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There was a time in the not-so-distant past when there was one program you could count on help run the financial aspects of your small- to mid-sized business correctly—Intuit’s QuickBooks. Now, when it comes to robust business accounting packages, Mac users have choices. QuickBooks Pro 2005 and MYOB’s AccountEdge 2005 are the big players now, and both are poised to win the hearts and minds of business owners. Whether you’re a sole proprietor or you employ dozens of people, QuickBooks remains the easiest program to master and use, but MYOB AccountEdge offers more features and tools for expanding your business.

Take It All Into Account

Not surprisingly, the two programs excel in entirely different areas. QuickBooks is the better choice for accounting-a-phobes who are comfortable with a checkbook-like interface and whose accounting needs consist of basic invoicing, accounts payable, inventory management, time billing, and account reconciliation. Once you set up your initial account information, you’ll be using QuickBooks at maximum proficiency without once having to grab the manual.

MYOB AccountEdge handles the same basic functions that QuickBooks does, and adds the ability to process credit-card transactions from within the application, directly deposit payroll into employees’ bank accounts, and pay vendors electronically. AccountEdge data files also can be shared over a network and accessed by more than one individual at a time, making it the better choice for larger business with more-diverse accounting needs. But these additional features come at a price: its advanced features translate to more time you need to spend up-front to learn the program. If you never expect to use AccountEdge’s more-complicated features, you may want to choose QuickBooks or consider MYOB’s FirstEdge, which is even more basic than QuickBooks and less expensive than QuickBooks and AccountEdge.

Small Change

Compared to last year’s releases of both of these programs, there are few major changes, with mostly minor tweaks or enhancements to existing features. This is forgivable for AccountEdge because MYOB has made significant changes to the application over the last several years, but the lack of any valuable changes in QuickBooks makes no sense at all.

As I’ve reviewed the last two versions of QuickBooks, I’ve made a couple of observations. First, QuickBooks remains quite similar to the version of the program that was shipping before Intuit dropped out of the Mac market several years ago (and subsequently returned). And second, QuickBooks for Mac’s features are pretty weak compared to QuickBooks for Windows. (As one small example, QuickBooks for Mac is still incapable of downloading bank statements or processing credit cards, features that have been available in QuickBooks for Windows for quite some time.) The program’s short list of changes leans toward the cosmetic. Menus are now arranged like the menus in the Windows version—which means there are now five more menu items from which you can access company, customer, vendor, employee, and banking information—and you can add background images to all your forms. The only truly valuable changes are relatively minor: QuickBooks now alerts you if customers you’re invoicing have outstanding billable items; you can now back up your data files directly to your .Mac account; and there is now more-complete compatibility with QuickBooks for Windows data files. Also, you can now add scheduled transactions to iCal, which is useful. If you already own a recent version of QuickBooks, there’s not much here that makes QuickBooks 2005 a compelling upgrade.

The changes to AccountEdge can’t be called major, but MYOB has significantly enhanced major features by making them easier to use. For example, previously, in order to use MYOB’s payroll service, you had to leave the program and use a Web site to process your payroll. You then had to download the payroll information to your computer and import it into AccountEdge. Now, all this is done from within the application, which makes it a much simpler process with fewer opportunities for error. Along the same lines, you can also process credit cards from within AccountEdge, and MYOB has also resolved a major issue with the network version of the application (which is $399 for three user licenses). In all earlier versions of the program, if you were sharing your data file with other users on a network, you chanced damaging your data if a user opened your company’s data file on the same computer that was sharing the file over the network. Although you were always warned of the potential for corruption, the fact that corruption was possible posed a major problem. This issue has been resolved in AccountEdge 2005, as long as you use the network version of the application, which means that your data is no longer at risk if you share your files across a network.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

When it comes to simplicity and a familiar interface, QuickBooks still has the advantage over MYOB AccountEdge. QuickBooks’ checkbook-like register makes it easy to master the program in a matter of minutes. But if you’re looking for an application that is packed with features, will grow as your business grows, can handle complex transactions, and that is continuously updated and enhanced to make managing your business finances easier, MYOB AccountEdge 2005 is clearly the better choice.

[ Jeffery Battersby is a freelance writer, small business owner, and longtime reviewer of Mac-based accounting software. ]

While QuickBooks 2005 remains largely unchanged from earlier versions, the program’s checkbook-like interface still makes it easy to learn and use.MYOB AccountEdge 2005 allows you to process credit cards and other electronic transactions from within the application.
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