QuickBooks for Mac vs Windows

From Patrick Bonnaure, founder of ProLedge Bookkeeping Services

The debate between Mac and Windows is getting almost as polarized as our beloved Congress. Until recently, the bookkeeping world had managed to remain relatively immune to this debate, but with the increased market share of the Mac in the small business space, the question of QuickBooks for Windows vs QuickBooks for Mac has started taking more prominence.

At first glance, it should not be an issue: “If you are a Windows person, get QuickBooks for Windows. If you are a Mac person, get QuickBooks for Mac”. Unfortunately, it is more complicated than this. For the foreseeable future, selecting QuickBooks for Mac will handcuff you in several ways:

  • QuickBooks for Mac has fewer features than the Windows versions
  • The vast majority of CPAs and bookkeepers do not support QuickBooks for Mac
  • Converting QuickBooks file back and forth between Mac and Windows doesn’t work well and can corrupt the data.
  • QuickBooks for Mac doesn’t interface with as many 3rd party applications

I’ll expand a little bit on these items below, but if you own a Mac, your logical next question would be: “I am stuck then?”. Of course not. You have a number of options that will keep you in the QuickBooks world without having to switch to a PC:

  • Accept the limitations of QuickBooks for Mac and stick with it. This is a very viable solution if you are a very small business, you don’t need 3rd party help and you have limited need for integration with 3rd party applications.
  • Switch to QuickBooks Online, the web based version of QuickBooks
  • Work with a QuickBooks hosting provider. From your Mac, you will get access to the full featured QuickBooks for Windows.

Fewer features
Intuit is traditionally a Windows shop. They have had Mac developers for a long time, but the Mac development group is not tasked with feature innovation. Their charter is to “keep up” with QuickBooks for Windows. I am sure that many people with Intuit would violently disagree with this, but it is the unfortunate reality. Some examples:

  • QuickBooks for Mac doesn’t have Premier and Enterprise versions. It has fewer features than even the Pro version of Windows.
  • Fewer reports
  • Fewer payroll options
  • Limited inventory capabilities
  • Online banking not as well integrated

Bookkeeping support
CPAs and bookkeepers need to maintain their own licenses of QuickBooks to support their clients. The whole accounting profession is pretty much standardized on the Windows platform. It would be too expensive for them to maintain a park of Mac hardware and QuickBooks for Mac licenses (across multiple years) to support Mac files.

Converting files between Mac and PC
Both the Windows and Mac versions of QuickBooks have the capability to convert the company file to the other OS. However, since the feature set is different, the converted file needs to restrict itself to the common denominator. As a result, some data doesn’t transfer from one version to the other. Also, to Intuit’s own admission, the conversion is not dependable. For instance, if you convert more than a couple of times back and forth, reconciliations of the bank accounts tend to disappear. Essentially, this conversion tool should be used only if you decide to migrate from one OS to the other for good, but it should not be used as a protocol to work with your bookkeeper or CPA on an on-going basis.

Integration with 3rd party application
In the last 5 years, the power of QuickBooks (and its dominance) has increased dramatically thanks to the myriad of 3rd party developers who have developed applications and services that integrate with QuickBooks. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this development effort has been done exclusively for the Windows version of QuickBooks. If you are on the QuickBooks for Mac, you only have access to a small subset of these developers. 5 to 10 years from now, I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasa bit more equality, assuming of course that the desktop version of QuickBooks hasn’t been supplanted by the cloud versions by then. However, as of today, QuickBooks for Mac is more “insulated”.

In summary, QuickBooks for Mac can be a very good option for you if your needs are relatively simple and you don’t need as much integration with the outside world (professionals and applications). The good news is that QuickBooks for Mac is not a dead-end. If QuickBooks for Mac becomes too restrictive for you down the road, there are multiple options for migrating to alternative solutions.

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