FORTUNE Small Business

Battle of the bean counters

How does Microsoft's new accounting software stack up against the mighty QuickBooks?

By Jonathan Blum, FSB contributor

(FSB Magazine) -- As if there weren't enough tussling in the technology world, two software giants are duking it out over - get this - bean counting. Internet-search giant Google recently cut a deal with Intuit, the 800-pound accounting software gorilla.

Intuit's QuickBooks accounting package now features internal links to Google marketing tools such as Ad-Words and Maps. Not to be out-done, Microsoft fired back with a spanking-new Web-oriented accounting product of its own: Microsoft Office Accounting Professional. This application lives inside the sprawling software megalopolis that is Microsoft Vista and Office 2007.

QuickBooks Premier: $349.95
The Google partnership adds only a thin overlay of online marketing functionality to Intuit's popular bookkeeping software.
Microsoft Office Accounting Professional: $149
Great features and price, dazzling integration with Office. But will your accountant use it?

"The Intuit deal brings Google right down into the heart of the Microsoft Office turf," says Joe Wilcox, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research. I enjoy a good Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster techno-slugfest as much as the next fella. But would I - a professional gadget analyst and small-business owner ( - actually recommend one accounting package over another?

To find out, I ordered up a reviewer's copy of Quick-Books Premier ($349.95 for one user), Intuit's top-of-the-line accounting package for small businesses, complete with built-in Google Marketing tools. I compared it with Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2007 ($149 for one user), an extension of Microsoft Office 2007 that comes complete with Web-based marketing services. Some of them are part of the Microsoft Office Live initiative, and others are specific to Microsoft Office Accounting. Confusing, I know, but that's Microsoft (Charts, Fortune 500) for you. I put both applications to work in my small shop, where I produce consumer electronics content for radio, print, TV and the Web.

Intuit's (Charts) interface tries to visualize the financial life of your business. The different sectors of your enterprise are represented by icons on a large desktop. You go from one part of your business to another by clicking from one icon to another. Want to know who owes you what? Click on the INVOICES icon in the Customers section. Want to know which employee is working on what? Click on ENTER TIME in Employees. There are links for inventory, accounts, refunds and much more.

It took me a moment to grasp the logic. But half an hour after I set up QuickBooks on my PC, I was running my business on the software. I sold a story and saw my receivables and net cash jump. I paid a bill and saw my payables shrink along with my cash reserves. QuickBooks is sort of the Jay-Z of virtual bean counters, slick and professional - if a bit cold.

But Intuit's ballyhooed Google (Charts, Fortune 500) alliance was underwhelming at best. It boiled down to a single icon called MARKETING TOOLS just below the Items and Services link on the main QuickBooks page. Click on it, and you rocket over to a Web page labeled Marketing Tools for QuickBooks. There I found Google Maps, Google's mapping software; AdWords, Google's flagship search-term advertising service and some links to Google Base, Google's mercantile exchange software. The Google page preenters your QuickBooks information, so you save a few clicks in the log-in process. And Quick-Books gives you a $50 credit toward your AdWords account.

The Google tools work. My office now appears on Google Maps. Ad-Words generated 17 visits to my radio show's Web site in two weeks, plus one really weird phone call. But why do I need Intuit? All these Google tools are available free without QuickBooks.