To Make Java, Count Beans

There are a lot of farmers out here in the Maine Outback. The potato is the largest crop—and one of the main sources of revenue for the region. So it is no wonder, in this day of shrinking farms and revenues, these agricultural entrepreneurs must be savvy small business owners. Here, the savvy means maximizing profit and minimizing time doing so: using good business accounting software.

Four bean counters stand out from the pack: DacEasy Accounting & Payroll 95; M.Y.O.B. Accounting with Payroll 7.0 by Best!Ware; Peachtree Complete Accounting 1.0; QuickBooks Pro 4.0 by Intuit. All are full-featured accounting programs designed for small- to medium-sized business. None are specific to any one profession, but each comes with get-you-going templates. As someone who freelances from home, I found the templates made setting up the books a snap. 

Here is what all of these programs can do for you: payroll, inventory, invoicing and purchasing, banking (including printing of checks) and tax and social security calculations. All contain contact managers for tracking customers and vendors, but they are not enough if you deal with a large number of people on a regular basis.

From here subtle differences emerge among the packages. As good finance management can be said to be in the details, the same goes for these programs. QuickBooks, M.Y.O.B., and Peachtree offer outstanding multimedia resources for basic accounting and business management. But Peachtree goes one step further than M.Y.O.B.’s or QuickBooks’ instructional video and audio clips to interactive tutorials that guide you through the process of setting up your books. Peachtree is a bit heavy on accounting lingo, but the tutorials easily make up for it.

QuickBooks and Peachtree are, by far, the two easiest programs to set up. But Peachtree teaches some basic accounting principles along the way, while QuickBooks is so easy to use you may not understand what you are doing. This I find as a fault. QuickBooks shields you from too much accounting. To successfully run a small business, you need to understand what you are doing. M.Y.O.B. was more balanced—no pun intended—than the other two.

Like Peachtree, DacEasy expects accounting know-how, but a bit too much. The program is a breeze for pros to set up and use—in fact, one of the best—but novices can easily make costly errors. DacEasy’s skimpy manual is not much use either. Though the online help is quite good, the program comes on diskette instead of CD-ROM and so lacks the multimedia extras provided by the competition.

Despite these flaws, DacEasy does some things very well. Though all the accounting packages run under Windows 95/NT, DacEasy is the only 32-bit program. The bean counter integrates with Exchange for sending reports, invoices—almost anything DacEasy can produce—either by fax or e-mail. There are also real performance gains over the others. And it is the most customizable. The program is also exceptional at basic payroll and inventory.

Both DacEasy and Peachtree are multi-user. Peachtree offers much better performance, though. If you want to administer your bookkeeping or have access to other features over the network, you will need additional copies or licenses for the other products. For a small business with only a few PCs, this should be an unnecessary expense.

Peachtree also packs some other real nice extras, like Global Village’s FaxWorks, Teneron’s LegalPoint, Netcom NetCruiser, a Windows diagnostic tool, and the start-up kit for CompuServe.

Other niceties: M.Y.O.B. prints color reports and invoices; Peachtree and DacEasy handle 401(k) and cafeteria plans; QuickBooks offers a special section on Canada; M.Y.O.B. and DacEasy come with certified consultant directories; M.Y.O.B. provides a 30-minute, getting-started video tape. QuickBooks also adds a customized version of Netscape Navigator 2.01 for easy access to Quicken Financial Network.

Though QuickBooks is the perennial favorite of computer magazines, M.Y.O.B. and Peachtree have the edge in one critical area: analysis. M.Y.O.B. is especially adept at quickly and thoroughly assessing the health of your business. QuickBooks may keep the books, but M.Y.O.B.—and, to a less degree, Peachtree—will manage your whole business.

Peachtree and QuickBooks offer the most features; choosing between the two depends on personality and need. M.Y.O.B.—my personal favorite—has the most rounded feature set. It, and DacEasy, are more suitable for smaller businesses, while the other two excel for companies with 50 or more employees. All of these programs are solid performers, so gauge your choice based on need:

  • If you want the performance advantages of Windows 95, try DacEasy.
  • If you have some accounting experience, consider DacEasy, M.Y.O.B. or Peachtree.
  • If only the easiest to setup will do, go with Peachtree or QuickBooks.
  • If you want top-notch business analysis, look at M.Y.O.B. or Peachtree.
  • If you run a business in Canada, use QuickBooks.
  • If you have a 401(k) plan, try DacEasy or Peachtree.
  • If you administer a network, consider DacEasy or Peachtree.
  • If your business is fairly large, look at Peachtree or QuickBooks.
  • If your office is small, consider M.Y.O.B. or Peachtree.

Prices for the products run a comparable range. DacEasy Accounting & Payroll is the lowest at $95. Both QuickBooks Pro and Peachtree Complete Accounting go for about $199. M.Y.O.B. with Payroll falls in between at $120. Peachtree complete is fairly new and version 7 of M.Y.O.B. was just released. DacEasy is likely to remain the only 32-bit choice for sometime. Remember to request a demo, which will likely cost you 10 bucks. That way you will get the program that feels right and has the features you need. Hey, number crunching is hard enough. Why make it more miserable?

Photo Credit: Allagash Brewing

Editors Note: On July 27, 2017, this post was recovered, using Wayback Machine, from a snapshot of my first website, at strangely called: “Blue Sky, Business, and the Maine Outback”. What was I thinking?