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QuickBooks Desktop vs. QuickBooks Online - Which is Better for Your Business?

This question is coming up a lot in conversations about QuickBooks right now.

If you didn't know better, you'd think QuickBooks Online (QBO) was the only edition available these days and that the desktop versions had been retired.

Go ahead and see for yourself...

Visit the home page of the QuickBooks web site and you'll see what I mean - the references to the desktop versions of QuickBooks (Pro, Premier, and Enterprise) are buried in the lower left hand corner and also buried in the "all products" link at the top of the page. You really have to look for them on the site.


Many of the businesses I consult with use QuickBooks Enterprise, so they are too big to use QBO.

However, I regularly talk with small businesses like yours and gather their insights on "all things QuickBooks".

When it comes to the question of which version is better, I'd like to share some feedback that I'm hearing on a regular basis...

I'm hearing these two common threads:

  • There are businesses that have previously used the desktop version of QuickBooks and decided to move to the Online edition
  • There are businesses that have had no experience with the desktop versions and have gone directly into the Online edition

First, those businesses that have had no experience with the desktop versions and went directly to QBO...

  • They enjoy the 24/7 availability of QBO
  • They enjoy the fact that there is no upgrading/updating needed
  • They appreciate the AppCenter and mobile capabilities of QBO
  • For some of them, they discover the functionality of QBO is a good fit for their needs
  • For others, they come to the conclusion that QBO is not robust enough for their needs and they begin looking at QuickBooks desktop or other alternatives

And now, for those businesses that have had some experience with QuickBooks desktop and then decided to move to QBO...

  • I am hearing that very few of them were glad they made the switch
  • By far, the majority of comments I am hearing from these folks center around the following:
    • How quickly can I convert back to QuickBooks desktop?
    • QBO just doesn't meet the needs of our business when compared to the functionality found in the desktop versions
    • Other words and comments that can't be printed in this family-friendly blog post!


I get it. Intuit is directing a significant portion of their development resources toward QBO and the ecosystem built around that. They have publicly stated as much at various conferences.

Are they leaving the desktop users behind?

For now, Intuit says no - they are still developing the desktop products and providing support to them. And they pledge to do so in months ahead.

As I have watched the desktop vs. QBO story unfold over the last few years, it looks to me like that the desktop will indeed be left behind at some point in the future. Whether that is three years or ten years from now, the writing is on the wall.

A small sign of this pending change - Intuit is now giving priority to ProAdvisors that are certified in QBO over those that are certified with the desktop versions. Coincidence? I don't think so. Another much larger sign of this change - the fact I mentioned above that you have to look really, really hard to find a mention of the desktop versions. Coincidence? I don't think so.


A couple of thoughts to share with you on this topic...


In the event you currently use the desktop version of QuickBooks and are considering a move to QBO - be absolutely certain to take a test drive of QuickBooks Online (QBO) to ensure form, fit and functionality for your needs BEFORE making any switch. You will be very glad you did.




Care to share your thoughts on this debate? Feel free to drop your comments in the box below (or click here to visit the live blog page)




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Wanted to share some comments received from a reader via direct e-mail:

"Great article! My opinion is that many people who select QBO are basically unaware of the professional hosting services available for Desktop Quickbooks. For many users, hosted QB offers a better solution than QBO.

My assumption is Intuit is seeing the rapid growth of NetSuite and other similar cloud offerings and is trying to counter that competitive threat with their emphasis on QBO.

Further, Wall Street has valued Cloud computing companies with higher multiples than client/server software companies. Intuit is feeling that pressure as well."

Scott Gregory


I have been involved in calls/e-mails with a number of other businesses that have had similar experiences with the QBO product.

That is why I am stressing in the article the need to take it for a full test drive before making any moves to ensure it is a good fit across the board. Better to be safe and sure up front.

Scott Gregory


Thanks for your comments.

I have heard similar comments from many businesses about the seemingly high pressure from the marketing/sales desk.

I haven't sat in on any of these calls, but if you hear something enough, you can start to draw some conclusions.

Scott Gregory

Hi Jan:

Thanks for stopping by and posting your thoughts and comments - appreciate it.

I have heard similar comments to yours about the training resources.

Things are changing rapidly in this space right now - will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

Scott Gregory

Hi Pam:

Thanks for your comments.

This article from QBO support provides some additional insights into file size, etc:

As for Xero, you'd have to check in with their support group - I am unsure how the file size issue is addressed with them.

Scott Gregory

Very good article, I have used QB desktop for the past 15 years and have always been impressed with the program capabilities. I tried the Online version in the month of January 2015 and decided to go back to desktop. The program is inferior and missing a lot of reports and logical move from one function to another. This program is OK for very small business that has no need for analytical capabilities or future forecasting. It also lake any project management capabilities.

If you think the references to the desktop versions are buried, try finding any training for the 2014 or 2015 Certifications, all links except a few very basic tutorials send you to the QBO training. I think the switch to QBO only will be as soon as they get the expanded functions from the desktop, like job costing, up and running on the QBO format. That could be within 2-3 years. Look at what Neat Receipts did to convert anyone using a file storage area outside their C drive; they disabled your neat receipts program sent in an automatic MS update with instructions to use their cloud (with new monthly additional charges), or for now, an option to move your database only to your C drive. Eventually quickbooks may take that same track, forcing any legacy users that connect to the internet to move to QBO.

Very good article and you kept your emotions in check! No REAL business should be using QB Online. Intuit marketing is pushing it so hard because it is more lucrative for them - "to hell with the client" seems to be their philosophy. And you already said that in your article that featured a picture of a shark as representative of this company. QuickBooks software is very good but the corporate culture leaves room for another company to take over their business. Sad when greed takes over.

Great info on QBO vs desktop. I'm a desktop fan for sure. I was wondering though when would you consider a company too large to go to QBO? What do you use to measure that? And do you know if that same measurement would apply to Xero? thanks!

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