QuickBooks eases automated accounting

If you run a small business and haven't automated your books and records because you fear it's too complicated, the just-announced QuickBooks: Simple Start Edition (US$100) from Intuit could be just right for you.

I reviewed a beta version of the Simple Start desktop software that's due in stores the first week of October; a year's subscription to an online-only version will also be available for the same price. The online version offers the added benefit of automatic data backup on Intuit's servers, but you'll pay about US$10 per month to continue the service after your year is up.

Setup is fast and intuitive, and with my business information at the ready, I completed the task in less than an hour (QuickBooks Basic takes at least twice as long). I liked Simple Start's user interface, which looks like an easy-to-understand flowchart. Even a nonaccountant can comprehend its basic concepts of "Money In" and "Money Out."

You can set up customers and create estimates and invoices. You can also create vendor accounts and track bill payments (but there's no online banking support -- you can't pay bills through the software or download bank transactions into the application). Simple Start also provides rudimentary financial reports so you can monitor the overall bottom-line results of your business.

Some limitations

Intuit clearly is targeting Simple Start at service-based companies; goods-based businesses will likely find the application's limitations frustrating. For example, you cannot keep track of products available for sale in inventory.

Larger-size small businesses will chafe at the one-at-a-time user restriction and the lack of more sophisticated financial reporting. However, the software does make it easy to migrate your data to a more powerful edition of QuickBooks down the road (QuickBooks Basic sells for US$199).

Simple Start's closest competitor is Peachtree First Accounting, which sells for the same price and covers much of the same financial turf. The major difference: Peachtree includes basic inventory tracking, but it lacks Simple Start's estimating features.

Intuit's latest creation has many limitations, but if you're still keeping business records using pencil and paper -- or an Excel spreadsheet -- Simple Start could make your bookkeeping chores dramatically more palatable.

Intuit QuickBooks 2004: Simple Start Edition

4 out of 5 stars

Inexpensive and easy to use, it should satisfy many small businesses, but advanced users may find it too limiting.

US$100

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