QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: How They Compare in 2017

Stacy Kildal

Stacy Kildal

Contributor at Fundera
Stacy Kildal is owner/operator of Kildal Services LLC—an accounting and technology consulting company that specializes in all things QuickBooks. In 2012 & 2013, Stacy was named one of CPA Practice Advisor’s Most Powerful Women In Accounting. Stacy is one of the three hosts for the QB Show and has also been featured frequently on Intuit’s Accountant Blog, Community "Ask the Expert" forums, at various Intuit Academy To Go podcasts, as well as hosting a number of Intuit Small Business Online Town Hall sessions. She is a big fan of working mobile and has been recognized by Intuit as being an expert on QuickBooks Online, having written Intuit’s original courses for the US, Singapore and Canadian versions.
Stacy Kildal

Psst… If you want to get straight to the meat, my friend Woody Adams at Intuit has created an amazing comparison chart for us to see all the features in QuickBooks Online vs QuickBooks Desktop at once. Check it out here.

Although I have most of my clients on QuickBooks Online (seriously, all but one), I think it’s always important to revisit the conversation of the main differences of QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop.

For me, one of the biggest differences is that the one client I still have on QuickBooks Desktop is the one client I’m sure to visit every month. But hey, it forces me to put on pants and go out into the world and interact with other humans.

Today, there are more units of QuickBooks Desktop used by small businesses than QuickBooks Online. However, small businesses are flocking to the online version of accounting platform. Did you know that 80% of new QuickBooks users are choosing QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop?

You need to know the differences between QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop—whether you’re starting to use QuickBooks for the very first time or you’re a loyal Desktop user considering the change.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop in 2017

While Intuit is still supporting Desktop, they’re encouraging their users to embrace their online solutions. And, as you can see by the upcoming QuickBooks 2017 release, their focus is online.

For 2017, neither the Desktop Accountant Edition or Desktop Enterprise are receiving any specific features. All versions of Desktop (Pro, Premier, Accountant, and Enterprise) will receive the same features across the board—not a thing to help them maintain their separate identities. There will be no new versions of QuickBooks for Mac.  

These “newest” Desktop features are actually quite basic. They focus on some improvement to search and reporting—some of which QuickBooks Online Essentials and Plus have had for years (like the ability to send auto reports, for example).

Desktop is now taking pages from QuickBooks Online. Intuit is prioritizing QuickBooks Online over Desktop. So as a user—where should you turn?

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: The Facts

While I think it’s important to recognize how Intuit’s emphasis on QuickBooks Online will mean that product will get better faster, leaving QuickBooks Desktop behind, you still have to ask yourself whether or not QuickBooks Online is the right product for you now.

To do this, let’s look at the facts. Where do the products differ? Where do they excel? Let’s find out:

QuickBooks Desktop Advantages

If I were to generalize where I think QuickBooks Desktop still holds a major advantage, I’d say managing large amounts of inventory and job costing. But I think it’s important to list out the differing features specifically.

QuickBooks Desktop still offers the following feature sets that QuickBooks Online does not. If you can’t live without any of the below, than QuickBooks Desktop is most likely best for you. Keep in mind that some of the features below are only supported in QuickBooks Premier and Enterprise, and not QuickBooks Pro.

Data Entry:

  • Price Levels
  • Create Invoices in Batch
  • Billing Rate Levels
  • Batch Enter Transactions
  • Batch Enter Timesheets
  • Pay Vendors Online (ACH)

Job Costing:

  • Progress Invoicing/Billing
  • Job Costing Module and Reports (Estimate vs. Actual reporting)  
  • Mileage Tracking  
  • Payroll job Costing/Labor Burden Costing
  • Change Orders on Estimates
  • Markup Column on Estimates

Reporting:

  • Multiple Vendor Ship to Addresses
  • Industry Specific Reporting  
  • Business Planner, Forecasting, Balance Sheet by Class
  • Better Report Header and Footer Customization

Inventory:

  • Average Cost Inventory Valuation Method
  • Set and Maintain Inventory Reorder Points
  • Receiving Partially Against Purchase Order
  • Sales Orders
  • Availability to Promise
  • Build Assembles or Manufacturing Features
  • Unit of Measure

Accounting:

  • Backup and Restore Feature
  • Condense File
  • Period Copy
  • Client Data Review tools
    • Fix Unapplied Payments and Credits
    • Clean-up Un-deposited Funds
    • Fix Sales Tax
  • QuickBooks Statement Writer
  • No 1099 Feature for Simple Start and Essentials Client
  • Cannot Post to Additional AR/AP Accounts

