largest revenue potential or earliest promised delivery. A new, always-on audit trail tracks changes and errors and pinpoints fraudulent transactions.
The most powerful new feature is the "Available-to-Promise" tool in Enterprise and the Premier Manufacturing and Wholesale and Accountant versions. This feature reports the amount of inventory that's on hand, where it's committed, when it's needed and what's in each order. The tool makes it possible to commit to product delivery dates or reassign inventory that's tagged for later deliveries or for less crucial customers. This welcome new feature is a time saver.
Another key feature, the Accounting version now provides a toggle that instantly switches the interface between any current version of QuickBooks. This way, an accountant can view the exact version of QuickBooks that his or her clients use and offer advice and instructions.
The Office Factor
Since Microsoft entered the accounting fray this year with Sm all Business Accounting, Intuit is, no surprise, emphasizing QuickBook's ability to integrate data with Microsoft Office applications. While nothing has changed from the prior version, QuickBooks easily imports and exports data between Microsoft Word and Excel and does an admirable job of mapping and coordinating fields.
You can synchronize QuickBooks contact information with Microsoft Outlook by using QuickBooks Contact Sync for Outlook, a free, downloadable utility. When contact information in Outlook changes, it's easy to synchronize them into QuickBooks. On the other hand, the features here don't let you track documents and e-mail, related tasks or status and history the way that SBA does.
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Intuit streamlined the software setup and says that customers can get up and running within 15-minutes, which will probably be true for most people. The setup has been reduced to three basic steps:
- Providing company information
- Selecting how you're company is organized (sole proprietor, partnership, incorporated, etc.)
- Choosing billing options (charging sales tax and more)
A QuickBooks for Every Small Business
Intuit offers a QuickBooks version for almost any small businesses, from the fresh start-up to the seasoned player with up to 20 employees.
At the beginning level, the Simple Start Edition, now in its second year, offers features to track sales and manage customers as well as print checks, pay bills and track expenses. The Simple Start Edition lacks the new features for 2006 that include the Customer Center, Vendor Center and Employee Center and offers a less sophisticated form tool and fewer reports.
QuickBooks Pro 2006 brings networking capabilities to the mix and supports up to five employees, and it tracks unpaid bills, manages payroll, maintains employee time and creates budgets from past data. Pro also adds the ability to work with Microsoft Excel and Word, sync contact data with Outlook and track inventory.
The Premier Edition includes all of the features found in Pro and adds abilities to build and track inventory assemblies, create custom pricing levels, remotely access QuickBooks data, track job costs, create and customize business plans, create sales and expense forecasts and assess company performance trends. There's something to be said about size. QuickBooks is the most popular accounting product, and there are more than 400 custom solutions for it.
With version 2006, QuickBooks lives up Intuit's claim of straightforward simplicity. If you're a current QuickBooks customer, you'll want to consider an upgrade. Unfortunately, Intuit isn't offering a price break on upgrades you'll have to pay full MSRP.
- QuickBooks Simple Start Edition 2006: $99.95
- QuickBooks: Pro Edition 2006: $199.95; $699.95 for the five-user pack
- QuickBooks: Premier Edition 2006: $399.95; $1399.95 for the five-user pack
Wayne Kawamoto has written over 800 articles, columns and reviews about computers, new technologies, the Internet and small businesses. Wayne has also published three books about upgrading PCs, building office networks and effectively using and troubleshooting notebook computers. You can contact him through his Web site at www.waynewrite.com.
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