Accounting software adds Web services

Small-business packages harness the power of Google and eBay to boost ebusiness

Intuit and Microsoft have each updated their small-business accounting packages to include integration with popular Web services from online giants Google and eBay, respectively. The new features aim to boost your company's sales--assuming your business relies on such services.

I tested a shipping copy of Intuit's QuickBooks Premier Edition 2007 (US$400) and a beta of Microsoft's Office Accounting 2007 (the final version will be available as a free trial by the time you read this; early next year it will cost $149). These 2007 versions largely succeed in making it easier to complete tasks, particularly with regard to customizing accounting forms, such as invoices.

Harnessing Google

While Intuit has long offered online financial services such as payroll, QuickBooks 2007 adds support for new marketing-related services from Google. You can easily list your business on Google Maps so that local buyers can find it, and you can advertise online to attract new customers using Google AdWords (a US$50 credit is included). Another new feature, the QuickBooks Product Listing Service (in beta when I tested it), makes finding your products easier for prospective customers who are searching on Google.

Microsoft's Office Accounting, the new name for the software that made its debut last year as Office Small Business Accounting, doesn't offer as many integrated online services as the more mature QuickBooks. However, Microsoft plays a decent game of catch-up by integrating its online service features; in contrast, QuickBooks often relies upon third-party add-ons, which make the package more complex. For example, Office Accounting now has handy features that let eBay power sellers create auction listings for items that they've entered into the software's inventory. (To use this feature, however, you must subscribe to Microsoft's Marketplace Services, which are free during the beta period; final pricing was unavailable at press time.) To achieve similar time-saving benefits with QuickBooks, you must use third-party online auction management services, such as those offered by Andale, which creates an extra data-integration step for a seller to contend with.

Office Accounting also features an add-on that lets you put a PayPal button on e-mail invoices, which a customer can click to pay the bill using the popular service. PayPal already offers a similar service for QuickBooks invoices.

Easy customization

Office Accounting uses the familiar interface of Microsoft Word to let you customize forms by changing layouts and labels, or add and track the results of new data fields. QuickBooks now consolidates the application's most used form-customization options on one screen, and a new preview capability lets you see what your form will look like before you print it.

QuickBooks 2007's new features--including an improved payroll "dashboard" that makes it easier to pay all employees at once--make it a worthwhile upgrade for current users. Aside from Office Accounting's rudimentary multiple-currency capability--useful for import/export firms--the Microsoft program has little to tempt existing QuickBooks users to switch.

However, if you're using a manual accounting system or an Excel spreadsheet and want to try a dedicated accounting package, Office Accounting may be worth a test drive. It looks slick, with an easy-to-navigate and informative company dashboard that includes a summary of the financial performance and a to-do list. The beta version operates a bit sluggishly, so you might want to wait for the shipping version, due late this year.

Microsoft Office Accounting 2007

One of this program's strengths remains its close ties into Microsoft's Office applications.

Price when reviewed: Free download during beta period; final pricing to be determined

Intuit QuickBooks Premier Edition 2007

Integration of marketing-related online services adds value to this venerable small-business accounting package.

Price when reviewed: US$400

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