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Comparison of Accounting Software

by Chris Shenton last modified Jan 05, 2010 01:34 AM
Is it easier to enter our expenses, receipts, payments into accounting software or give them to an accountant? Are web-accessible systems better than desktop software?

Features Wanted

Since Harvest tracks our timesheets, expenses, invoices we don't necessarily need those. Do want:

  • easy and flexible time recording
  • creating, sending, and tracking invoices
  • connection to bank for automatic download, reconciliation.
  • balance sheet (assets, liabilities, on hand -- month-by-month) for accountants

Would prefer online, web-based systems so we can get to them from anywhere.

Executive Summary

  • Intuit's QuickBooks (desktop and online) treat Mac users with contempt.
  • MYOB looks promising but probably too complicated for us.
  • Harvest is great at what it does but lacks banking and accounting feature I need.
  • Xero looks really good but has no time-tracking built-in, price is fine.
  • FreeAgent look very good, great price, but may not have enough developers on it.

QuickBooks Mac 2010

Lots of negative reviews about QB for Mac: lack of feature parity with Windows version, different file formats than Windows complicate exchange with your accountant, and worst, data corruption.

Does NOT have "direct connect" to automatically retrieve bank data from my bank, only "web connect" where I download QIF-type files then upload. WTF, only the Online version has direct connection to my bank!

It can't import the QFX file I already exported. When it downloads QBO it asks if I want to open with QuickBooks 2010, I say yes, it fails and says I need to contact my financial institution. Same if I download then import: OL-222. Can't do IIF format either. AWESOME!

I was able to do File -> Import -> IIF file and start importing, but it got halfway through (according to the green progress bar) then hung... for over 5 minutes. Could not be canceled.

Strangely, if I go into Accounts, I see a LOT of spreadsheet lines for debit/credit transactions, but it looks like QB thinks they're all separate accounts. Where did it get these from, the hung/aborted IIF file import, or the failed QBO import?

Do I need to create some account first, to import into, or is the OL-222 error indicating some OFX format problem -- which they don't give me diagnostics to analyze.

If I replace the "&" in my bank's name with "and" or "&" that the import works. Thanks a lot for not helping me debug this, QB.

I can't (yet) import Harvest Time data into QB as IIF: it says it's imported the data but doesn't seem to show it anywhere. QB support told me they don't have the ability to import time events... on the Mac version. Second class citizen, again.

If I create some time events in QB then try to Export to Excel it fails: "Excel not found on the system. Please install Microsoft Excel version 10.1.0 or greater and export again.". WTF, not CSV?

I can't import Expense transactions as a CSV? You're kidding! It's gotta be in the IIF format, only. There's a "toolkit" to convert, but it's Windows only.

This was a waste of time: it looks nice, but clearly does not have the same features as the Windows version, and the different data file formats for Mac vs. PC is insane. Bail before it's too late.

QuickBooks Online

$35/month.

Only works with Windows browsers, and a Beta for Mac Safari, with no automated way to import QB Mac data into the QB online version. Trying with Safari.

Have to give them my credit card for the 30 day trial, and have to cancel if I don't want to be charged.

It was easy enough to get it to download transactions from my bank, once I figured out the right account. It downloaded only the past 30 days, however, and I don't look forward to entering the other 11 months by hand. It does claim to check my bank every night and download new transactions which seems very handy.

Had a pull-down to select my business type (computer software design) and presumably set SIC code.

This seemed potentially useful, but a bit overcomplicated, and the web interface was not nearly as polished as other offerings by more progressive companies. Intuit's continued treatment of standards compliant browsers and Mac platform still smells bad, and feels like we may end up abandoned. Bail.

Hosted QuickBooks

@thinkx2 "you can try hosted QB www.linked cpa.com, www.cpaasp.com, www.rightnetworks.com are three providers". @thinkx2 is in Alexandria and offered her accounting services; could be convenient.

cpaasp.com prices QuickBooks AccountStation at $49/month/person!

rightnetworks.com talked about Windows access, or old G3 mac.

This seems no better than QuickBooks Online, and possibly worse if it's something like Citrix. And the price is not competitive. Bail.

MYOB AccountEdge

They have a very helpful "Accounting 101" document.

A FlashPlayer to install the app? Lame. WTF, requires a restart? Double lame, this ain't Windoze.

Initial setup looks rather unpolished, unantialiased fonts, graphics. Main screens look fine.

No way to have MYOB automatically download statements/transactions from my bank?

