This article is part of a larger series on Accounting Software.
A key difference between QuickBooks Online and 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, which must be installed on your computer, 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 outside accountants
- 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
Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop make it onto our list of the best small business accounting software. QuickBooks Desktop is our choice for the best desktop accounting program while QuickBooks Online is our pick for the best overall small business accounting software.
8 Key Differences Between QuickBooks Online and 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 access the program simultaneously. QuickBooks Desktop can have multiple users set up but only one user at a time can access the program unless you add extra users at an additional fee.
- Mobile app: QuickBooks Online has a mobile app capable of performing most of the functions needed to keep your books. The mobile app available for Desktop is only for capturing receipts.
- Future development: New features and improvements to QuickBooks Online have been developed at an incredible pace during the past couple of years. This isn’t 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 is available 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 QuickBooks 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. Any changes made by your accountant must then be imported into your QuickBooks Desktop company file.
- Industry-specific software: QuickBooks Online doesn’t have any industry-specific editions. QuickBooks Desktop has editions for construction, retail, professional services, manufacturing and wholesale, and nonprofit companies that include industry-specific reports and workflows.
- Bookkeeping assistance: You can receive assistance and advice for keeping your books from 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.
When to Use QuickBooks Online
QuickBooks Online offers more time-saving automation features than QuickBooks Desktop and integrates with third-party payment processors, allowing your customers to pay their invoices directly online. However, cloud-based accounting isn’t QuickBooks Online’s only strength. It’s powerful software that can serve companies in a wide variety of industries.
Aside from being our pick for the best accounting software for small businesses, QuickBooks Online is also our choice for the overall best farm accounting software and is included in our lists of the best church accounting software and best nonprofit accounting software.
QuickBooks Online Is Better For:
- Invoicing customers: One of the reasons QuickBooks Online is our choice for overall best invoicing software is its ability to automatically calculate sales tax to apply to an invoice based on your customer’s address.
- Businesses that prefer cloud-based accounting: 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.
- Ecommerce businesses: QuickBooks Online seamlessly integrates with many ecommerce platforms in addition to its robust inventory management feature, making it our pick for overall best ecommerce accounting software.
- Businesses with multiple users: You should consider QuickBooks Online if you need to provide access to your books to more than one person, including an outside accountant, such as a tax professional. With QuickBooks Desktop, you have to pay additional fees if you need extra users.
When to Use QuickBooks Desktop
QuickBooks Desktop is preferable for managing complex accounting needs, as its features are generally more developed than those of QuickBooks Online. QuickBooks Desktop 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. QuickBooks Desktop is also our choice for the best accounting software for farmers working with an independent bookkeeper or tax preparer.
QuickBooks Desktop Is Better For:
- Managing books across multiple businesses: QuickBooks Desktop allows you to manage the books for an unlimited number of companies as long as you don’t need consolidated financial statements. We chose QuickBooks Desktop as our overall best multi-company accounting software.
- Businesses needing intensive inventory accounting: Both Online and Desktop offer inventory accounting, but QuickBooks Desktop has more in-depth inventory management tools. For instance, it allows manufacturing companies to track their products using inventory parts and assemblies.
- Users who prefer desktop software: If you want access to your accounting program without an internet connection, QuickBooks Desktop is more suitable for you.
- Specialized industries: QuickBooks Desktop Premier includes five industry-specific editions: general contractor, manufacturing and wholesale, retail, nonprofit, and professional services.
When to Use an Alternative
- Fixed asset accounting: QuickBooks Online and Desktop can’t track fixed assets. If your business uses a lot of machinery and equipment, you should consider Xero. It allows you to track fixed assets, like buildings, machinery, equipment, and land, as well as record and calculate book depreciation on your assets.
- Mobile accounting: QuickBooks Online has a capable mobile application, but it’s not as powerful as the Zoho Books mobile app. The Zoho Books app lets you record bills and bill payments, enter time worked, then assign it to a project or customer—things you can’t do in the QuickBooks Online mobile app.
