A key difference between QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop is that 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 companies that need to give multiple people access to the program, including an outside accountant. QuickBooks Desktop is best for experienced bookkeepers in specialized industries who spend most of their time in an office and want a fast program that doesn’t depend on internet speed.
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9 Key Differences Between QuickBooks Online and Desktop
While QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop are both excellent small business accounting software, there are some important differences in both how you access your data and the features provided. Here are the nine key differences between QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop:
- Cloud vs Desktop: The biggest difference is that QuickBooks Online is cloud-based and can be accessed from anywhere on the internet, while QuickBooks Desktop must be installed on a single computer or network.
- Simultaneous users: QuickBooks Online comes with a set number of users included in your subscription price, and all users can simultaneously access the program. QuickBooks Desktop can have multiple users set up, but only one user at a time can access the program unless you purchase additional licenses at full price.
- Mobile app: QuickBooks Online has a mobile app capable of performing all the functions needed to keep your books. The only mobile app available for Desktop is to capture receipts, and it requires a Plus subscription to Desktop.
- Future development: New features and improvements to QuickBooks Online have been developed rapidly over the past couple of years. This is not to say that Desktop is going away anytime soon, but it’s no longer the focus of QuickBooks.
- Pricing: QuickBooks Online is a monthly subscription that includes a set number of users. QuickBooks Desktop can either be purchased for a one-time fee for each user or as an annual subscription with some additional benefits. See our pricing section below for more information.
- Sharing with your tax pro: You can give an external accountant complete access to your Online company without it counting toward your maximum users. With QuickBooks Desktop, you must create an Accountant’s Copy, which then must be transferred to your accountant.
- Industry-specific software: QuickBooks Online does not have any industry-specific editions. QuickBooks Desktop has editions for construction, retail, professional services, manufacturing and wholesale, and nonprofit organizations that include industry-specific reports and workflows.
- Customer service: All QuickBooks Online subscriptions include unlimited customer service. QuickBooks Desktop does not include customer service unless you purchase the software as an annual subscription.
- Bookkeeping assistance: You can receive assistance and advice for keeping your books with QuickBooks Live for QuickBooks Online accounts, or you can consult with an independent QuickBooks Online ProAdvisor. For QuickBooks Desktop, your only option is an independent QuickBooks Desktop ProAdvisor.
- Access from anywhere on the internet
- Keep your books with the mobile app
- Simultaneous access by multiple users included in the subscription price
- Easy-to-use interface for non-accountants
- More expensive than Desktop for just one user
- No industry-specific editions
- Slower data entry than Desktop
- Not as good with inventory as Desktop
|RATING CRITERIA||Pricing||3.70||OUT OF||5|
|Ease of Use||4.25||OUT OF||5|
|Expert Opinion||4.75||OUT OF||5|
*Score is for QuickBooks Online Plus
QuickBooks Online is ideal for small businesses that need to provide access to their books for more than one person, including an outside accountant, such as a tax professional. QuickBooks Online also allows your bookkeeper(s) to work remotely from any computer.
However, cloud-based accounting is not the only strength of QuickBooks Online. It is powerful software that can serve companies in a wide variety of industries. New users can choose between a 30-day free trial and 50% off for three months.
- Purchase for one-time fee and use for 3 years
- Fast navigation and data input
- One license allows bookkeeping for unlimited companies
- Industry-specific editions available
- Each simultaneous user requires an additional license for full price
- Cannot access company data from remote locations
- Network installation might require some information technology help
- No customer support without an annual subscription
|RATING CRITERIA||Pricing||2.73||OUT OF||5|
|Ease of Use||1.88||OUT OF||5|
|Expert Opinion||4.25||OUT OF||5|
Note: Score is for QuickBooks Desktop Premier
QuickBooks Desktop is best for companies with an experienced bookkeeper that does not need remote access. Desktop is very affordable if you have only one user and purchase it for a one-time fee, but that means you won’t have customer support. Customer support requires the purchase of the annual subscription.
QuickBooks Desktop really excels with its industry-specific editions that include custom workflows and reports tailored to specific industries. You should give QuickBooks Desktop serious consideration if your business is a retailer, manufacturer, wholesaler, professional service provider, construction contractor, or nonprofit. New users can currently receive $200 off your first year with a subscription to QuickBooks Premier Plus.
How We Determined Our Score
Our score is based on a rubric developed by our accounting expert. The purpose of the score is to provide additional information and transparency to business owners looking for the right software for their business.
There is no one best accounting software. The best software for you depends on your particular business needs and the features you find most important. To reflect that reality, our scoring system will vary based on the industry or features being focused on within a particular article. For example, QuickBooks might receive different scores when being evaluated for best easy accounting software versus best accounting software for managing multiple companies.
Click through the tabs below to learn more about how we evaluate each component of our score for QuickBooks Online vs Desktop.
