September 10, 2012, 9:10 AM — Intuit's annual refresh of QuickBooks this time around is less about steak than sizzle. The QuickBooks 2013 family doesn't offer much in the way of new functionality, but it definitely looks a lot different than its predecessors.
The new look, which takes design cues from the web and from the ribbon that's become ubiquitous in Microsoft apps, is attractive, contemporary, and, in some ways, more efficient. But it may be a tough sell to existing users who aren't interesting in learning a new user interface, no matter how streamlined it may be.
I checked out QuickBooks Premier 2013, which at $400 for a single-user license is the higher-end of the two retail versions, with industry specific editions; QuickBooks Pro 2013 goes for $250. Intuit plans to make both available for download from the QuickBooks web site on September 24, with general retail availability to follow on October 7.
During installation, the program advises you clearly and repeatedly that the new version will convert an existing QuickBooks file so that it's no longer readable by previous versions. Take the advice to create a backup copy before you convert in case you decide to stick with the older version of QuickBooks (you can install QB 2013 alongside an existing version). Also, if you're in the habit of sharing your QuickBooks file with your accountant, check to make sure he or she is also upgrading, or come tax time you may find yourself with a file the accountant can't read.
For new users, setup remains one of the easiest and most reassuring experiences in any small business accounting package: If you can enter the name of your business and your taxpayer ID, you can be creating invoices or entering expenses within minutes--but be prepared to do some data entry eventually. QuickBooks can make this chore easier by letting you import address books from several popular e-mail programs and services (for customer and vendor lists), Excel spreadsheets (for inventory items) and several other sources.
New Palette, New Layout
The new look is immediately apparent in the dramatic palette of the Home screen. In QuickBooks 2012, everything was pale white or grey, with pastel accents; in QuickBooks 2013, we see dramatic dark areas and accents.