- Small businesses seeking free accounting software: QuickBooks Online and Desktop are among the most powerful accounting software programs, but they’re also among the most expensive. If you’re a very small business that’s starting out, you can save money by using free accounting software like Wave.
Whether you choose QuickBooks Online or Desktop, it’s essential that you familiarize yourself with QuickBooks and how it benefits small businesses.
QuickBooks Online vs QuickBooks Desktop at a Glance
QuickBooks Desktop Pro Subscription
$25 (Simple Start)
$349.99 for one user (Pro)
$549.99 for one user (Premier)
$1,275 for one user (Enterprise)
Maximum Number of Users
1 (Simple Start)
All users included in the base price of each edition
Only 1 user included in the base price
Unlimited Transactions, Vendors & Customers
Fixed Asset Accounting
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
Access Data Anywhere From Multiple Devices
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FSB Case Study
Despite the two programs having very similar features, we found notable differences between QuickBooks Online Plus and Desktop Premier in our internal case study. For example, in QuickBooks Desktop, you can only use one class per location to track account balances; with Plus, you can track your income and expenses across multiple locations.
Another notable difference we found in the project accounting category is that you cannot compare estimated to actual project costs in QuickBooks Online Plus. With Desktop Premier, you can compare your estimated costs to your actual expenses and revenue.
You’ll also notice in the chart below that Plus beats Premier in terms of mobile accounting. While the QuickBooks Desktop app is limited to capturing and uploading requests, QuickBooks Online’s app lets you do more like invoicing, accepting online payments, and assigning expenses to projects or customers.
Here’s the summary of our case study comparing QuickBooks Online Plus and Desktop Premier.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Pricing
QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop have different pricing structures. QuickBooks Online offers four pricing plans and each includes a set number of users. QuickBooks Desktop is available as a yearly subscription with an additional cost per user. QuickBooks Desktop’s one-time purchase products are no longer available.
QuickBooks Online Tiered Pricing & Features Table
Pricing & Features
Approximate Number of Reports Available
Reconcile Bank Accounts
Send & Track Invoices
Manage Sales Tax
Manage Unpaid Bills
Track Project Profitability
Track Income and Expenses by Class & Location
Custom User Permissions
Dedicated Account Manager
Training for Staff
Batch Invoices & Expenses
Restore Company Data
Check out our QuickBooks Online comparison to determine which QuickBooks Online plan is best for you.
QuickBooks Desktop Tiered Pricing & Features Table
Pricing & Features
Plus Subscription ($/Year)
$349.99 for one user
$549.99 for two users
$7499.99 for three users
$549.99 for one user
$849.99 for two users
$1,149.99 for three users
$1,449.99 for four users
$1,749.99 for five users
$1,275 for one user
$2,037 for two users
$2,547 for three users
$3,057 for four users
$3,566 for five users
Custom pricing for more than six to 40 users
Maximum Number of Users
Approximate Number of Reports
Send & Track Invoices
Manage Unpaid Bills
Track Project Profitability
Advanced Inventory (Mobile Barcode Scanning & End-to-End Sales Order Fulfillment)
To determine which version is best for you, read our comparison of QuickBooks Desktop products.
Takeaway: QuickBooks Online’s pricing structure is a better choice since you can find a plan based on the number of users you have without paying an additional fee. It’s ideal for businesses that can’t afford expensive annual subscriptions. QuickBooks Desktop can be a good value for companies with only one user.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Features
QuickBooks Online has the following features that aren’t available in QuickBooks Desktop:
- Determine sales tax rate automatically: QuickBooks Online will automatically calculate the sales tax rate to apply to transactions based on any customer address in the United States.
- Multiple users: All versions of QuickBooks Online, except Simple Start, allow multiple users to 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 cost for every additional 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 a mobile app, but 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.
For an in-depth analysis of the features of the online version, check out our QuickBooks Online review.
QuickBooks Desktop has the following features not found in QuickBooks Online:
- Unlimited companies: QuickBooks Desktop allows you to do the bookkeeping for an unlimited number of companies without paying an additional fee.
- 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. 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.