Can import Quicken format files downloaded from my bank. But now I don't know what to do -- Match Transactions? Have to Add Transaction, fill in check cartoon, need to find payee name from checkbook. Then "an unbalanced transaction may not be recorded". Ug. I'm not an accountant but usability seems pretty harsh.

Sadly, it's too complex for what I want to do. And I really would prefer something "in the cloud" so all our staff can contribute data: it's such fun work I hate keeping it to myself :-). Have to bail on it.

Harvest

Does time tracking, recording expenses, and generation/sending/tracking invoices. It's great at what it does, easy to use, polished, looks good. It's $22/month for the two of us and we've enjoyed using it.

Unfortunately, it doesn't do banking so I have to reconcile those with my bank accounts and then do accounting stuff like Balance Sheets some other way. This was excruciating last year, something I don't want to ever repeat. So I'm looking for something more accountant-y.

If Harvest and Xero had a love-child, it could be a beautiful thing. There is interest in this, and it seems the right RESTful APIs are exposed, but I don't have the time to do it (cobblers' sons' shoes syndrome).

Xero

$19/month: 5 accounts, 5 accounts payable invoices/month, 20 reconciled bank statements/month $29/month: unlimited invoicing, unlimited reconciliation $39/month: multi-currency

Encourages integration into other services, like Harvest, WHMCS, ... via a RESTful API.

One report about not getting US bank transactions?

Easily imported our checking account's OFX transaction history. Could not import stock checking account CSV file. For modified CSV, it will try and match incoming fields with fields it needs, which seems like it will make this workable for old CSV files. (the Amex format I hacked for FreeAgent didn't have enough fields, like the credit/debit type)

Reconciliation seems harder than it should be: I can "Create" based on a statement transaction but it doesn't auto-populate the Name, so I have to type that in, pull-down the type (e.g., Entertainment) then fill in the Description. This is going to be slow for 300 transactions. Xero auto-completes the name for me, and cleverly associates other payments to the same entity, so this isn't as bad as it seemed. (Interesting how different approach they take from FreeAgent.)

We can process our CSV file to extract a set of payee names, then using their CSV template upload them into the Contacts list. Then when we try to reconcile and Create, we can at least auto-complete the name, but Xero doesn't figure it out by itself. :-( Why's Description a required field anyway?

Perhaps the Cash Coding tab helps: a table where we can pull-down the Account (and Consultant). The Help system indicates this is the best way to reconcile an upload, versus transactions already entered that need to be matched. OK, not so painful after all.

Really nice and abundant help system. (compared to FreeAgent, which doesn't seem to have any help except for the forums and an FAQ).

Xero does NOT appear to have time tracking or timesheets, so we would have to do that with some other system, like Harvest, then re-enter or somehow input that data for accounting. That adds time and cost.

MinuteDock is time tracking and with (required) integration to Xero for $9/month, $99/year. I didn't like the feel of it, and it seemed a bit expensive for what it does. It has no notion of projects, subprojects, tasks and the like:

We don't currently support recording projects, subprojects or tasks. We're looking at ways to support projects at the moment - we just want to keep MinuteDock nice and simple :)

Can report timesheets. Can create invoices then send to Xero (but I'm just getting a spinner now. Both times I tried:

We're currently sending this invoice to Xero. Shouldn't be long.

Invoice Number: (waiting) Date: Tue, Dec 15

Impressive that within minutes of submitting a subject/question through the web interface I had an answer by email. The invoices I created never went through to Xero, but I got email from MinuteDock saying they were hung due to an issue with Xero, and that I could submit now, with a link to do it. And it worked, both of them. Very nice, proactive support. Try getting that from the QuickBooks folks.

After I create a Contact I can Invoice them. After I create "Item" and "Description" (e.g., 10.34: 10.34 Sunra Phase 2) once, it will auto-complete them in subsequent invoices. Not bad, but where do those live, as projects somewhere or hidden? These projects are available across all Contacts, so they're not specific (e.g., per-customer projects). I'm not sure if this is good or bad -- "web design" is an item/description you'd want every

I really want to like Xero: it seemed the most complete of all the systems and the price is fair. The deal killer for me was the lack of built-in time tracking and invoicing. If FreeAgent can't address some of the outstanding issues users have reported up to a year ago, and the time tracking isn't adequate for our needs, it may be worth a serious re-evaluation and trial of Xero.

FreeAgent

Reviewed and usage notes are in a separate page. Feels like a lighter-weight Xero, but with built-in time tracking and a lower price. Hopefully they can fix issues their users are having in a timely manner.

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