I’ve been a QuickBooks user for years. As the online version was introduced I was dragged kicking and screaming into dropping the desktop version and moving over to the online version.
I have to say, I hated the online version of QuickBooks for a long time. There is still a lot I dislike to be honest, but I’ve done the learning curve and it just is what it is. My biggest grievance, in their aim to simplify, QuickBooks online hides things from you that were just there in QuickBooks desktop. That’s fine 95% of the time, but its the 5% that’s important. Whenever something new and tricky needs to be done or a mistake is made, it feels painfully hard just to work out what on earth QuickBooks online has done with a transaction, it will literally just vanish and you have to hunt it out to find it and figure out what went wrong.
That didn’t happen with QB desktop, it was simple, perfectly simple in many ways, you entered things and there they were, exactly where you’d expect them to be. It didn’t’ try to be clever because there was no need to, to use it you needed basic books knowledge so you knew what it was about.
In fairness to QuickBooks online, the online bank account linked aspects of it are really good and really useful once you accept them and figure out how it does its thing. But, it’s still trying to be a wizard for you all the time, always attempting to make it appear magic and hide its nuts and bolts, to a fault in my opinion.
So in hating on QuickBooks online, the big new shiny competitor, Xero, has always seemed tantalising, the better solution that I’m sure would just be better in every way. They charge more, it’s newer, their brand is slick, I wish I could just change over to it, but who really wants to take on that massive upheaval unless they have to…
Well, it came about that I had to. My father suffered a stroke and I had to get on top of his small business books for which he was using Xero. So it was time to do the learning curve and find out if it really was so much better.
Its got a more professional simple design. With is clean black and white look it feels slicker than the QuickBooks more colourful UI. I usually much prefer simple over cluttered so I should love that. But I don’t. It feels less intuitive. Things that are easy and relatively obvious to find in QuickBooks feel hard and more clicks away in Xero. No doubt there’s a familiarity issue at play, I’ve used QuickBooks online for a long time so I’m pretty familiar with it, but even so, there feels a similar criticism to Xero that I have for QuickBooks – in their quest for simplicity they’ve hidden away how it works, how bookkeeping works, you have to dig further it feels than in QuickBooks when finding that problem transaction you made a mistake with or didn’t go in as you expected it would.
Xero is not simpler to configure than QuickBooks. I discovered my Dad had never managed to make Xero balances line up with his actual bank balances and it turned out it wasn’t his fault. Xero was not all over making starting balances easy and resolving such a basic issue once he had accidentally created it (he’d added a couple of transactions dated before his Xero start date). I took me over 2 hours to resolve it working through countless help articles and it turned out to be Xero not bothering to tell you the user that it wasn’t accepting the conversion balances I’d adjusted for him and instead prompting with a confusing screen with no clear explanation.
Which is better?
Anyway, specific gripes aside, what’s my verdict? Xero is nicer looking, its cleaner. It’s reconciling of unmatched transactions is much nicer. But it’s not better overall. They are both not good enough. They both fall short of justifying their relatively high annual running cost for the user for what is essentially just a glorified database. They both could be so much better with someone focused on improving all the confusing and unclear bits. They both feel designed by committee, ticking the boxes of achieving accounting but without someone intuitive being allowed to make them properly finished and good.
I’d choose Xero for its nice looking UI and transaction reconciliation. But I’d choose QuickBooks for its better UI in terms of finding the bits of my books I need to find quickly and being more friendly. Overall, I’d choose QuickBooks because of price too. They both do the job. They both are heavily overpriced for what they actually provide as a software service. But QuickBooks offers a significantly cheaper basic package that is really good news when I start a new company on a new venture and don’t need anything other than basic features for the first year or two as I build it up.