Comparing QuickBooks Desktop with QuickBooks Online

Comparing QuickBooks Desktop with QuickBooks Online

21345058_xl featured
Written by Charlie Russell

Intuit is placing an increasing emphasis on QuickBooks Online, but it isn’t a product that all accounting professionals are familiar with. Many of us have been working with QuickBooks Desktop (for Windows) for years and that is our comfort zone. Intuit keeps on trying to push us out of that comfort zone. My viewpoint on this is that whether we like it or not, QuickBooks Online is going to be a big player in our future, so we better get to know it! Let’s start with a simple comparison of features between the two products.

They Are Different

QuickBooks OnlineUsually whenever someone asks me to compare these two products my stock answer is “don’t compare them, they are different products and they fit different situations”. Then I follow that up with “analyze the client’s needs first, THEN decide which tool is the best one to solve their situation”. If you think about it, though, these are conflicting statements. “Don’t compare” but then “choose between them” – how can I choose if I don’t compare?

QuickBooks DesktopI don’t have a problem with someone listing the features and functions of the two products, and then using that to choose the right product to use. My “don’t compare” idea is more of a statement that even though these two products share the name “QuickBooks”, they aren’t related. QuickBooks Online isn’t a copy of QuickBooks Desktop that has been web-enabled. They are different products with totally different database structures and approaches to solving problems, even though both were developed in-house by Intuit. I sometimes think that if these were named “ABC Desktop Accounting” and “XYZ Online Accounting” that people wouldn’t be complaining about the differences.

So, you look at your client and see what they are doing, what kind of situation they have. Is everyone located in one office or do they work from multiple locations? Are they inventory-centric and need a lot of stuff like barcoding, or are they service oriented? Questions like that, which help you get a picture of the client. Then pick the right tool for the job (I say the same thing about the old argument over which is better, PC or Mac).

Let’s Compare

So here is a look at what these two products share, and how they are different. This isn’t a comprehensive list of every feature at this time – the products are a moving target, and it is a complicated process to build these lists – but it is a start.

The basis for my information is a list compiled by Woody Adams of Radio Free QuickBooks (I think he works for Intuit on the side…). Look for theRFQ_QBMatrix link on the tips page. Woody has given me permission to draw on this info for this article. He updates the document periodically, so you might want to check there every once in awhile. I’m going to take his list and organize it in a different way.

Before we jump in, here are a few points I’d like to make:

  • When I refer to QuickBooks Desktop I’m just talking about the Windows version, not the Mac version.
  • In all cases I’m referring to the US versions of the products.
  • Both products have a number of add-on options available from third party vendors. I’m not including the features found in those. Note that at this time QuickBooks Desktop has more add-on products than QuickBooks Online, but that is changing rapidly.
  • I’m not including features that are found in the optional Advanced Inventory feature for QuickBooks Enterprise. I consider this to be the same as an add-on product, since it is only available for a significant additional fee.
  • To try to keep this simple, I’m not going to get into all the variations that we see with QuickBooks. I’ll ignore, to a degree, QuickBooks Desktop Pro and QuickBooks Online Simple Start. I’m not getting into the differences between the various “Editions” of Premier (or Enterprise). The matrix can be really complicated, with some features found in Enterprise but not Premier, or found only in Accountant (which is Premier level) but in all Enterprise versions, and so forth. I’m trying to simplify things a bit.

Features That Are Common To All

Let’s start with some easy stuff. Here are features that you will find in both QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online, although many times the specific implementations may differ.

  • Accept credit card payments from customers
  • Audit trail to track changes to transactions and lists – Note that QB Online has an activity log that also tracks user login/out
  • Bank reconciliation
  • Company Snapshot
  • Custom fields – varies on the number, and how you can use them, so you have to look at the specifics
  • Express setup of QB company file
  • Multi user access (different limits to the number)
  • Multiple windows
  • Online banking
  • Payroll (additional fees may be required)
  • Print Bills
  • Recurring Billing / Memorized Transactions
  • Zoom into details from reports
  • Document management – is much more limited in Online
  • Budgets (not in QB Online Essentials)
  • Class Tracking (not in QB Online Essentials)
  • Create Estimates (not in QB Online Essentials)
  • Prepare and print 1096, 1099 (not in QB Online Essentials)
  • Job costing – although this is quite limited in QB Online
  • Purchase Orders (not in QB Online Essentials)
  • Invoices
  • Time tracking and billing by customer (not in QB Online Essentials)
  • Reversing journal entries
  • Memorized reports

In addition, there are some features that are only found in the Accountant versions of both products.

  • Accountant Center
  • Adjusted Trial Balance (also in Enterprise)
  • Client file dashboard , File Manager kind of stuff
  • Set accounting period

These features will be found in most QB Desktop products, but only in the Accountant version on the QB Online side.

