QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop differ in this fundamental way: You can access QuickBooks Online from any computer or mobile device connected to the internet, and it’s easy to share data with your accountant. QuickBooks Desktop must be installed on your computer, which offers faster navigation and data input but a limited ability to share access.
QuickBooks Online is best for inexperienced bookkeepers who want to share their data and work closely with an outside accountant. QuickBooks Desktop is best for experienced bookkeepers who spend most of their time in an office and want a fast program that doesn’t depend on internet speed.
QuickBooks Online: Pros and Cons
Access from any location
Slower navigation and data input
Share access with outside accountant
Requires monthly subscription
Most editions include multiple users
Not as good with inventory
Input data from mobile devices
Fewer options for exporting reports to Excel
Program always up-to-date
QuickBooks Online is ideal for business owners who want to do their own accounting. You can designate a QuickBooks Proadvisor as your accountant, and they will have access to your data whenever needed automatically. For a limited time, you can purchase the software for 70% off.
QuickBooks Desktop: Pros and Cons
Fast navigation and data input
Powerful software takes time to learn
Reports can update specific sheets within an Excel Workbook
Must save a copy and send to accountant to share data
May purchase for one-time fee and use for at least three years
Price includes only one user at a time
One license allows bookkeeping for an unlimited number of companies
Network installation might require some IT help
Industry-specific editions available
QuickBooks Desktop is ideal for companies with an experienced in-house bookkeeper. The fast navigation and data input is most important for bookkeepers who spend a lot of time in the program. QuickBooks Desktop is available as a one-time purchase or as an annual subscription that includes automatic backups, unlimited customer service, and annual edition upgrades.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Pricing and Features
QuickBooks Online is only available as a monthly subscription. QuickBooks Desktop can either be purchased for a one-time payment or as an annual subscription that includes automatic backups, unlimited customer support, and annual edition upgrades.
$25 Simple Start
$299.95 Pro Plus
$499.95 Premium Plus
Software installation required
Requires Plus subscription
Automatic online backup and data protection
Requires Plus subscription
Access from multiple platforms
Access data from multiple locations
Unlimited free customer support
Requires Plus subscription
30-day risk-free trial
60-day money-back guarantee
Read our analyses of online and desktop editions
Is QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Desktop Best for You?
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Key Differences
Quickbooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop are both excellent choices and are among the best small business accounting software. Either program will do a great job of bookkeeping for most businesses, so your selection of online vs desktop generally comes down to personal preference, how much time you spend in the program, and how often you need assistance from an outside accountant.
Ease of Program Installation
QuickBooks Online wins easily when it comes to program installation because there is no program to install. However, you can download QuickBooks Desktop and install it on a single computer in a matter of minutes. It’s a little more difficult to install QuickBooks Desktop on multiple computers because both computers will need access to the company data file. I’ve always enlisted the help of an information technology (IT) person for a network installation of QuickBooks Desktop.
Ease of Company Setup
The company file setup process is the same for both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop. The express setup takes about five to 10 minutes and requires some basic company information. The more in-depth setup may take one to two hours, depending on whether or not you’re bringing data over from another accounting system. Follow our step-by-step guide if you plan to convert from QuickBooks Desktop to Online.
In addition to providing basic company information, you need to answer a few questions about how you manage your business. I recommend you spend the extra time upfront and complete the in-depth setup process because it provides you with a more customized company file that can better meet your specific business needs.
Ease of Use
Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop are user-friendly, but I give a slight advantage to Online for overall ease of use. All transactions in QuickBooks Online can be initiated from the Quick Create menu. The Quick Create menu in QuickBooks Online is divided into four sections:
Transactions in QuickBooks Desktop can be initiated from the company homepage. QuickBooks Desktop’s homepage is also separated into four sections, but includes a graphical representation of the workflow:
While QuickBooks Online has an edge for ease of use, QuickBooks Desktop has a distinct advantage in speed. QuickBooks Online has a minor pause, depending on your internet speed, between clicks as the screen refreshes. This is not a big deal for the casual user, but for a full-time bookkeeper spending hours per day in the program, this slight pause is not only annoying but time-consuming as well.
QuickBooks Online has an advantage over QuickBooks Desktop because it comes with unlimited customer support. If you want unlimited support through QuickBooks Desktop, it’s best to purchase the Plus annual subscription. Otherwise, customer support―after the first 30 days―will cost $59.95 per session or $89.95 for 90 days. QuickBooks Online and Desktop both have a large, searchable, online database of questions and answers available to anyone.
Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop have a large number of independent QuickBooks ProAdvisors that you can hire to help you get started and keep things in order. However, QuickBooks Online has a distinct advantage in how you share your books with a ProAdvisor. With QuickBooks Online, you invite a ProAdvisor to your company file, and they will have 24/7 access to view and adjust your books. They log in with their own ID and won’t count as one of your licensed users.
QuickBooks Desktop is harder to share. You must make an Accountant’s Copy of your data file and send it to your ProAdvisor. The Accountant’s Copy will allow you to continue to work on transactions in the current period while your accountant makes adjustments to past periods. It’s a pretty good system, but not nearly as convenient as sharing your books through QuickBooks Online.
If you are an inexperienced bookkeeper, you should probably choose QuickBooks Online so that you can get frequent help from a ProAdvisor. While the Accountant’s Copy is a reasonable way to share books, it’s not something you want to do on a daily or weekly basis.
The differences between QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop mostly deal with how you access and use the program. However, some important features differ between the products that might sway you to choose one over the other.
QuickBooks Online Unique Features
Here are four features of QuickBooks Online that aren’t available with a one-time purchase of QuickBooks Desktop:
- Automatic online backup and protection: QuickBooks Online data is automatically backed up and secured. There’s no need to worry about your data if your computer gets stolen or malfunctions because it’s not stored on your computer.
- Access data anywhere from multiple platforms: QuickBooks Online data can be accessed 24/7 from any PC, Mac, or mobile device with an internet connection.
- Automatic access to the latest version: QuickBooks Online is constantly being improved, and you have access to the latest version every time you log in.
- Multiple users: All versions of QuickBooks Online, except Simple Start, come with multiple users that can simultaneously access the company file. QuickBooks Desktop requires an additional license for each simultaneous user.
QuickBooks Desktop Unique Features
Here are four features you’ll find in QuickBooks Desktop not available with QuickBooks Online:
- Unlimited companies: One license to QuickBooks Desktop allows you to do the bookkeeping for an unlimited number of companies.
- Additional inventory options: QuickBooks Desktop has more robust inventory tracking and costing features. For instance, you can create an inventory assembly to combine the costs of supplies, existing inventory, and labor into the cost of newly manufactured inventory.
- Additional options for exporting reports: QuickBooks Desktop can update a pre-existing Excel spreadsheet. This is very valuable if you perform analyses in Excel after exporting a report. You don’t need to redo your analysis every month. Simply update the spreadsheet numbers directly from QuickBooks Desktop.
- Industry-specific editions: QuickBooks Desktop offers industry-specific editions of Premier for the following industries: Construction, manufacturing and wholesale, professional services, retail, and nonprofit.
QuickBooks Online Version Comparison
Monthly Retail Cost
Maximum Number of Users
Smart Reporting Powered by Fathom
Custom User Permissions
Dedicated Success Manager
Training for Staff
Last Updated: 04/02/2020
If you have inventory, you’ll need to choose at least the QuickBooks Online Plus, but you might be better served with QuickBooks Online Advanced as it has an advanced inventory add-on. You’ll have to choose Advanced if you need more than five users.
QuickBooks Desktop Version Comparison
Business Plan With QuickBooks Data
Last Updated: 04/02/2020
*Note: If you purchase QuickBooks Desktop for a one-time fee, you will need to upgrade at least every three years to continue using QuickBooks support, Intuit Payroll, and Intuit Merchant Services. The Plus subscription includes annual upgrades.
Each desktop license is good for only one user. You should purchase licenses according to how many people will access the company file simultaneously. If you need more than five simultaneous users, you will need to purchase the Enterprise edition.
Finally, QuickBooks Desktop Premier offers both a general business edition as well as five industry-specific editions:
- Manufacturing and wholesale
- Professional services
Experience should play a big part in your decision on whether to choose QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Desktop. Inexperienced bookkeepers should lean toward the online product. However, there are some important feature differences. QuickBooks Desktop is better for inventory management and costing and comes in five industry-specific editions.
Inexperienced bookkeepers in service-based industries should usually choose QuickBooks Online. The interface is user-friendly, and the company file can be accessed by your independent ProAdvisor to help keep you on the right track. Get started today with a 30-day free trial.
Full-time, experienced bookkeepers will usually prefer QuickBooks Desktop for its fast navigation and input. Companies in an industry with an industry-specific edition of QuickBooks Desktop Premier should seriously consider the desktop product for the convenience of the custom workflows and reporting. You can start today with a 60-day money-back guarantee.