Financial software maker Intuit plans to publicly debut its long-awaited QuickBooks 5 for Mac at Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco next month. The Mac development team recently gave MacCentral a look at the company’s short-term and long-range plans for the software.
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Announced in August, QuickBooks 5 for Mac is the first update to the Mac version of Intuit’s small business financial software in seven years. In1995 QuickBooks 4 for the Mac was released, and three years later — in 1998 — Intuit told Mac users that QuickBooks 4 would be the last version for their platform.
Mac market is fertile ground for new business
Why the turnaround? Intuit’s Macintosh Products business leader Cary Rosenzweig points to clear opportunities in the Mac market. Apple estimates that there are 25 million active Mac users worldwide, and said that up to 5 million Mac users may be using Mac OS X by years’ end.
What’s more, Intuit has sold more than a quarter million copies of QuickBooks for Mac over the years, and Intuit’s own market research shows that there’s a lot of pent-up demand for a new version of QuickBooks. More than 12,000 users have asked the company to be contacted about QuickBooks for Mac since its August announcement.
Rosenzweig said that Intuit’s research suggests that QuickBooks may be a contributing factor for Mac OS X adoption by small business owners as well — a recent poll the company conducted showed that more than half of Mac QuickBooks users polled said they’d be interested in upgrading to Mac OS X if a native version of QuickBooks was available.
Mac users have had a rocky relationship with Intuit over the years — after QuickBooks’ Mac demise, it looked like Quicken for Mac might be on the way out too. But since then, Intuit has released a Mac OS X-native version of Quicken and has boldly proclaimed its support for Apple and Mac OS X. Rosenzweig encourages Mac users who may be holding a grudge against Intuit for past mistakes to put aside their emotions.
“Judge us on our current products,” Rosenzweig told MacCentral. “Today’s staff wasn’t here seven years ago. We’re a totally dedicated business unit that didn’t exist before.”
In some ways, Intuit has taken a page from Microsoft’s playbook — the company has created a dedicated Macintosh Products business unit to handle Macintosh-related development of its products.
A look inside QuickBooks 5 for Mac
Intuit plans in January to introduce QuickBooks Pro 5.0 for Macintosh — the equivalent to the same product available for Windows. Although the new software will work on Mac OS 9, Intuit product manager Adam Samuels made it clear that Mac OS X-native operation was a driving force in developing the new version.
QuickBooks 5 is not limited to just a Mac OS X-native makeover, although it’ll support Mac OS X’s Aqua interface and other embellishments OS X users have grown accustomed to. It also features dramatically improved forms customization abilities, better report content generation, a new Report Finder feature, the ability to save files as PDFs and more.
“We spent a great deal of time redefining elements to make QuickBooks more Mac-like,” said Samuels. Users familiar with Quicken will be at home, thanks to the familiar check register and toolbar elements.
“Our philosophy in developing QuickBooks 5 for Mac was to expose features already in the product,” said Samuels.
It’s a cue taken from Quicken, where “discoverability” of features is an important philosophy. To that end, for example, it’s now easier for QuickBooks users to customize invoice formats with fonts, logos, header, footer, field and column setups of their own choosing.
Report filtering has also been dramatically improved from previous versions. In fact, Jaguar users should be right at home with QuickBooks 5.0’s new report filtering capabilities, as they’re very reminiscent of Jaguar’s own Find feature.
“We learned from Mac OS X 10.2,” said Samuels.
What’s more, this feature has been implemented very similarly when running under Mac OS 9.
A new Report Finder will be a welcome addition to small business owners who want to view financial information about their company quickly and easily. A list of selectable reports appears with a graphical preview showing you what the final report will look like. A tip dialog also appears which describes the report succinctly. You can specify a date range for the report and print or display it, as well as customize it.
“Many of the small business owners and users who depend on QuickBooks aren’t trained accountants,” explained Rosenzweig. “In fact, they’re using QuickBooks in some cases instead of accountants.”
As a result, features like the Report Finder help to expose the capabilities in the software that help to provide users with useful information without overwhelming them in technical details. It’s another example of “discoverability.”
Also new in QuickBooks 5 for Mac — when running on Mac OS X — is the ability to save documents as PDFs. This makes it easier to generate purchase orders, invoices or other materials that can then be easily e-mailed to clients and vendors. Samuels noted that this feature was particularly popular with Intuit’s test group.
One rough spot that’s still to be worked out is data migration from the PC version of QuickBooks to Mac — an issue that’s sure to be of importance to “Switchers.” Samuels explained to MacCentral that PC QuickBooks users won’t be able to immediately use their data with the Mac version. Intuit is putting a PC to Mac conversion service in place, however. Details remain to be finalized, but Intuit hopes to have that service working sometime in the first quarter of 2003.
Long range plans
QuickBooks 5 isn’t a one-shot deal for Mac users. Rosenzweig emphasized that this is the first installment in a multi-year plan for the Macintosh product, and if QuickBooks’ evolution on the Windows platform is any indication, growth opportunities abound.
“We’re now tailoring QuickBooks to specific vertical markets,” explained Rosenzweig. Each version of QuickBooks is tailored to a different kind of business — QuickBooks Accounting Edition, QuickBooks Contractor Edition, and so on.
Rosenzweig said that Intuit is still “wrestling” with how to adopt this product development methodology, which Intuit calls the “Right For My Business” strategy, on the Macintosh, but he’s encouraged by early indications that Mac users are enthusiastic about QuickBooks’ return to the platform.
A lot has changed since QuickBooks was released. QuickBooks isn’t the only commercial small business financial management software package for the Mac anymore, and Mac OS X has provided some smaller developers with new opportunities to win the hearts and minds of Mac users. Rosenzweig is sanguine about this change, however.
“Choice is good for the customer. We try to learn from what our customers want,” he said. “Our strength is in understanding the need for simplicity and ease of use.”
Intuit is using January’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco to publicly debut QuickBooks 5 for Mac, and will have the product in stores at the same time. “You should be able to find it everywhere on or about January 7,” said Samuels.
In fact, this is the first time in three years that Intuit will be an exhibitor at a Macworld Expo event — another example of the company’s commitment to the Mac market, according to Intuit. While QuickBooks will be the centerpiece of Intuit’s presence at the show this year, folks from the Quicken and TurboTax teams will also be on hand to answer questions.
Priced at US$299, QuickBooks 5.0 for Mac is the same cost as its Windows counterpart. And similarly, if you’re using an older version of QuickBooks and you want to upgrade, Intuit will offer you a $120 rebate.