QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop

Without reservation, I recommend that all my clients use QuickBooks to manage their bookkeeping and garner information to make managerial decisions. While there are other bookkeeping software options available, QB has the right level of features for the right price, making it an easy decision.

More confounding is whether to use the online or desktop version. Both have benefits and both have drawbacks, but if you understand the pros and cons of each, you can decide which is the better tool for you. (Personally, I prefer the desktop).

The Interface

Despite having the same bones, the online system looks very different than the desktop version. If you’re used to one or the other, switching can feel quite disruptive. Some of the more basic features of the desktop version seem to be buried in the online version. (For example, if you’re trying to find an old transaction, it can be quite laborious.) Some features aren’t available at all (like tracking mileage).

Winner: Desktop

System Speed

The online version is a bit slower as every transaction needs to be sent up to the server/cloud and the page reloaded before you can move onto the next transaction. This can be especially frustrating if you have a slow Internet connection. As you become more proficient in QB, the slowness will become more perceptible.

Winner: Desktop


The most basic online version costs $13/month. While this is sufficient for the most basic business, I would recommend going to the “essentials” or “pro” version (at $27 and $40 per month, respectively). These offer more robust reporting, by allowing you to sort your revenue and expenses by customer and by sales channel; the “essential” and “pro” versions also allow you to have multiple users working on the file.

The desktop version costs about $175. It’s a fixed, one-time cost. Unless you get a new computer, you don’t really need to update every year (though QuickBooks will suggest you do). Even if you get a new computer, it’s possible to reload an older version. After 6 ½ months, it’s cheaper than the online subscription.

Winner: Desktop


Depending on the nature of your business and operation, you may want more than one person accessing your QuickBooks files. For example, you may have your sales person entering in client invoices and your bookkeeper entering and paying bills.

With the online version, each user can work from their own computer, as long as they have an internet connection, wherever they are.

If you have the desktop version of QuickBooks, collaboration becomes challenging. The most straightforward option is to designate one computer for QB and let the different users share it. Another workaround, which we’ve used here in our office, is to save the QB data file in the cloud and load the software on multiple computers. I can work in QB from my computer, close the file, and Noelle can then continue doing other work on the same company file.

Winner: Online

Technical Support

The time will come when you need help with QuickBooks. Perhaps you’ll need to figure out a report or understand why your checking account isn’t reconciled. The easiest way for me (or anyone else) to help you is to see what’s going on in your file. If you have QB online, then I can easily log into your account to see what’s going on. If you have the desktop version, you’ll need to email the file instead. If we don’t have the same version (for example, I have 2014 and you have 2012), then I can’t make any changes without you being required to update your QB (at the cost of $175).

Winner: Online

Entering Data on the Go

It’s so helpful to be able to create invoices and enter receipts from your iPad or iPhone, especially for farmers and entrepreneurs on the go. With the online version, you can download an app that allows you to manage your books from your desktop or mobile device.

I was working with one client who would make deliveries, but wasn’t always sure what her customers would buy: she would take the original order before delivery, but she sometimes could sell an extra case of tomatoes. When she arrived at a customer’s shop, she would create the new invoice from her phone, email it to the customer, and enter it into QB immediately. Similarly, if she was at the store picking up supplies, she could enter the expense when it happened. Otherwise, she risked losing the receipt in her wallet and not keeping an accurate record.

Winner: Online.

While I find the horsepower and capacity of the desktop version more suited to my needs, you may find that convenience and accessibility of the online version makes more sense for your business. That’s another thing I like about QB: it’s flexible enough to handle a wide range of business needs, which makes it easy for me to use with all my clients.

Still undecided? Give us a call: we’re happy to help you decide which the best option is for you and your business. And when you’ve decided, download our chart of accounts customized for food or farm business.

3 thoughts on “QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop

  1. Thanks for your article! The discussion surrounding QBO vs. Desktop has been a hot topic for a while now. I would definitely agree with a majority of your points.

    For those users that continue to use the desktop version of Quickbooks and are hesitant to switch to QBO or another cloud product, I would highly recommend checking out Qbox. Qbox is a great file sharing and collaboration resource that many accountants, bookkeepers, small business owners, and clients would swear by. Plus it integrates the best attributes of the cloud without really changing how users work on their financials.

    Visit their website to learn more! (www.qboxplus.com)

  2. This is a great review, and it makes me feel that we should continue to use the Desktop version of QB, but we are searching for a way to do payroll in our small office (other than using ADP, which is our current method) and QB only allows that interface with their online product as far as I can tell. Any suggestions on payroll? Thanks!

    1. Hi Sonya, I think it’s great that you’re using a payroll service. It’s too easy to miss a payroll tax payment or filing. ADP certainly has a good reputation. Depending on where you live, there might be an smaller/independent payroll service.

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