Full Review

By Kathy Yakal  |  Posted 2004-09-30 Print this article Print

Word processors and spreadsheet applications have grown incredibly complex, but theyre still easy to use because much of the bloat is hidden. With your typical accounting software, however, all the bloat and complexity is in plain sight, making these applications more complicated than most users would prefer. Intuits new QuickBooks SimpleStart addresses this problem and makes accounting much more approachable for small businesses.

Setup takes about three minutes. The programs wizard simply asks you a few questions about your business preferences. The home page displays an interactive flowchart with icons representing the programs core functions; these are duplicated in a menu in the left pane, with related links below. The program distills accounting tasks down to only those most necessary, and it presents them with straightforward language. Rather than lumbering phrases like "accounts receivable" and "aging reports," SimpleStart refers to "Money In" and "Invoices That Havent Been Paid." No accounting software has ever been so tailored to uncomplicated companies.

Click on a tool, and you can add and edit records (customers, vendors, and items), forms (invoices and estimates, sales receipts, deposits, and customer payments), and bank-account registers. You can write and print checks, and enter expenses and refunds. There are practically no ways to customize individual form and record templates, but the included options should suffice for very small businesses. Likewise, only a handful of report types are available, but all the standards (such as Profit & Loss) are here. SimpleStart lets you charge and track sales tax. And you can accept credit cards, establish merchant accounts, and sign up for automated billing options (though extra charges apply for all three).

An online version of SimpleStart is also available ($9.95 per month for up to two users), and it is actually more powerful than the desktop software. Its just as easy to use, but adds handy tools and navigational features. For example, theres an overview page for each program area that includes more links to related tools and information. Its forms are more customizable than those in the desktop version, and its reports are more plentiful. You can do very simple employee tracking, and display all account activity history.

Our biggest problem with the online version is that the screens are liberally peppered with advertisements for more expensive products and services. Should you want to upgrade, you can transfer data automatically into other QuickBooks products. But for those looking to streamline their accounting, you cant bring data into SimpleStart from other Intuit apps. Still, with its emphasis on simplicity rather than new features, SimpleStart is a tremendous tool in this entrepreneurial age. Were surprised no one tried this ground-level approach sooner.

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