  • See and Undo previous reconcile
  • Client Data Review – some portions available in non accountant desktop if you log in using external accountant, features differ between online and desktop
  • Comparative balance sheet and P&L
  • Adjusting journal entries – only in Enterprise on the desktop side
  • Voided/deleted transaction report

Features Found in QuickBooks Desktop but not in QuickBooks Online

OK, so the QuickBooks Desktop product has been around longer, and in the past it has gotten a lot more attention from the developers. Sometimes I think of the differences between Microsoft Word (which has EVERYTHING but you might not use it all) and Google Docs (simpler, has the basics, but not all the extra stuff). Do you need all these things? If not, QuickBooks Online is an option. If you need them, however, you either need QuickBooks Desktop, or you need to find an add-on to QuickBooks Online.


  • Average Cost inventory valuation
  • Balance Sheet by Class
  • Batch Invoicing
  • Batch Timesheet Entry
  • Billable Time and Expense preferences
  • Billing rate level
  • Business Planner
  • Forecasting
  • Calendar
  • Change orders on Estimates
  • Collections center
  • Condense data file – but it isn’t clear to me if you actually would need this in QuickBooks Online?
  • Available Quantity in Inventory
  • Customer Snapshot
  • Convert estimate to a purchase order or sales order
  • Advanced Excel export that can update existing exported reports
  • Industry specific reporting (lots and lots of industry specific reports here)
  • Inventory assembly items, Bills of Material, the ability to build assemblies
  • Inventory Center
  • Lead Center
  • Fixed Asset Manager
  • Mileage tracking
  • Multiple currencies
  • Multiple ship to addresses for Vendors
  • One click transactions (pay bill from bill, create credit memo from invoice, etc.)
  • Price Levels
  • Progress Invoicing/billing
  • Receive partially against a purchase order
  • Report Favorites
  • Report – collapse rows
  • Share report templates with Intuit community
  • Inventory – reorder/rebuild points
  • Shipping Manager
  • Sales Orders
  • Sales Order Fulfillment Worksheet
  • Transaction History Panel
  • Units of Measure

One interesting difference is the ability to give someone a copy of a file that they can look at (like an audit) that isn’t your real copy. In some cases you can say “we don’t need the ‘accountant’s copy’ kind of feature in QuickBooks Online” (or things like Send General Journal Entries) since the accountant can easily log in to my QuickBooks Online account. In other cases there may be times when you want to give a copy of your file to someone that is totally separate (IRS audits, perhaps?), which is more complicated with QuickBooks Online.

Moving up the line, here are some features found only in QuickBooks Enterprise.

  • Auto price markup
  • Default classes with class tracking
  • Enhanced Item Receiving, to split receipt from bill
  • Advanced find/select of items
  • Journal entries, list of previous entries (also found in Accountant)
  • ODBC access for reporting
  • Auto purchase orders
  • QuickBooks Statement Writer (also found in Accountant)
  • Working Trial Balance (also in Accountant)
  • Batch Enter Transactions  (also in Accountant)

Features Found in QuickBooks Online but not QuickBooks Desktop


It goes both ways – QuickBooks Online has features that don’t exist in QuickBooks Desktop!

  • Remote access – you can do this with QuickBooks Desktop but you need an additional software product or use QuickBooks Hosting (at a higher price)
  • Auto Send Reports – reports or report groups can be scheduled to send automatically
  • Automatic upgrades – this is both a good and a bad feature, with QuickBooks Online you are almost always running the most up to date version (whether you want to or not)
  • Company Scorecard
  • Delayed charges/billing – enter charges to be billed later
  • Income list/transaction center
  • Invoice automation – automatically create invoice from unbilled activity
  • More than one A/R or A/P account per journal entry
  • Location tracking, a secondary level of class tracking (QB Online Plus only)
  • FIFO Inventory valuation (available in QuickBooks Enterprise but only with the additional cost Advanced Inventory feature)

There Are More Differences

I’m sure that this isn’t an exhaustive list of differences – please feel free to point out others! I’ll admit that I’m still learning about QuickBooks Online, so I can be missing things.

This comparison list also doesn’t highlight other aspects that are different between the two products. I hope to be able to point out more of these kinds of things in future articles. For example, both products integrate with Intuit PaymentNetwork (which I didn’t point out, since it is essentially an add-on feature), but there are big differences in how it is implemented on each side. The workflow is VERY different, and in this case you may find that the feature is much easier to use (at this time) in QuickBooks Online than in QuickBooks Desktop.

I hope that this serves as a starting point for understanding the differences between QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online. You need to understand both products if you are going to make good decisions about which product to use or recommend.