QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Which Is Right for Your Business?

Unless you need advanced inventory or industry-specific features, QuickBooks Online is typically a better solution.

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Known as the industry standard for small-business accounting software, QuickBooks offers two core types of products: the cloud-based QuickBooks Online and the locally hosted QuickBooks Desktop.

With four plans, robust features and a user-friendly interface, QuickBooks Online is the ideal choice for most small businesses. QuickBooks Desktop, on the other hand, is a good option for businesses that prefer desktop software, need its advanced inventory tracking and reporting tools, or are looking for an industry-specific solution.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop comparison

QuickBooks Online

QuickBooks Desktop

Price

$30 per month and up.

$349.99 per year and up.

Better for

Most small to midsize businesses that want a cloud-based solution.

Small to midsize businesses that want a desktop solution or need advanced inventory and industry-specific features.

Maximum number of users

1-25.

1-40.

Ease of sharing with accountants

Excellent. You can send email invites to your accountant from within the software.

Good. You can send a copy of your company file to your accountant and import their changes.

Scalability

Excellent. With four plan tiers, QuickBooks Online can scale with your business. Add-ons like QuickBooks Time may expand your functionality.

Good. You can upgrade to any version of QuickBooks Desktop as your needs change. However, converting your data from one desktop solution to another can be a complex process.

Ease of use

Good. QuickBooks Online is user-friendly, but it requires some prior accounting knowledge to get the most out of it.

Fair. QuickBooks Desktop has a more dated user interface than some cloud-based products and requires prior accounting knowledge to get the most out of the product.

🤓Nerdy Tip

QuickBooks offers three different products under the Desktop umbrella: Pro Plus, Premier Plus and Enterprise. These are intended for Windows operating systems, but the company has separate software for Mac users, too.

Why QuickBooks Online is a better choice

Ease of use

There are a variety of resources and community support online to guide you through setting up your QuickBooks account and navigating the software, regardless of which version you choose. Additionally, QuickBooks has a wide network of ProAdvisors — accountants who are certified in the software — who you can work with for professional assistance.

However, if you’re unfamiliar with the basics of accounting, or accounting software overall, it'll likely be more difficult to get started with QuickBooks Desktop — especially the Enterprise plan — compared with QuickBooks Online. The Enterprise version of QuickBooks Desktop is more powerful and detailed than other QuickBooks products, but it’s also less approachable if you’re new to accounting.

Pricing

Since QuickBooks Online is priced as a monthly subscription, it doesn’t require a contract and you can cancel your account at any time. QuickBooks Desktop’s pricing is more complex and depends on the plan tier, the number of users you need and whether you want cloud access. Additionally, the desktop products are only available as annual subscriptions, making them a bigger commitment than QuickBooks Online.

Accessibility

QuickBooks Online can be accessed anywhere you have an internet connection, and because it’s web-based, you can work with your accountant in real time. The QuickBooks mobile app is also available for free and lets you manage your account on the go.

QuickBooks Desktop is more limiting. You must purchase additional licenses if you want to access it on multiple computers. While you can add cloud access to QuickBooks Enterprise, it involves an additional fee.

When you might choose QuickBooks Desktop instead

Advanced inventory management

Both QuickBooks Online Plus and Advanced include inventory tracking; however, QuickBooks Desktop’s Enterprise plan offers more industry-specific capabilities designed for businesses such as manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. These include the ability to track raw materials and finished products and automate order management, among other functions. It also has barcode scanning capabilities, in which business owners can download the QuickBooks Desktop mobile app and use their mobile device as a scanner.

Industry-specific reports

QuickBooks Desktop Premier Plus and Enterprise plans have industry-specific reports for manufacturing and wholesale, retail, nonprofit, general contractor and professional service businesses, too. For example, nonprofits can use the desktop products to run donor contribution summary reports while manufacturing, wholesale and retail businesses have the ability to forecast product sales. Contractors and professional service businesses can use the software to compare revenue by city, customer and job type. QuickBooks Online offers a large selection of reports, but they aren’t industry-specific.

QuickBooks alternatives

Bookkeeping and accounting software

FreshBooks
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on FreshBooks' website

FreshBooks Accounting $15 per month and up. Read Review.

Sage 50cloud $47.25 per month (when paid annually) and up.

Wave Financial Free (add-ons available).

Xero
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on Xero's website

Xero $12 per month and up.

Zoho Books $0 per month and up.