QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Can You Make the Switch?

JP Lessard January 23, 2015

In this post, Chris Guido, Senior Marketing Strategist at Miles Technologies and Advanced QuickBooks ProAdvisor, discusses the key differences between QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop and the challenges a company many encounter in making the switch.

Based on the landscape of technology moving towards web based applications and the most recent marketing push by Intuit to move to QuickBooks Online, I have received a large number of inquiries about moving from the desktop version of QuickBooks (Pro/Premier/Enterprise) to the online version (QuickBooks Online).  Performing a precursory search for this will typically lead you to this support article published by Intuit.

A reader coming to this page might simply look at it and say, “I don’t use QuickBooks Point of Sale, the Bill Pay feature, or Job Costing and I’m happy with some basic reports. Great, I can make the switch.”

Now let me say first and foremost that I have been a QuickBooks ProAdvisor for over seven years and feel that QuickBooks is one of the greatest currently available accounting packages for small to mid-sized businesses. That being said, I am a bit disappointed in Intuit with the fact that they are attempting to summarize the differences in the two (very different) applications in eight bullet points.

What I recommend to all of my clients is that before taking the plunge to jump from a desktop version of QuickBooks to the online version is that an exhaustive gap analysis is performed to make sure all the functionality that your business needs is available. There are many times that I have seen a company make the switch, the conversion goes off without a hitch, they are entering transactions and come to the realization that a key piece of functionality or report is not there for them. They then revert back to the desktop edition and have to re-enter all of their backlogged transactions.

The initial expectation is that since both applications have QuickBooks in the name and are both developed by Intuit, switching will be seamless and require little training. This is certainly not the case. They are independent applications developed entirely separate form one another. So the way that you entered transaction in one platform will be much different on the other. There will be learning curve for your staff when switching platforms.

Here are the two standard home screens for QuickBooks Premier:

And here we have the home screen for QuickBooks Online:


These are two very different pages that you land on when you first access QuickBooks which may surprise a few users when they log in for the first time. Long time users of QuickBooks will be familiar with the typical access of function through the home page icons, from the menu dropdowns along the top and from the customizable toolbar:

In the online version, you will be accessing the bulk of your functions from the quick add feature at the top of the screen:

At first glance, you may wonder where a lot of the actions you typically take have gone. It is a combination of Intuit simplifying the steps in QuickBooks Online and functionality that is not available to you. These specific functions will be covered in the following sections broken out by module.

So, let’s get to what everyone really wants to know: What are the differences?

For this comparison, I am comparing QuickBooks Premier 2015 and QuickBooks Online.

User Interface

The following user interface functions are available in QuickBooks Premier, but not available in QuickBooks Online:

  • Capability to customize favorites or shortcut icons
  • Can easily create and restore backups or create copies of company files on an as needed basis
  • Perform actions across multiple windows – for example, a user can have reports open to easily drill down in to data, make adjustments and see the changes reflected immediately across multiple windows
  • List customization which allows users to select the columns of information they want to appear in the corresponding list (customers, vendors, items, chart of accounts, etc.)
  • List sorting allowing users to click on a column header and sort information in ascending or descending data
  • Attached documents (all records)
  • More control over user permissions

The following user interface functions are available in QuickBooks Online , but not available in QuickBooks Premier:

  • Complete web based access from any device using a web browser
  • Free upgrades instantly applied, no upgrade process is required
  • Quick access menu to all recent transactions performed
  • Attached documents (transactions only)

The following user interface functions are available in both platforms:

  • Global company search – a user can search by transaction #, dollar amount, help topic, customer name, etc.
  • Company snapshot of various metric regarding financial performance
  • To Do’s and Reminders
  • Audit Trail for all user activity

Customers & Accounts Receivable

Available in QuickBooks Premier:

  • Sales Order processing
  • Automatically assess finance charges to customers
  • Have multiple contacts per customer
  • Have multiple shipping addresses per customer
  • Complete Job Costing
  • Collection Center
  • Lead Tracker
  • Progress Invoicing
  • Mailing Labels

