In a world of overhyped software upgrades, Intuit QuickBooks Premier 2006 is the real deal. More than a step up over its predecessor, QuickBooks Premier 2006 is an extreme makeover, with a revamped home page that newcomers will find easier to master and a shorter setup interview with far fewer screens to navigate. Personal relationships are the lifeblood of small business, and QuickBooks 2006 takes this into account with streamlined, single-page views of customers, vendors, and employees along with all related invoices, estimates, and payments. The 2006 version of this popular bookkeeping app corrects some of the program's previous shortcomings by adding a faster SQL database, beefed-up (though not best-of-breed) inventory-management tools, and an audit trail that's activated by default. QuickBooks Premier 2006 is a great bookkeeper for both longtime users and first-time bean counters.
Accounting software often involves a time-consuming setup, particularly for small shops upgrading from paper invoices, purchase orders, and desk drawers full of records for customers, vendors, and employees. QuickBooks Premier 2006 eases this burden with a shorter setup interview that uses far fewer screens than the one in version 2005. The second screen of the new interview, for instance, asks for your company's name and vital stats. QuickBooks 2005 doesn't ask for that information until the tenth screen.
The 2006 interface of QuickBooks is dramatically different from that of last year's software. The home page, for instance, is now a full-screen flowchart that provides a mile-high view of your day-to-day operations. The screen is cleaner, less intimidating, and easier to learn. Gone are the left-side Navigators and Open Windows columns of years past (although longtime users can bring back the Open Windows layout to easily hop between open modules). Another plus: Intuit has softened its built-in sales pitches for premium services. Those internal ads don't appear in version 2006 unless you click the discreet Add Services link on the home page.
QuickBooks 2006 has the best interface of all the small-business accounting packages we've tested. Its best new features are the Customer, Employee, and Vendor Centers. In the past, you had to fish through various modules and reports to compile data on a specific customer, employee, or vendor, but version 2006 lets you view a customer's contact information and transaction history on a single screen. QuickBooks 2006's competitors, such as Peachtree Complete Accounting 2006, are more task oriented and present this data in a piecemeal fashion.
We tested the $399 QuickBooks Premier 2006, which, like the $199 QuickBooks Pro, is targeted at small businesses. What's the difference? Premier is designed for companies with up to 20 employees, while Pro is for a business with 10 or fewer workers. Premier has advanced features, such as tools for creating business plans and an Expert Analysis tool that gauges your business's financial health against the industry norm. Industry-specific versions of Premier include manufacturing and accountant editions. For tiny shops with an employee or 2 (or none), Intuit sells the $99 QuickBooks Simple Start package, which provides a basic toolkit for generating estimates and invoices, writing checks, and so on.