You can read our detailed QuickBooks Desktop Premier review to learn more.
Takeaway: Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop offer an outstanding set of comprehensive features, but QuickBooks Desktop has a very limited 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: Ease of Use
QuickBooks Online wins easily when it comes to ease of use 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 each computer will need access to the company data file.
The 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 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.
We recommend that 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 setup process by browsing our free QuickBooks Online tutorial.
QuickBooks Online: Navigation
QuickBooks Online is easier to navigate than QuickBooks Desktop. 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: Navigation
QuickBooks Desktop offers a multitude of 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.
The home page displays the most essential functions, including Vendors, Customers, Employees, and Banking. Each function includes respective icons that allow you to access and perform certain transactions easily, such as Enter Bills for vendors, Create Invoices for customers, and Enter Time for employees. The QuickBooks Desktop home page looks like this:
Takeaway: QuickBooks Online is generally easier to use than QuickBooks Desktop, as it has a more streamlined user interface. As it’s cloud-based software, you won’t have to install anything to get started. If you’re an inexperienced bookkeeper, QuickBooks Online is the more suitable choice for you. However, if you have experience with other bookkeeping software, you’ll find QuickBooks Desktop easy to use after a bit of studying.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Assisted Bookkeeping
QuickBooks Online users who need professional bookkeeping assistance can purchase an add-on called QuickBooks Live Bookkeeping. As the name suggests, it’s a QuickBooks service that connects you to a team of certified bookkeeping professionals for real-time support through video chat. Your dedicated bookkeeper will manage your books and provide month-end reports. Meanwhile, QuickBooks Desktop users can find a QuickBooks Desktop ProAdvisor to help with their bookkeeping needs.
Takeaway: If you need more personalized support for your bookkeeping, QuickBooks Live Bookkeeping for QuickBooks Online might be a better choice. However, you also can’t go wrong with a certified QuickBooks Desktop ProAdvisor.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Integrations
Since QuickBooks Online is cloud-based, it offers ample integration options than QuickBooks Desktop. QuickBooks Online integrates with popular third-party tools, such as PayPal and Square, data and financial management software like SOS inventory, Fathom, and TSheets, and ecommerce platforms, such as WooCommerce and Shopify.
QuickBooks Desktop also integrates with plenty of third-party tools, such as Qu, Gusto, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft 365. Developers can also download and install the QuickBooks Desktop SDK [software development kit] to develop applications and integrate with QuickBooks Desktop.
Takeaway: If you need more automation features through integration with various third-party tools, QuickBooks Online is a clear choice.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Mobile App
In terms of mobile accounting, QuickBooks Online is the clear winner, as Desktop has a very limited mobile app. QuickBooks Online has a mobile application that includes nearly all the features of the online browser version, plus other functions like receipt capture and mileage tracking. QuickBooks Online made our list of the best mobile accounting apps. You can download the app on Google Play or the App Store.
Takeaway: If you want the ability to do your bookkeeping from anywhere, we strongly recommend QuickBooks Online’s mobile app.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Customer Support
Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop come with unlimited customer support. QuickBooks Online and Desktop both have a large, searchable, online database of questions and answers available to anyone. When you subscribe to Enterprise, you’ll get access to the Priority Circle loyalty program, including a dedicated account team, free on-demand training, and premium care from QuickBooks experts.
Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop give you access to 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’ll 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 registered 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 acceptable system, but not nearly as convenient as sharing your books through QuickBooks Online.
If you’re 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 in QuickBooks Desktop 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. QuickBooks Online ProAdvisor certification is free.
Takeaway: QuickBooks Online beats QuickBooks Desktop hands-down for customer support. Not only does it come with unlimited support, but you can also share your books easily with a QuickBooks ProAdvisor.
If most of your accounting duties are done remotely, QuickBooks Online is the right choice. However, if you want the ability to manage your books without an internet connection or you need industry-specific features, choose QuickBooks Desktop. QuickBooks Desktop also has more advanced inventory accounting, but the lack of a fully functional mobile app is a serious shortcoming in today’s mobile age.