I looked at shipping versions of two major accounting packages: ACCPAC International's Simply Accounting 2003 and Intuit's QuickBooks 2003.
My pick is Simply Accounting 2003, which provides capabilities that rival category leader QuickBooks 2003's but at a fraction of the price ($39 for Simply Accounting Basic; $200 for QuickBooks Basic).
A third accounting package also is out--MYOB Plus 12, which now includes stronger inventory capabilities. This improvement may make it worthwhile for existing single users to spring for the $119 upgrade, but version 12 does not have enough meat for others to consider switching.
WEB'S UP. Simply Accounting 2003's most significant improvement is Simply Webstore, whose superb integration with the accounting software makes e-commerce easy. With a single click, you can now synchronize new products and prices that have been entered into the accounting system with those listed at your Web store.
In addition, you can accept online orders around the clock and retrieve them into Simply Accounting 2003 for approval before processing. You can require up-front payment for all orders made with a credit card, or you can offer regular customers your standard credit terms. ACCPAC's monthly Web hosting charges for the store start at $35.
Other enhancements to the $40 Basic 2003 version include better sorting and report options, tighter security right down to the record level for improved segregation of employee duties, and extra hourly payroll rate fields to handle shift differentials.
The $89 Pro 2003 version adds time and billing features, electronic funds transfer, and support for multiple-currency transactions. (Basic's upgrade cost also is $39, Pro's is $89.)
If you're considering switching, Simply Accounting 2003 smooths the path by converting data exported from its competitors QuickBooks and MYOB. Note, however, that making this sort of change is much easier to accomplish at the beginning of a fiscal year.
PRICEY BOOKS. Small-business accounting leader QuickBooks offers a host of features, but it's expensive. The prices of the Pro and Basic versions are each $20 more this year--despite the fact that most improvements are available only in the Premier edition, whose wallet-flattening $500 price didn't increase. Intuit did throw a bone or two to users of all versions, such as improved backup options (including scheduling and integrity checking). But these minor enhancements hardly justify the upgrade costs: Basic, $100; Pro, $180; and Premier, $380.
QuickBooks 2003 does finally catch up to the competition by adding an inventory assembly feature, which makes it suitable for small businesses that combine several products into a single unit for sale. It also now lets you create and track customer sales orders--especially helpful for handling relatively complex orders your business can't fill right away.
QuickBooks 2003 also beefs up already-strong financial planning features with both a financial forecaster and a business plan creator. You can still export data to Excel, but you may not need to use a spreadsheet to augment the built-in planning capabilities. From the March 2003 issue of PC World magazine