QuickBooks Online vs Desktop 2018

What’s the Difference? A lot.

First, Why There Are So Many Different Versions of QuickBooks

QuickBooks supports both a desktop version and an online version. The desktop version has been around since the 1990s, long before providing software over the Internet was common. Millions of small businesses have been using QuickBooks Desktop for years and continue to use it. Currently, QuickBooks Desktop has a few more features and functionality than the online version. To use the desktop version, however, you need to install software onto your computer and install updates periodically.

The online version is more recent. In terms of functionality, QuickBooks Online is a stripped down than the desktop version. However, new features are constantly being added to the online version. For a lot of small businesses, the online option is more convenient and allows you to get more done in less time. To use the online version, all you need is an Internet connection.

The Difference’s in 3 Short Sentences:

  1. QuickBooks Desktop like QuickBooks Pro, Premier or QuickBooks Enterprise generally are for product-based business, job costing and light assembly manufacturing (simple builds or kits). And you can operate as many company files as you have room for on your server.
  2. QuickBooks Online is for simple accounting requirements, like check writing and invoicing.
  3. 3rd Party Enhancements.  Both systems have a rich ecosphere of amazing enhanced systems from various publishers that fill nearly every need of business.  You can find those here.
    QuickBooks Desktop 3rd Party applications and enhancements
     Online 3rd Party applications and enhancements

    Still confused? You’re not alone.
    Deciding which version of QuickBooks can be anything but quick.

So, let me help you explore these differences and help you select which product might work best for your small business or schedule a call and if you’re still needing help or clarification.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: When to Consider

QuickBooks Online is more likely your ideal solution if;

  • You are a service-oriented business that does not need complex inventory tracking options;
    • QuickBooks Online does not offer industry-specific features other than this (natively).
    • Online only allows inventory tracking using the FIFO (First In First Out) method. (basic)
  • Have simple billing and payment requirements, and
  • A simple way to track miles and expenses from your phone.
  • 1 Company File per Account. You do not require multiple company files.

QuickBooks Desktop is more likely your ideal solution if;

  • You have a product and or a service-based business that requires one or more of the following features:
  • Advanced Inventory Needs.
    • Multiple locations and bar coding.
    • QuickBooks Enterprise offers a few options for tracking and managing inventory:
      • The Average, FIFO and Serial and Lot method
      • When you purchase the Advanced Inventory add-on module.
    • Simple Pick, Pack and Ship (with UPS Worldship integration).
  • Industry-specific versions:
    • QuickBooks Desktop offers industry-specific features for businesses that fall into one of the following industries:
      • General Business,
      • Contractor,
      • Manufacturing (simple)
      • Wholesale Distribution
      • Professional Services,
      • Retail and
      • Nonprofit.
    • Unlimited Multiple Company Files

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop Summary Table

Features/BenefitsQuickBooks Online
(Plus Edition)
QuickBooks Desktop
(Pro Edition)
1 User Retail Cost Starting at: (Annual)$600 per year$299 per year
Software Install RequiredNoYes
Software UpdatesUpdates AutomaticallyUpgrade every year
Automatic online backup of your dataYesYes (1)
Access data from multiple platforms (Mac & PC)YesYes (2)
Access data from anywhere at anytimeYesYes (2)
Unlimited free technical supportYesYes (3)
Unlimited Company FilesNo (4)Yes


  1. Intuit Data Protect: https://community.intuit.com/articles/1501992-intuit-data-protect-frequently-asked-questions#idp2
  2. When Hosted: https://gotomyerp.com/quickbooks-hosting
  3. QuickBooks Desktop Support: https://community.intuit.com/articles/1501557-care-plans-for-quickbooks-pro-and-premier
  4. QuickBooks Online does not permit more than one company file per account.

Significant QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop Differences

Software or No Software?

QuickBooks Desktop requires you to download software onto your computer or provided by your hosting provider.  If you choose to do this on your own computer or network it may be more challenging to access the program when you are not at your desk. However, when it’s hosted by an Intuit Authorized Hosting Provider QuickBooks Online does not require installation and can therefore be accessed anywhere with an internet connection (including your mobile phone).

Automatic online backup and protection

QuickBooks Online data is automatically backed up and secured by Intuit’s servers.

QuickBooks Desktop data requires you to create a backup plan and set it up on your own or use Intuit Data Protect.  When using a hosting provider, they’ll do this for you.

Access from Windows, MAC, iPhone or Android devices

QuickBooks Desktop data is only accessible from a PC usually, unless it’s hosted.

QuickBooks Online data can be accessed from all platforms easily.

Automatic Updates

With QuickBooks Online, the latest version of the software is made immediately available. But you are paying for this update in the monthly subscription so it isn’t free.

QuickBooks Desktop requires updates.  You purchase the latest version of the software to gain access to new product features and requires it to be installed and updated.

Multiple Company Files

QuickBooks Online is limited to 1 company file per account and doubles your cost as soon as you add an additional company or test company.

QuickBooks Desktop; you will have access to several company files for multiple entities without any extra cost.

Multiple inventory tracking options

QuickBooks Online allows simple inventory tracking using the FIFO (First In First Out) method only.  It is designed for you to addon a 3rd party system to expand your functionality but it will be at an additional cost.

QuickBooks Desktop offers the average cost method or the FIFO method (FIFO method available when you purchase the Advanced Inventory add-on module.)  No Extra cost.  If you need more advanced functions like lot or serial tracking check out QuickBooks Enterprise.

Batch invoicing

QuickBooks Desktop has batch invoicing capability. This feature allows you to invoice multiple customers at the same time.

QuickBooks Online does not offer this feature.

Industry-specific versions available

QuickBooks Desktop offers industry-specific features for businesses that fall into one of the following industries: General Business, Contractor, Manufacturing & Wholesale, Professional Services, Retail & Nonprofit. QuickBooks Online does not offer industry-specific features.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop Pricing

QuickBooks Online Product Comparison Chart

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As you can see from the QuickBooks Online vs Desktop comparison charts, there are 3 plans for either desktop or online.

QuickBooks Online is offered in three monthly subscription plans:

FeatureSimple StartEssentialsPlus
Monthly Retail Cost$15$35$50
Number of Users135
Accounts PayableNoYesYes
InventoryNoNoYes (limited)

The QuickBooks Desktop product line has four options at different price points: Mac, Pro, Premier, and Enterprise. Here’s how QuickBooks Online vs Desktop pricing compares:

QuickBooks Desktop Product Comparison Chart

Retail Cost*$299.95$499.95$995.95
Number of Users3530
One-click reports100+150+ Industry-specific150+ Industry-specific
Industry-specific versionsNoYesYes


*Note: Although QuickBooks Desktop is a one-time purchase, you will need to purchase an upgrade at least every 3 years to continue using QuickBooks support, Intuit Payroll, and Intuit Merchant Services.

Bottom Line: QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop

Whether you decide to purchase QuickBooks Desktop for its extensive inventory tracking capabilities or QuickBooks Online for its ease of use, you can rest assured you have selected one of the best introductory accounting solutions on the planet.

QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online are both great products that millions (yes millions) of small business owners rely on every day to keep track of their day to day finances and run their business.