The 2006 version of QuickBooks introduces some of the most significant upgrades to Intuit's small-business accounting software we've seen in years. The enhancements should make a difference at all levels, whether you use it for a budding business or an established enterprise.

QuickBooks 2006 justifies the 'Quick' part of its name. Setup for new business books is rapid. The software operates faster than ever, too, speeding preparation of complex reports for a larger concern. With this version, Intuit has shifted from an ageing homegrown underlying database to a more robust SQL database based on Sybase's iAnywhere.

Although every edition incorporates the new database, this change chiefly benefits bigger businesses, because they need to track many transactions. The bolstered database eliminates much of the hefty performance penalty previously associated with making use of the audit trail, which tracks changes in transactions by users and helps them detect errors and fraudulent transactions.

Improved look, features

The software comes in four packaged editions, ranging from the entry-level Regular to the top-of-the-line Enterprise Solutions, which costs a couple of grand. We looked at Intuit's £300 QuickBooks Pro 2006.

QuickBooks' revised home page starts out with a graphical depiction of a workflow that's both easy to understand and customisable. Among the interface niceties are new customer, vendor and employee data centres for quicker access to contact data and transactions on the same page. Old interface frustrations are gone, simplifying the menu structure.

The software has improved its integration with Microsoft Office, too, although it's still trying to catch up to the many slick integration-oriented tricks found in Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting. A step in that direction is the new QuickBooks Sync for Outlook, a free download you can use with QuickBooks and Outlook to trade customer, vendor, and job information between the two. Synching is two-way. If you change info in the program, it changes in Outlook, and vice versa. It supports different address books for vendors and customers.

QuickBooks has made up ground on another of its competitors, Sage's Peachtree Accounting, by adding powerful product-inventory features. It even has Available-to-Promise, a feature that's available only in QuickBooks' Premier edition and the industry-specific editions – Manufacturing & Wholesale, Accountant, and Enterprise Solutions. This feature juggles sales orders when they exceed the quantity of available product, and proposes ways to fulfil sales based on criteria you specify.

Intuit has trimmed the cost on its Pro and Premier Editions since last time around, but it's also eliminated the price break previously available for upgraders. Still, in view of the improvements, this software is well worth the upgrade cost.

QuickBooks Pro 2006: Specs

  • Pentium II (500MHz recommended)
  • Windows 2000/XP
  • 128MB RAM (256MB recommended)
  • 850MB hard disk space
  • Pentium II (500MHz recommended)
  • Windows 2000/XP
  • 128MB RAM (256MB recommended)
  • 850MB hard disk space

OUR VERDICT

Intuit has done it again with QuickBooks 2006. Last year, there wasn't enough on offer to entice existing users to upgrade but the 2006 edition is worth the payout. QuickBooks Pro 2006 is an essential purchase for any business needing software to balance the books. Intuit gets top marks for dropping the price of the Regular edition in the face of competition from other packages.

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