Available in QuickBooks Online:

  • Quick email functionality – a user can simply click on a mail icon next to the customer’s name in the customer listing to quickly send an email
  • Sales Tax is treated independently from items within QuickBooks
  • Automated customer billing

Available in both:

  • Invoice Creation
  • Payment Receipts
  • Estimates
  • Credit Memos
  • Sales Receipts
  • Statement Generation
  • Invoice form customization, although the QuickBooks desktop version offers many more options for form customization
  • Create jobs or sub-customers under a parent customer
  • Assign varying sales tax codes on a customer by customer basis
  • Online Payments

Vendors & Accounts Payable

Available in QuickBooks Premier:

  • Item Receipts
  • Partial purchase order receipts
  • Customizable purchase order layout

Available in QuickBooks Online:

  • Batch email vendors

Available in both:

  • Bill Entry
  • Pay Bills
  • 1099 vendor tracking and preparation
  • Purchase Order processing, limited in QuickBooks Online
  • Sales tax management


Available in QuickBooks Premier:

  • Inventory Assemblies
  • Reorder Points
  • Inventory Adjustments

Available in both:

  • Track Quantity on Hand

Employees & Payroll

Available in QuickBooks Premier:

  • Loan Manager

Available in both:

  • Online Banking reconciliation with most major banks
  • Previous bank reconciliation reports


Available in QuickBooks Premier:

  • Loan Manager

Available in both:

  • Online Banking reconciliation with most major banks
  • Previous bank reconciliation reports


Available in QuickBooks Premier:

  • Much more extensive report customization
  • QuickBooks Statement Writer
  • Community Contributed Reports
  • Transaction Journal reports
  • Budgeting and forecasting
  • Advanced Excel integrated reports

Available in QuickBooks Online:

  • Automated report emailing

Available in both:

  • Standard financial and company reports, including:
    • Profit & Loss
    • Balance Sheet
    • AP/AR Aging Summary
    • Expense by Vendor
    • Sales by Customer
    • Customer balance Summary
    • Open Invoice List
    • Item Listing
  • Memorized Reports
  • Visual Dashboards

Data Migration – Moving from One Platform to Another

The following data migration functions are available in QuickBooks Premier, but not available in QuickBooks Online:

  • Import and export data using IIF (Intuit Interchange Format)files
  • Ability to import chart of accounts with parent accounts and sub-accounts
  • Add/Edit multiple list entries of the following types using Excel:
    • Customers
    • Vendors
    • Items (Services, Non-Inventory, Inventory, Assemblies)

The Conversion Process

If you are considering making the switch between the platforms there are some key points that you should be aware of when making the switch from Desktop:

  1. Your company file size will need to be below 250Mb.  If you have been using QuickBooks for an extended period of time, odds are your company file size will be larger than this.  If that is the case, you will need to perform a company file clean up to clear transactions in order to reduce the file size
  2. You will lose all memorized transactions and reports.
  3. Certain fields or functions that are not supported in the Online version such as customer information, item information and vendor information will be lost or auto-adjusted when converting.

Should You Switch?

As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, you want to be very sure that the Online edition will continue to support your business processes. My general feeling is that Intuit is ultimately trying to make QuickBooks Online their primary application for small to medium sized business. Unfortunately, I do not believe they are quite there yet. They have made significant strides in the platform over the last few years as they have focused on it more and more. The one great benefit you get form Online, and the fact that they are continually making updates to the software, is that you will receive that added functionality rather than being required to go through a an upgrade process.

Overall, if you find that QuickBooks Online supports your business needs and you really need mobile access to your accounting software then it may be the right fit for you; just be sure to perform your due diligence.

Chris Guido has been a QuickBooks Advanced ProAdvisor for over 5 years and has worked with hundreds of businesses on using and optimizing QuickBooks.

Do you have any questions about the differences between QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop edition? We’d like to hear from you in the comments below.

Have any further questions about making the switch or QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop in general? Contact us today to speak with a QuickBooks software expert.

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