What’s The Difference Between QuickBooks Online & Desktop?
|QuickBooks Online||QuickBooks Desktop|
|Ease of Use||Good||Poor|
|Reviews & Complaints||Fair||Good|
|Best For||Small to large businesses looking for easy accounting software with strong features and mobility||Small to large businesses with complex accounting needs that want locally-installed software|
When the same company offers two good accounting software products, how can you choose between them? That’s the question when it comes to QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop.
In this post, we’re exploring the differences between QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop. We will compare each product’s features, pricing, user experience, customer support, reputation, and more so that you can confidently choose which software is better for your business.
Table of Contents
QuickBooks Online VS Desktop
When you compare Intuit’s two most popular products, QuickBooks Online vs Desktop, both have strong accounting features, but there is a key difference — QuickBooks Online is cloud-based software with monthly pricing and QuickBooks Desktop is locally-installed with a license pricing model.
And that’s not the only difference between these two products. But before we dive into the nitty-gritty comparisons, let’s give a quick overview of both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop.
QuickBooks Online: Overview
QuickBooks Online, or QBO, is Intuit’s cloud-based accounting product. QBO was launched in 2004, and while the software was initially far less developed than the reigning QuickBooks Desktop, Intuit has made serious strides with this product and is constantly adding new features and small business services to improve their software.
QuickBooks Online is designed specifically for small businesses; however, the new QuickBooks Online Advanced plan makes the software scalable for larger businesses as well. The software offers a robust feature set, strong accounting, online payroll, attractive invoices, 650+ integrations, and a unique lending feature.
QBO is also significantly easier to learn and use than QuickBooks Desktop. Since the software is cloud-based, QBO works anywhere you have an internet connection, and there are mobile apps to help you manage your business on the go.
- Easy to use
- Monthly pricing
- Strong features
- Built-in lending
- 650+ integrations
- Customer support
- More expensive than other SMB products
- Fewer features than Desktop
- No sales orders
QuickBooks Desktop: Overview
QuickBooks Desktop is the prehistoric dinosaur of accounting software, launched way back in 1992. But this dinosaur is far from extinct (despite Intuit’s efforts to force users to switch to QuickBooks Online).
QuickBooks Desktop made Intuit what it is today, and it is still one of the primary software choices of accountants worldwide.
QuickBooks Desktop most often refers to QuickBooks Desktop Pro, although there are actually three different QuickBooks Desktop products: QuickBooks Desktop Pro, QuickBooks Desktop Premier, and QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise.
The main difference between the three is that Pro is designed for small businesses, Premier for medium business, and Enterprise for large businesses. As such, each plan progresses in terms of available users and features.
Each desktop version of QuickBooks offers incredible accounting tools and extensive features, including expense tracking, budgeting, and job costing, 200 integrations, and positive customer reviews. It’s worth noting that QuickBooks Desktop is only available on Windows operating systems. Mac users will need to look at QuickBooks for Mac for a locally-installed Mac-based QuickBooks option.
- Strong features
- Traditional accounting
- Potentially more secure
- 200+ integrations
- Customer support
- No remote access or mobile apps
- Expensive license structure
- Fewer automations than QBO
Compare QuickBooks Online VS QuickBooks Desktop Pro
Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and see how QuickBooks Online compares to QuickBooks Desktop.
Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop offer a large number of features. While they share many of the same features, QuickBooks Desktop’s features are often more developed, except when it comes to invoicing. Even though QB Desktop has more comprehensive features in general, there are some key features that only QuickBooks Online has, including lending, international invoicing, and mobile apps. So, it really comes down to which features your business values most.
Here’s a breakdown of how each program’s specific features compare.
QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop operate on true double-entry accounting principles and have both accrual and cash-basis accounting. Each offers a detailed chart of accounts, journal entries, bank reconciliation, accounts payable, accounts receivable, and the basic reports needed to run a company. However, QuickBooks Desktop offers better reporting and supports more complex accounting.
One of the biggest differences here is that QuickBooks Online now offers a bookkeeping service called QuickBooks Live Bookkeeping where you can pay for professional support from certified QBO accountants and CPAs. For small business owners new to the accounting scene, this new service may be a much-needed peace of mind when it comes to managing your books and filing small business taxes.
When it comes to invoicing, QuickBooks Online blows QuickBooks Desktop out of the water. QuickBooks Online makes it easy to create beautiful, customer invoices. The designs are clean and modern, making it easy for customers to understand their invoices. Here’s an example of what a QBO invoice looks like:
QuickBooks Desktop’s invoices are cluttered, outdated, and much harder to customize. Here’s what an invoice made with QuickBooks Desktop looks like:
In addition to having better invoice template designs, QuickBooks Online also has better automations:
- Recurring invoices
- Batch invoicing & progress invoicing
- Sending invoice reminder to late-paying customers
- The ability to auto-schedule invoices
- A client portal where customer can make online payments
- Invoice tracking so you can see easily if a client has received, viewed, or paid their invoice
- Having your invoices translated into six different languages for international customers
With QuickBooks Desktop you can set recurring invoices and track invoices, but you’ll miss out on many of the other modern, cloud-based automations that QBO provides.
While QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop offer contact management, only QuickBooks Desktop allows you to manage and track leads as well as contacts.
QuickBooks Online offers up to 80 reports depending on the plan you choose, whereas QuickBooks Desktop Pro has 130 reports. QuickBooks Desktop Premier and Quickbooks Desktop Enterprise have even more reports (especially if you opt for the industry-specific versions of these programs). Both include the basic reports you’d expect to find with accounting software like a balance sheet, profit and loss report, cash flow statement, etc.
Neither QuickBooks Online nor QuickBooks Desktop Pro offers built-in payroll. With QuickBooks Online, you can add QuickBooks Online Payroll starting at $45/month. Read our full Intuit Online Payroll Review for more information. If you go with QuickBooks Desktop Pro, you can purchase a payroll add-on starting at $29/month.
However, if you choose to purchase QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise, that software will come with built-in Enhanced Payroll.
QuickBooks has recently added a new lending service called QuickBooks Capital. This service offers financing for small business owners in need of working capital to better manage their cash flow. QuickBooks Capital is only available to QuickBooks Online users.
If your business needs sales orders, QuickBooks Desktop is your only option. Although Intuit has talked about adding sales orders to QuickBooks Online, this feature is only available with the desktop products at this time.
One unique aspect of QuickBooks Desktop Premier and QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise is that you can opt for any industry-specific version of the software instead of the standard version. These industries include:
- General contractor
- Manufacturing & wholesale
- Professional services
These versions give business owners more features and reports geared toward their industry. You can learn more in our post on The 6 Industry-Specific Editions of QuickBooks Desktop.
As QuickBooks Pro doesn’t offer mobile apps (being locally-installed software and all), QBO takes the cake here with its iOS and Android apps.
QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Pro have two very different pricing structures.
QuickBooks Online has a monthly SaaS pricing structure. There are four pricing plans available ranging from $25-$150/month (with an additional $45/mo+ for payroll).
QuickBooks Desktop has a licensing pricing model and yearly subscription pricing model. The prices for QuickBooks Desktop vary depending on which version of the software you opt for.
QuickBooks Pro is geared toward small to medium businesses and costs $299.95 for a single user. QuickBooks Premier is geared toward medium and niche industry businesses and costs $499.95 for a single user. QuickBooks Enterprise is designed for large businesses or small enterprises and starts at $1,213/year.
However, the kicker is that if you buy QuickBooks Pro or Premier license you should be able to get three years out of your license. (You can opt for a yearly subscription model for both QuickBooks Pro and Premier instead which will give you access to the latest QB product and premium support).
It’s hard to say which software is cheaper because there are so many variables.
- When QuickBooks Desktop Pricing Is Better: If you are going to use QuickBooks Pro for three years and don’t have any additional users, this option will save you some serious money. However, the extra costs of QuickBooks Desktop add up quickly.
- When QuickBooks Online Pricing Is Better: If you have multiple users, use live bank feeds, and want phone support, QuickBooks Online will probably be a better bet. The monthly pricing structure also works better for small businesses that don’t have the cash flow for expensive licensing or yearly subscriptions.
We recommend crunching the numbers to decide whether the online version or the desktop version of QuickBooks is right for your specific business.
Ease Of Use
The online version of QuickBooks is much easier to use than the desktop version.
One of the most common complaints about QuickBooks Desktop is its steep learning curve. Accountants often find QuickBooks Pro and Premier to be more traditional easier to use, but you don’t have to be an accountant or professional bookkeeper to learn QuickBooks Online. Granted, you don’t have to be an accountant to learn QuickBooks Desktop either, but if you are new to accounting, you will need a lot of time to learn the program.
Customer Service & Support
Okay, let’s be honest. Customer service has never been Intuit’s strong suit. Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Pro and Premier have notoriously poor customer support (QuickBooks Enterprise support has better priority support). The company has worked on updating its help centers to be more user-friendly, but wait times are still long, and there’s no email support at all.
QuickBooks Online’s customer service is slightly better in that you at least don’t have to pay extra for support, but Intuit’s products could still be improved where customer service is concerned.
Reviews & Complaints
Both programs have their share of positive and negative reviews, although, in comparison, QuickBooks Online has received more complaints. Some of the most common criticisms are about:
- Limited mobile apps
- Slow run time
- Poor customer support
Many users also complain that QuickBooks Online doesn’t compare to QuickBooks Pro in terms of features and quality.
QuickBooks Pro also has its share of complaints about its:
- Steep learning curve
- Forced upgrades
- Poor customer service
However, most users still view Quickbooks Desktop favorably, and the product receives high marks on most customer review sites. And despite the complaints about QBO, QuickBooks Online still receives high ratings across common customer reviews sites and has many happy users. QuickBooks Online is praised for its mobility, ease of use, feature selection, time-saving automations, and integrations, while QuickBooks Pro is praised for its strong accounting, ample features, reliability, and reporting.
Overall, QuickBooks Pro reviews are more favorable, but both user bases have good and bad things to say about each product.
Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Pro offer a good number of helpful integrations and add-on products. However, QuickBooks Online offers over 650 integrations to QuickBooks Pro’s 200 integrations.
In addition to having more integrations, QuickBooks Online also has better integrations. QBO’s integrations cover more business needs and include multiple payment gateway options, whereas QuickBooks Desktop offers hardly any payment gateways, making it difficult for the modern merchant to easily accept online invoice payments.
The Key Differences Between QuickBooks Online & QuickBooks Desktop
We’ve analyzed the main components of each software — features, pricing, ease of use, customer support, reviews and complaints, and integrations. Now let’s break this down into the key differences between QuickBooks Online and Desktop that every small business owner should consider.
Here are the eight main differences between QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online:
- Cloud-Based VS Locally-Installed: The biggest difference between these two QuickBooks products is that QuickBooks Online is cloud-based and runs using the Internet, while QuickBooks Desktop is downloaded and installed on a computer. This means that QuickBooks Desktop doesn’t require the Internet to work, but it also means that you can’t access the software remotely (unless you pay extra for hosting) or on mobile apps.
- Security: Because QuickBooks Online is cloud-based, the security is taken care of for you by Intuit. On the other hand, QuickBooks Desktop is locally-installed, so while this program has the potential to be more secure, you are responsible for taking those security measures yourself.
- Pricing Structure: Another key difference is that QuickBooks Online has a monthly SaaS pricing structure, whereas QuickBooks Desktop has a licensing structure. You can buy a license for QuickBooks Desktop that will be good for three years, or you can pay for yearly updates, but there are no monthly payment options.
- Number Of Users Allowed: QuickBooks Online allows up to 25 users depending on your pricing plan and you can have an unlimited number of time-tracking only users. Additional user licenses for QuickBooks Desktop Pro cost $299 each, which is a bit steep, and the software caps out at three users max. QuickBooks Desktop Premier caps out at five users, and QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise caps out at 30 users (both require even steeper costs for additional users). All of these QuickBooks products offer strong user permissions.
- Feature Depth: While QuickBooks Online and Desktop have many of the same features, QuickBooks Desktop’s features are usually more developed.
- Available Automations: QuickBooks Online has far more automations than QuickBooks Desktop, which allows business owners to manage their books more efficiently and quickly — and because QBO is cloud-based all of your information (like bank or credit card data) is synced in real-time.
- Learning Curve: Because of its feature set and focus on traditional accounting, QuickBooks Desktop has a much steeper learning curve than QBO (and the UI isn’t as modern or simple to navigate).
- Access To Capital: Another big difference between QuickBooks Online and Desktop is that only online users have access to QuickBooks Capital.
Which Is Best For My Accounting Needs?
If you’re looking for accounting software for your business, which software should you go with QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Desktop?
Choose QuickBooks Online If…
- You want software that is easy to use and learn
- You want to be able to access your accounting remotely or on the go with mobile apps
- You want time-saving automations and real-time sync with your bank and other business integrations
- You need payment processing integrations so that your customers can pay invoices directly online
- You need international invoicing
- You want access to QuickBooks Capital lending
Chose QuickBooks Desktop If…
- You are looking for locally-installed software accounting software
- You need the industry-specific features of QuickBooks Desktop Premier or QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise
- You need sales orders
- You have very complex accounting
QuickBooks Desktop Pro
Comparing QuickBooks Online & Desktop: The Final Verdict
Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop are capable programs with strong accounting features. Each software has its highs and lows.
With QuickBooks Online, users receive many of the same great features while gaining the mobility of cloud-based software. QuickBooks Online is easier to use and has more automations, more integrations, better invoicing, and a unique built-in lending feature. The downsides are the lack of sales orders, lead management, and other complexities that loyal Desktop users may miss (like customizable letter templates, a built-in calendar, and even spell-check).
With QuickBooks Desktop, users receive some of the most developed accounting tools on the market. The software offers comprehensive features, unique touches like lead management and sales orders, industry-specific versions of the software, and has the potential to be more secure. The downsides are that QuickBooks Desktop lacks the mobility of QBO, has few automations, doesn’t offer lending or payment gateway integrations, and has a steep learning curve (although the software is well-organized and gets easier to navigate with time).
Ultimately, the real deciding factor is going to be your specific business size, type, and needs. Whichever you choose, our comprehensive reviews can help you make an informed decision during your hunt for the perfect accounting software. Read our full QuickBooks Online Review and QuickBooks Pro Review for more details about each software.
QuickBooks Online & Desktop FAQs
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