QuickBooks Desktop vs. QuickBooks Online


If you’re in a desktop version of QuickBooks (Pro/Premier/Enterprise) you may be wondering if it would be better to move to QuickBooks Online (QBO) so you have remote access and because 3rd party products are saying Desktop QuickBooks (QBDT) is going away.  With the new products just rolling out, I thought this would be good to discuss pros/cons – and my opinion ;-)

Yes, Intuit has put a heavy emphasis on QBO, but they still have many more desktop customers than online, so they aren’t going do desert them!  Intuit understands that many businesses need the functionality of QuickBooks Pro/Premier/Enterprise – (not to mention having to change add-on products could be very expensive).  While Intuit may eventually have a suitable cloud replacement, they don’t yet and are still very committed to adding new features and improvements.

If you’re on the fence as to which way you go, it’s wise to look at what the products have to offer before deciding. If you’re in QBO you probably love the mobile access, but might be feeling frustration with what you can’t do – especially around job costing.

So here’s the deal. Even though QuickBooks is part of the name, the online version of QB is VERY different from the desktop (2 different development teams), so transitioning may not be so simple.

  • While easy to access, QBO is not nearly as feature-rich as the desktop product. In fact, Intuit (at least for right now), seems happy to focus on just accounting in QBO and letting apps solve for the additional features/functionality you need – like job costing and inventory. So you may need to subscribe to additional apps – which means additional costs and having to learn another product – or 2 or 3 or ….
  • There will be a definite learning curve for all involved. Some have loved it, many have not!
  • For many of you, job costing is important, and Intuit is aware that QBO is NOT a good fit for those who need job costing. Currently, I see Intuit partnering with 3rd party apps that can do the job costing.  You won’t get the detail of labor burden (you’ll have to decide on a burdened rate for each employee and use that in your add-on product)

So what types of features would you miss if you move to QBO?

  • Estimates – you can do an estimated price, but you can’t put the estimated costs in, so you lose the estimated vs actual reporting
  • You can’t do progress invoicing, i.e. multiple invoices from one estimate. (I would never recommend their suggested work-around – the risk of mistakes is too high.)
  • You can’t job cost your labor. This is big for many of you. Even if you can get the hours by job from a 3rd party product, QBO will take the hours only.  Nor can you “burden” your labor with payroll taxes, etc.   So you can’t run a report on a job, drill down the work done and find your true cost of labor (which is so easy in desktop  QB).  Instead, you will have to find a way to get the information from your add-on product
  • You can’t run a job profitability detail report (which lets you see all the different services and materials)– only a P & L for a job.
  • In fact, there are no real job cost reports.
  • Not only are there fewer reports (65+ in QBO vs 100+ in QB Pro/Premier), there are fewer ways to customize reports.
  • You can’t see open PO’s totaled by customer:job
  • Permissions aren’t very strong – an employee able to do payroll can also see your financial reports. When you start having 3-5 people or more in your books, you definitely want to restrict who can see and/or do what.  Enterprise is by far the best at controlling access.
  • Backups – Intuit does keep your QBO backed up, but you can’t select a specific backup to restore if there are any problems.  Likewise, you can’t manually back QBO and have your own copy or decide to restore a backup.  So if there was a major problem that happened as a result of an incorrect integration with  a product or a bookkeeper making a massive mistake (either accidentally or deliberately), you don’t have a backup to restore like you do with the desktop product. While you can export the data out, it’s not in a ready-to-go format that you could use in desktop QB.


  • While you get the ease of remote access, you miss out on some other time-saving features available in desktop QuickBooks. Here’s a chart comparing the availability of some time-saving features in QB
Desktop Online
Timesheets ×
Invoicing ×
Duplicate transactions × ×
Memorize transactions × ×
Items ×
Memorized transactions ×
Reports ×

For a more complete list, you can download my QB Feature Comparison Chart from this link.

So what are your options?  Personally, I still recommend the desktop versions of QuickBooks for anyone who wants job costing.  For remote access, here are some options:

  • You can use a product like GoToMyPC or LogMeIn and remote into your computer.
  • There are Intuit-approved companies who will “store” (host) your QuickBooks and data); this gives you remote access plus the ability to use QB Pro/Premier or Enterprise. You pay per month per user to access the remote server in addition to your software.
  • Many 3rd party products work remotely, solving for your “need” and integrate with desktop QuickBooks. They tend to be either task-specific (e.g. time tracking) or industry-specific.   Method is probably the product that give you the most flexibility for remote access without being industry specific.
  • Enterprise can run in a “Remote Desktop” environment. In this setup, both the software and the data are on the server, so you just log into the server.  In a traditional network environment, the software is on your computer and the data is on the server.  The Remote Desktop servers have to be more powerful than traditional servers because everyone is using both software and data, but they can be really nice when you have people working remotely or in different locations.

If you still opt for QBO, just realize that you will need to find one or more products to integrate with QuickBooks so you can do all that you need.  Contact me if you want to discuss more or would like to see our discounted pricing on the QuickBooks products.

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1 Response to QuickBooks Desktop vs. QuickBooks Online

  1. nan says:

    Thank you very much for your article on Quickbooks Desktop vs. Quickbooks Online. It was very helpful! The link you included was very comprehensive and thank you for that as well!

    You mentioned in the back-up section that ‘While you can export the data out, it’s not in a ready-to-go format that you could use in desktop QB.’ I tried to research on this to get more details but I could not find the info you were referring to. Can you please elaborate on that? What is the format of the export and why is it not a ready to go format we could use in QB desktop?

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