Microsoft Accounting Express 2008 - Deal or No Deal?

Written by:  Brian Nelson • Edited by: Christian Cawley
Updated Sep 9, 2008
• Related Guides: Microsoft | Accounting Software

Microsoft offers the basic version of its accounting software package for free. But with Quickbooks, PeachTree and Sage holding firm in the Accounting Software market, should you check it out?

Update

Abort! Abort!

Microsoft Accounting Express 2008 is a TERRIBLE piece of software that should not be downloaded by anyone, ever.

I've been putting my business receipts and expenses into Accounting Express 2008 for a while now. Most often, I do it at the end of my day before I shut down my system to go spend some quality time with my family. (If I don't shut it off, I can hear it calling for me.) Therein lies the flaw in my previous review of the product.

I am very stingy with my startup services and programs. So, when MS Accounting Express 2008 added some startup services, I shot them down and put them on manual. No problem. Had I not done that, I might have noticed that those services are the mini-versions of SQL Server which is the database system Accounting Express 2008 uses.

Today, after falling behind the previous day, I ended up doing my accounting stuff in the middle of the day instead of at the end. Ever since then, the extra fan on my PC has been blowing and I can hear the hard drive chattering away. Now, sometimes that just happens, but it was still going after I closed all my open programs. So, I fire up Process Explorer to see the SQL Server process not only still running, but using 323 MB of RAM! Are you kidding me? I've heard of bloatware, but that is absurd, especially when you realize my business isn't that complex.

To see if it was just a glitch I ran it again. Same result. The SQL Server process will not close, ever. If Microsoft had its way, it would launch on startup and sit there wasting 300+ MB of RAM all day long. The only reason it has worked for me so far is that I've been rebooting and shutting down those resource hogging services without realizing it.

So, the new recommendation is:

MS Accounting Express 2008 -- 0 out of 5 stars with a two star penalty for horrendous resource usage

I hearby encourage you to find any other product possible.

Introduction

Since the first days of Windows, Microsoft has done well by expanding its offerings over the top of rivals who were in the marketplace first. Computer users with a couple decades of experience remember the names of products like Lotus 1-2-3 and Paradox. At one time these programs were the best in the business and the Microsoft versions were a joke. Of course, Microsoft caught up and pretty soon, the other companies were out of business. But that model has not worked in the realm of business accounting.

Microsoft offers a comprehensive accounting software that can run the most complex of businesses. Yet, Quickbooks and Peachtree continue to rule the niche with dozens of other players (including European company Sage) making strong showings as well. So, Microsoft has dusted off the Internet Explorer strategy (give it away for free) and modified it slightly (give the basic version away for free) and begun handing out Microsoft Account Express for free.

Microsoft Accounting Express

Microsoft Accounting Express is the basic version of Microsoft's business accounting software, but make no mistake, just like TurboTax Basic is good enough to handle the vast majority of tax filers, Microsoft Accounting Express is good enough to handle most small business accounting, especially if you do not have any employees.

Features

  • Office Look and Feel
  • Startup Wizard
    • As business owners learned years ago with accounting software that was purchased, installed, and then never used, the toughest part of using accounting software can be the setup. Accounting Express 2008 includes a wizard that helps you get up and running by asking questions about your business and helping setup the features that are right for you. Does your business have any inventory? No? Well, then that whole piece will never come up to confuse you as you go through your day to day activities.
  • The Basics Are Easy
    • What does your average business owner really need right away? A way to invoice, and a way to track if those invoices get paid, a way to track expenses, and a way to make sure that everything matches up with what the bank says. All accounting products do this, but the best make it easy. After all, if it is easier to just type up an invoice in Word, then you are going to do that instead of using your accounting software. Accounting Express 2008 makes it easy by remembering information so you don't have to type it more than once. It also won't make you fill in blanks that you don't need as is often the case for clients you do only one job with.
  • Ebay
    • I'm not sure how many small businesses have anything to do with eBay, but Microsoft has a whole feature set just for those that do. I've never used them, so I won't comment any further than to say that it has them.

Downfalls

  • No software is perfect, and Accounting Express 2008 is no exception. While Microsoft touts the customer management elements, the truth is that most business owners have a whole system somewhere else that is already filled with that contact information. Too bad Accounting Express won't use it. It integrates with Outlook, but that isn't exactly a CRM solution, so expect to retype all your client data.
  • No payroll! You want to do payroll and print checks, that is an add-on service.
  • Enormous size! The fully compressed install exe file weighs in at 225MB.

Free vs Paid Versions

There are actually four versions of Microsoft Accounting. Only the Express version is free. So, what are you missing out on? Frankly, nothing that I would use. Budgeting and forecasting are available in other tools. Maybe this is good for bigger businesses, but one man shops like mine can see wild swings from quarter to quarter based on a big client coming in or falling through. No accounting software will analyze that. Budget? Are you kidding? I buy what I have to and everything else waits for the cash flow. We aren't talking about a CFO and a Board of Directors at most small businesses. (If you have a Board of Directors, I can pretty much guarantee that you are looking at too low a tier for your accounting package.) That is it! Microsoft's own feature list of "Everyday accounting tasks" shows just that one difference (the others have more canned reports). All the other differences involve things like foreign currency, inventory re-ordering, and so on.

Recommendation

Overall, if you are at that stage where you have been running your business with a hodgepodge of other programs and making do with Excel spreadsheets and the like, then Accounting Express is a great way to try and transition to more polished accounting. If you already are using accounting software, there is no reason to transition to Accounting Express.

Not recommended for businesses with employees (maybe 1 or 2) or for business that have complex inventory or ordering systems.

Not recommended for business that have implemented a CRM solution.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5 stars

 
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