25% of Overall Score
The most important factor in the pricing score is the monthly cost of the software and how many users are included for that price. Other considerations are whether the price includes unlimited transactions, customers, and vendors as well as whether you can purchase the software with a monthly subscription versus long-term contract.
25% of Overall Score
We evaluate software on the general features we expect to find in modern accounting software that will both help report accurate data and lessen the manual labor involved with keeping your books. Some of the features evaluated are sales tax tracking, inventory cost tracking, mobile app functionality, receipt capture, separating income and expenses by class, assigning employee time and expenses to invoices, and tracking project profitability.
25% of Overall Score
A major component of the ease of use score is our expert’s subjective evaluation of a non-accountant’s ability to successfully use the software. However, we also evaluate the software’s customer support to determine if a user will have the assistance they need to learn the software. Finally, we consider how easy it is to expand the functionality of the software to include payroll and online payments without the need for a 3rd party integration.
25% of Overall Score
The expert opinion score is based on our expert’s subjective analysis of the software’s features, mobile app, invoices, and reports. This analysis looks to determine what makes this software different, better or worse, than other software. A final component of the expert’s opinion is the popularity of the program, which will have a big impact on whether the user can find assistance closing their books and filing a tax return at the end of the year.
Who QuickBooks Online Is Best For
In addition to being awarded our best overall small business accounting software, QuickBooks Online has earned top honors for a wide range of industries and purposes.
- Easy accounting software: While QuickBooks Online is known for its powerful features, it’s also simple to use, and we awarded QuickBooks Online Simple Start our best overall easy-to-use software.
- Mobile accounting app: QuickBooks Online’s mobile app is fantastic and allows you to perform virtually any accounting function you can perform at your desktop, plus you can scan and upload receipts and track mileage. It’s our top overall choice for accounting mobile apps.
- Real estate companies: QuickBooks Online is our best overall pick for real estate companies. QuickBooks Online allows all transactions to be grouped by classes and locations, making it easy to track complexes and buildings separately.
- Ecommerce: QuickBooks Online recently added even more ecommerce features and integrations, making it an easy choice as our best ecommerce accounting software.
Who QuickBooks Desktop Is Best For
QuickBooks Desktop is a great software for several purposes and industries.
- Accounting for multiple companies: One license for QuickBooks Desktop allows you to keep the books for an unlimited number of companies, earning it top honors in our list of accounting software for multiple companies.
- Farmers and ranchers: QuickBooks Desktop is very flexible and can be set up to account for multiple fields and livestock without the need for a constant internet connection. We selected it as the best overall farm accounting software.
- Construction companies: QuickBooks Desktop Premier Contractors Edition has specialized reports and workflows that help construction companies to estimate and track the cost of jobs, placing it among our top construction accounting software.
Pricing Differences Between QuickBooks Online vs Desktop
QuickBooks Online scores better than QuickBooks Desktop for pricing with a score of 3.7 out of 5 compared to 2.73 out of 5. QuickBooks Desktop scores poorly because you must purchase an additional license for each user. However, QuickBooks Desktop can be a good value for companies with only one user. Another pricing factor hurting QuickBooks Desktop is the lack of a month-to-month subscription option.
QuickBooks Desktop Pro Subscription
$25 Simple Start
1 Simple Start
Average monthly cost per user
$25 Simple Start
Unlimited transactions, vendors and customers
Free upgrade to most current version
Unlimited customer support
30-day free trial
60-day money-back guarantee
Automatic off-site backup of data
Mobile receipt capture
Read our analyses of online and desktop editions
The average monthly cost per user for the QuickBooks Online subscriptions is based on the number of users included with each subscription, which you must pay for regardless of whether you need or assign all the users. The average monthly cost for QuickBooks Desktop purchases is calculated over the QuickBooks support period of three years.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Ease of Use
In addition to a subjective rating by our accounting expert, Ease of Use includes the availability of unlimited customer support and the ability to add payroll and online bill pay without the need for third-party integration. QuickBooks Online scores much better than QuickBooks Desktop for Ease of Use with 4.25 points out of 5, compared to QuickBooks Desktop’s low score of 1.88 out of 5.
QuickBooks Online Plus would have scored a perfect 5 out of 5 if not for our expert’s subjective evaluation that its overall ease of use is only “fair.” QuickBooks has everything laid out very intuitively, but the very nature of such a comprehensive, powerful program introduces some complexity into its use. Programs with fewer features are often easier to use.
QuickBooks Desktop scores a low 1.88 out of 5 for ease of use, reinforcing the notion that it’s generally best for users with some bookkeeping knowledge or experience. In addition to our expert’s subjective rating of “bad,” Desktop’s Ease of Use score suffers from the lack of customer support without the purchase of the annual Plus subscription. The one bright spot for QuickBooks Desktop’s ease of use is the integration of payroll and online bill pay without the use of third-party software.
Ease of Program Installation
QuickBooks Online wins easily when it comes to program installation because it’s cloud-based with 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 setup process is very similar 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 more than 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.
I recommend you spend as much time as possible setting up your company. By setting up your employees, vendors, products, and services upfront, you’ll have a customized company file that will be much easier to use. You can preview the QuickBooks Online set-up process by browsing our Free QuickBooks Online Tutorial.
I give the advantage to QuickBooks Online for ease of navigation. Customer, vendor, and account details can be viewed by clicking on the left menu bar. For instance, customer details, including what they owe you, can be viewed by clicking on Sales and then Customers:
All transactions in QuickBooks Online can be initiated by clicking the New button above the left menu bar and selecting from the menu of transactions:
QuickBooks Desktop offers many ways to navigate, but the easiest way for beginners is through the home page. Vendor, customer, or employee details can be viewed by clicking on the appropriate tab, while transactions can be initiated by clicking on the corresponding icon. For instance, customer details can be viewed by clicking on Customers (item A), and invoices can be created by clicking on Create Invoices (item B):
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, an à la carte Annual Care Plan will cost $299.95 per year, which is the same price as the entire QuickBooks Pro Plus subscription. 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 many 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 an OK 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 and find a QuickBooks ProAdvisor that can offer you frequent help. 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.
If you’re an independent bookkeeper looking to expand your business, you should consider becoming a QuickBooks ProAdvisor. The certification for QuickBooks Online ProAdvisors is free.
Takeaway for Ease of Use
QuickBooks Online beats QuickBooks Desktop hands-down for ease of use. Not only is the program easy to navigate, but it comes with unlimited support and the ability to share your books with a QuickBooks ProAdvisor.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Features
QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop both score very well for features. Either version of QuickBooks will help manage your business efficiently and effectively. QuickBooks Online scores a perfect 5 out of 5 points for the general features we look for in modern accounting software. QuickBooks Desktop scores 4.25 out of 5 but is hurt by the lack of a mobile app and receipt capture. Both of these features are available in QuickBooks Desktop if you purchase the Plus subscription.
While both Online and Desktop have most of the general features you’d expect, there are some significant differences in features.
Feature Differences Between QuickBooks Online and Desktop
QuickBooks Online has the following features that are not available in QuickBooks Desktop:
- Calculate sales tax: QuickBooks Online calculates the sales tax rate automatically to apply to transactions based on any customer address in the United States.
- Multiple users: All versions of QuickBooks Online, except Simple Start, come with multiple users that can simultaneously access the company file. In addition to the stated number of users, all QuickBooks Online companies can invite at least one external accountant to share their books. QuickBooks Desktop requires an additional license for each simultaneous user.
- Mobile app: QuickBooks Online comes with a mobile app that allows users to perform almost any accounting function while on the go. QuickBooks Desktop has no mobile app unless you purchase the Plus subscription, and then the app is limited to capturing and uploading receipts.
- 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 online backup and protection: QuickBooks Online data is backed up automatically 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.
QuickBooks Desktop has the following features not found in 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 preexisting 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. 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 Features by Version
While QuickBooks Online Plus has everything that we look for to earn 5 out of 5 points for features, not all of these features are available in the less expensive versions. Here is a summary of features available in QuickBooks Online by version.
Monthly Retail Cost
Maximum Number of Users
Send and Track Invoices
Manage Sales Tax
Manage Unpaid Bills
Track Project Profitability
Smart Reporting Powered by Fathom
Custom User Permissions
Dedicated Success Manager
Training for Staff
For an in-depth analysis of the features across all versions of QuickBooks Online, check out our article QuickBooks Online Comparison.
QuickBooks Desktop Features by Version
Send and Track Invoices
Manage Unpaid Bills
Track Project Profitability
Requires Plus subscription
Requires Plus subscription
Business Plan With QuickBooks Data
The most common reason to select Premier over Pro is to take advantage of the following industry-specific editions:
- Manufacturing and wholesale
- Professional services
You can read our detailed comparison of QuickBooks Desktop editions to learn more.
Takeaway for Features
Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop offer an outstanding set of comprehensive features, but QuickBooks Desktop lacks a mobile app. The other big advantage of QuickBooks Online is its calculation of sales tax based on the customer address. For businesses in the five specific industries with special editions, QuickBooks Desktop might be the best choice.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Expert Opinion
QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop both score very well for Expert Opinion with 4.75 and 4.25, respectively. They both have fantastic reports, features, and are popular enough to have ample help from accountants familiar with the programs. However, in my opinion, the lack of a fully functional mobile app for QuickBooks Desktop is a serious shortcoming in today’s mobile age. Be sure you can live without mobile accounting before you choose QuickBooks Desktop.
QuickBooks Online scores higher than QuickBooks Desktop in all four of our categories: pricing, features, ease of use, and expert opinion. QuickBooks Online is the best choice for most companies.
However, QuickBooks Desktop is still a great choice for some companies. It is much more affordable than QuickBooks Online, provided you need only one user and don’t require customer service. Also, the industry-specific software editions of QuickBooks Desktop offer features and reports not found in QuickBooks Online.