QuickBooks Online Advantages

Below are the features supported by QuickBooks Online that you can’t find in any version of QuickBooks Desktop:

  • Automatically schedule and send transactions
  • Attach documents, images, signatures & more to transactions using mobile device, or upload on your computer
  • Use Audit Log to review actions and track changes over time
  • Track by Location in addition to (or instead of!) by Class and choose from multiple location labels
  • Relabel your customers if you call them something else! (7 options to choose from)
  • Bank Transactions download automatically each night. You can also “Undo” (and in batch) an added, matched, or excluded transaction within the banking tool
  • Custom Banking Rules can be made to split by $ or % and you can assign class/location within a rule
  • Bank rules can be set to Auto-add to register
  • Unlimited time tracking and reports only users
  • Delayed Charges and Delayed Credits to create non-posting transactions that you can bill for or apply later
  • Journal Entries can have multiple AR/AP lines
  • Set up multiple budgets per fiscal year
  • Use Management Reports to build a presentation ready package of reports from cover page to end-note
  • Seamless integration with 3rd party apps

Now, on that last point…

There are obviously some gaps between QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop. As QuickBooks Desktop has been around longer, it’s more powerful. But there are many, many 3rd party apps that  can help you fill those gaps. I strongly believe there’s an app answer to any small business owner who thinks QuickBooks Desktop works for them when QuickBooks Online doesn’t.

Of course, you may not want to pay for 3rd party apps, and that’s something you have to evaluate when comparing the two.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: How Do You Decide?

I think the easiest way to make the decision between QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop is to first look at the features that QuickBooks Desktop has that QuickBooks Online doesn’t, and ask yourself:

Is there anything I can’t live without?

If you find something that you absolutely need in QuickBooks Desktop, see if there’s a 3rd party app that can do that for you with QuickBooks Online. But if there is no app, or you feel you’d pay too much to add apps and fill the gaps in QuickBooks Online, then QuickBooks Desktop might be for you.

Just remember: Intuit is notably investing more in their online products than their desktop products. Their online products will only get better and better. Not to mention, an online software is better in so many ways, whether for your own communication with your bookkeeper or accountant, your internal communication, or even saving money on file transfers or hosting.

Again, I know this isn’t always an easy question to answer (even if for me, it is!). Always consult with your bookkeeper or accountant before deciding, and if you’re not ready to make the change to QuickBooks Online now, prepare yourself that you’ll most likely have to make that change at some point in your business’s future.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Stacy Kildal

Stacy Kildal

Contributor at Fundera
Stacy Kildal is owner/operator of Kildal Services LLC—an accounting and technology consulting company that specializes in all things QuickBooks. In 2012 & 2013, Stacy was named one of CPA Practice Advisor’s Most Powerful Women In Accounting. Stacy is one of the three hosts for the QB Show and has also been featured frequently on Intuit’s Accountant Blog, Community "Ask the Expert" forums, at various Intuit Academy To Go podcasts, as well as hosting a number of Intuit Small Business Online Town Hall sessions. She is a big fan of working mobile and has been recognized by Intuit as being an expert on QuickBooks Online, having written Intuit’s original courses for the US, Singapore and Canadian versions.
Stacy Kildal

3 Comments

Most Recent

  • Robert English

    Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

    Quickbooks desktop is not available for Linux OS's, so Linux users have to use the online version, if they use it at all. Many smart people are moving to Linux because of Microsoft's "No Privacy whatsoever policy" and their new "AbUser agreement", and their soon to roll out "pay per use" payment method, or have your Microsoft and partner softwares disabled remotely until payment is made. Many are also switching to MAC, and it too is becoming more popular even at the high cost of ownership. Finally: cyber threats are increasing in numbers and frequency and Windows computers are way too easy to hack into compared to Linux, and hackers prefer using Linux, because it is way more secure, and you need to be more computer savvy to use it and more intelligent too, so Windows users make for better and bigger targets! So if you are using any incarnation of Quickbooks, you are more likely putting your business at risk, and don't forget: They don't hack you because they don't like you... but because they can.

  • Mark Russell

    Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

    I wouldn't even consider using an online accounting program. I think it's the height of stupidity.

  • Angelina DeLago

    Monday, November 14th, 2016

    Great piece Stacie! This is constantly in question and you laid out the advantages of each option to consider. Nice work!

Our Picks

Ready to Grow Your Business?