Intuit's Quickbooks Pro a useful business tool

First published in Business in Vancouver, Issue #621, September 18, 2001. The high-tech office column


Growing up, I was surrounded by accountants. My father, uncle and father-in-law were all numbers men. Perhaps inevitably, my eyes glaze over whenever anything that even hints of balancing the books comes up.

As a result, I was psychologically unfit to take a look at Intuit's Quickbooks Pro 2001 software ( Luckily, John Hamm, co-owner of Commercial Drive art supplies and stationery store Eastside Datagraphics, offered to put the $330 product through its paces.

John had worked with earlier versions of the product, as well as the competitive MYOB, both aimed at the accounting needs of sole proprietors and small businesses. He found this newest Quickbooks easy to install, customize and use on a day-to-day basis. The setup program asks a series of questions about your business needs and customizes itself to match. As a result, you're not overwhelmed with options that you don't need. If you choose, you can later manually turn modules on or off as required.

The setup wizard can even guide you through the steps of creating databases of employees, vendors, customers and products. Once again, these databases can be customized later if desired. It's one of the only programs in its class that include credit card support for online purchases, along with the ability to e-mail or fax invoices. It also supports online banking; the program can take users right into their online accounts.

John liked the more than 100 standard reports that are included. These, too, are user-customizable. Hamm appreciated the ability to export a report's contents and format to an Excel spreadsheet with a single click and being able to drill down from report categories all the way to the individual source entries. Charts can also be drilled down, first to progressively more detailed charts and eventually to individual entries.

A list of open windows helps keep track of everything that's going on. And a "How Do I?" item in each window's title bar offers a list of help topics related to that window. John found the navigator pane in the opening screen less useful, however. Each item connects to one of the core functions, by opening a window with a picture illustrating the next steps. He reported that in this case, a picture wasn't worth 1,000 words, and that he found them more confusing than helpful. Once past the pictures, you can use these navigators to create accounts, to manage customers, vendors or employees, or for payroll and invoicing.

Other than that, Hamm found that the program offered a lot of attention to the little details that made his job easier. It was easy to split a transaction between two (or more) categories, something that some competitive programs just can't do at all. Similarly, it is easy to create customizable payment terms or tax rates if none of the standard entries meet your needs.

Self-employed professionals will appreciate the ease with which they can keep track of billable time and costs.

Backing up is quick and easy. You can save your backup online using Quickbooks backup service, making your data available at other locations or in case of fire or theft. You can even use the program to create a quick Web site.

Despite its roots, the program has been Canadianized, understanding and using PST, GST and the rest of our local terminology.

There's also a $170 standard version, primarily aimed at individuals who have outgrown Intuit's Quicken personal finance program. It includes much of the Pro version, but lacks features such as multi-user capabilities, customizable estimates, automated job costing and integration with Word, Excel, Outlook and ACT. And finally, there's an online version, Quickbooks for the Web, $22 per month, with a free 30-day trial (

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan