Practice Management QuickBooks Tech Trends

Should You Use QuickBooks Online, Desktop or Hosting?

Written by Carrie Kahn

Here’s how to choose which QuickBooks option to use.

Many people are confused about the different options in QuickBooks. Throughout my journey supporting QuickBooks over the past 25 years, it has been wonderful to learn that Intuit has embraced the concept of “right fitting” the customer. However, with so many options, it can be overwhelming and confusing. It’s important to understand where these products are in their lifecycle journey. QuickBooks Desktop edition is still a viable product that is feature-rich. QuickBooks Online is the baby in the family, and even though they are adding features as fast as they can, it is still being built out.

With the shift to the cloud, you may think that QuickBooks Desktop is going away; however, that is far from true. Intuit is continuing to invest in both products as they go down parallel paths. QuickBooks Online is going to take more time to develop, and it is part of Intuit’s 10-year transformation plan. They are transitioning from a North American desktop company to a global cloud company.  

Before you jump into your purchase, be sure to understand the differences in the platforms so that you are making a wise investment. QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop are vastly different and not designed to be interchangeable. 

To begin, when selecting QuickBooks, there are two main platforms:

1) QuickBooks Online (QBO): Software as a Service (SaaS)

  • Simple Start: up to 1 user
  • Essentials: up to 3 users
  • Plus: up to 5 users
  • Advanced: up to 25 users – Higher list limits, priority support

2) QuickBooks Desktop (QBDT): On-Premise or Hosting

  • Professional: up to 3 users  
  • Premier: up to 5 users
  • Enterprise: up to 30 users – Higher list limits, priority support

Main Differences with QBO and QBDT

QuickBooks Online can only be accessed from the cloud, and each subscription is for one company. QuickBooks Desktop can be accessed locally or can be accessed from the cloud by adding an additional hosting subscription and can be used for multiple company files. The Online version is completely different from QuickBooks Desktop, so for those migrating from one platform to another, be prepared for a learning curve to get up to speed and feel comfortable.  

What Is So Attractive About QuickBooks Online? 

Intuit’s vision is to make the QuickBooks Online version available to access anywhere at any time from the internet. It is designed to provide the core accounting function and allow you to custom-build your solution by adding third-party applications. This custom tech stack approach adds a whole new layer of complexity. When selecting your add-on products, you need to do your due diligence in researching options to ensure they meet your needs and are fully supported. It’s important to research these products to find out how large their customer base is, check reviews and case studies. Test drive the solution to make sure it meets your needs. As we embrace the idea that online SaaS solutions are the future, we also need to understand the reality of where they are in development. These solutions are still relatively new and may not solve their needs as promised. Proceed with caution.

The History of QuickBooks Desktop

The original version of QuickBooks that launched in 1991 is still alive and well. This is our number one choice for customers that need a strong feature of tracking inventory, non-profit, multiple companies, and job cost. Today QBES Product development team is still building out the warehouse inventory management functionality.

Some unique features only available in QuickBooks Desktop include:

  • Customizable security settings, hundreds of choices (Enterprise only)
  • Inventory historical valuation reporting in all editions
  • Invoice tracking by sales rep
  • Sales order workflow (Premier/Enterprise)
  • Reports are strong and customizable
  • Track bill of materials/assembly/finished goods for manufacturing (Premier/Enterprise) 
  • Enterprise Platinum Edition offers advanced inventory solutions: location tracking, serial number or lot tracking, and barcode scanning, inventory cycle count, pack, pick & ship. 

QuickBooks Enterprise is feature-rich and priced lower than its competition. This solution can be on-premise or hosted in the cloud for anytime, anywhere access.   

Below is an excerpt from the Intuit Q1 2019 (11-19-2018) Earnings Conference Call that discusses Intuit’s plans to continue to invest in the product development of Enterprise:

Matthew Wells: “Hi, thanks for taking my question. I’m on for Walter Pritchard… we get the sense that you are positioning QuickBooks desktop to move upstream essentially targeting SMEs…Thanks.”

Brad Smith: “Yes…. QuickBooks Enterprise Solution is a disruptor to the mid-market. It is a fast growing product in our product lineup. It’s priced about 35% cheaper than any other competitors in that marketplace and we are going to continue to invest in that product.”

Nandan Amladi: “Hi, good afternoon…How do you balance the future roadmap with the QuickBooks enterprise relative to QuickBooks Online and that online ecosystem?”

Brad Smith: “Yes, Nandan, thank you for the question. I would say we are going down a parallel path. We’re continuing to build out the feature functionality in QuickBooks Online. That’s going to take us some time … in the meantime, there are real customer problems in the market that are getting solved well by the current mid-market solution. We are not abandoning the desktop, so we’re continuing to make the appropriate investments in the enterprise product to make sure it got the highest net promoter score while we are making the investments…”

A Look at QuickBooks Online

Ten years after QuickBooks Desktop was launched, QuickBooks Online was released as their SaaS solution. They are investing in this product heavily to add features. It’s important to note that it does not have all the features that are included in Desktop. As mentioned before, Intuit is in a 10-year journey to add features and catch up. Customers that are fully trained on Desktop Edition must start all over in their training for QuickBooks Online. The platform is completely different; it gives it a different look and feel. One of its most robust features is the live bank feed and the rules. Some banks connect seamlessly, and some banks are problematic. For each entry that feeds in, it’s important to manage this data so that the results are accurate and reporting is meaningful.

What Does All This Mean for You?

It’s very important to get started on the right foot by selecting the product that provides all the features you need to manage your company successfully. Rest assured that Intuit plans to continue to invest in both products over the next ten years. This allows you to focus on the features and functionality that fit your business. If you need the features in QuickBooks Desktop edition but you want the freedom of anytime, anywhere access, then the solution for you is to add hosting.  It will move your local QuickBooks software installation to the cloud. The last thing we want to happen is for a customer to land in the wrong version and leave QuickBooks altogether. We have many options and will be happy to help you navigate!

About the author

Carrie Kahn

Complete Business Group helps small businesses purchase the RIGHT QuickBooks product at the lowest price and offers a team of experts to provide high level customer service so that they use QuickBooks® the way it was intended. With the many offerings from online to desktop we understand the benefits and limitations of each option to help you find the right solution. We have a team of certified ProAdvisors located all over the US ready to support you remotely or locally.

Carrie Kahn, CPA, the founder and CEO of Complete Business Group, has been helping small businesses purchase the RIGHT QuickBooks product at the best price and offers a team of experts to provide high level customer service so that they use QuickBooks®the way it was intended.

Carrie has been supporting and selling QuickBooks since Dos V1. She has been an Advanced Certified ProAdvisor since 2002. She joined the Intuit Reseller Program in 2008. In 2015 she launched the Complete Business Partner Program
mentoring ProAdvisors in selecting the best QuickBooks products for their clients at best pricing for their customers. She is very involved in the QuickBooks community providing extensive resources for ABBO Facebook group , Scaling New Heights, School of Bookkeeping, CPA Academy, Intuit’s Firm of the Future, and CBG Blog. Carrie is a lead QuickBooks Author for the Accountex blog. She was named Insightful Accountant’s Top 100 ProAdvisor every year since 2014 and was Insightful Accountant’s 2017 Social Media Resources ProAdvisor. She currently serves on the Intuit Reseller Program Council. CBG has been in the top 10 Intuit Premier Resellers (IRPs) since 2012 and currently is ranked #1 in the East. She is currently serving on the IRP Council. Carrie’s company, CBG was named Partner Program of the year for 2017.


  • Great article, Carrie! So happy to hear that QuickBooks Desktop will stay and Intuit plans on making the investment on the development of Enterprise product as well.

    When it comes to QuickBooks Online, there is an added advantage of remote access. For a QB Desktop user, hosting comes as a solution if you want to access QuickBooks anywhere, anytime. The choice depends on your business requirements.

    I would like to add that when you look for the hosting provider for your QuickBooks, you need to be careful of the security measures provided by the hosting provider. In this digital world where you are always under red flags such as ransomware, there is no 100% solution for keeping your data secure, however, reliable hosting providers follow advanced security measures like firewall, multi-factor authentication, and access control policies to protect your accounting data.
    Thorough research about the company always makes definite sense.

    • Yes, good shout out about hosting providers. The nature of working online brings risks we need to consider. Always do your due diligence in selecting your trusted hosting provider.

  • Until such time as QBO allows perpetual “read only” use of a company’s records after a subscription lapses, it really is a useless piece of software. Governments require access to books and records for 5-7 years after the year end the company ceases operating. That means, keeping a Quickbooks account open for a long time and paying for it.

    QBO needs to make an account read only after a subscription expires but still allow access to it for 5-10 years thereafter if they want any serious business to consider its use.

    Right now you have small businesses looking for a SAAS quick-startup that they can use from their phone. It’s always the right solution to use QB Desktop.

  • Hi Carrie,

    Great article and you express your thought very well. As per my opinion QuickBooks Desktop is more advanced than QuickBooks Online. When QuickBooks desktop comes with cloud technology and hosted on cloud platforms. It is more fruitful than local hosting.