The Practical Mac

Is QuickBooks Pro 5 the New Accounting Leader?

- 2003.05.20 - Tip Jar

Rating: 3 out of 4

After a six-year hiatus from the Mac business market, Intuit returns in a big way with QuickBooks Pro version 5.0. After test driving this program for several weeks, I am convinced it is the clear choice for running the accounting functions of your business, large or small.

Despite my satisfaction with QB Pro 5, I still came away with a fairly extensive "wish list" of features. More on those later.

It is not complete accurate to say that Intuit took a hiatus from the Mac in terms of their professional accounting package. Although active development ceased in 1997, they continued to sell QuickBooks Pro 4 and also released periodic maintenance updates.

I consider myself an experienced veteran of QuickBooks. We ran our law firm, where I was responsible for both Information Technology and Finance, on QuickBooks. When I left the firm in 1999, we were on version 4. I don't remember it seeming particularly outdated.

Before I evaluated version 5, I decided to install my old copy of version 4, if for no other reason than to reminisce. I got that distinct, "Toto, we ain't in Kansas anymore" feeling when one of the first screens on the installer asked me if I wanted to do a Standard Installation, to run on any Mac, even a pre-PowerPC 68k Mac, a Power Mac only installation, or a "Fat Binary" installation. It has been a long time since I even thought about Fat Binaries, a holdover from the era of transition from the Motorola 680x0 processors to the PowerPC.

When QuickBooks is first installed and you choose to open up the sample data file, you receive a message that, while using the sample file, the date on your Mac will be set far into the future, presumably so that any transactions entered will be noticed as clearly out of place and not confused with real data. With version 5, the date is set to Dec. 15, 2004; with version 4, Dec. 15, 1995 - it really has been long time.

QB Pro 5 is designed for OS X, and that is readily apparent from the completely redesigned Aqua-compliant interface. However, in a move that scores some serious points with us here at Low End Mac, the software also runs on OS 9.2.2. I spent almost as much time in 9.2.2 as I did in OS X, and there was no discernible difference under either OS.

The program requires 9.2.2, which I verified by unsuccessfully attempting to install it on 9.1. Officially, the only Macs that will take 9.2.x are those that are officially OS X compatible, and every Mac that falls into that category shipped with at least a G3 processor.

However, Intuit's official requirements list a Mac with a "PowerPC processor." One could theorize that if you could get 9.2.2 on a pre-G3 Mac (and this is possible - see reader tips in yesterday's Miscellaneous Ramblings Mailbag) that QB Pro 5 should work on it as well. From a speed perspective, I would not foresee a problem. The program was perfectly snappy on a G3/300.

You will note that QB Pro 5 requires a screen resolution of at least 1024 x 768, precluding installation on the clamshell iBooks and the original PowerBook G3.

One of the new features in version 5 is the ability to create a PDF file from invoices, statements, and reports so they can be emailed. This is listed as an OS X only feature, presumably due to the fact that PDF creation relies on the inherent ability of OS X to create PDFs from any document that can be printed.

However, using longtime Mac programmer Jim Walker's great shareware ($20) utility, PrintToPDF, I was able to do the same thing in OS 9. Users with the full version of Adobe Acrobat will also be able to do this in OS 9.

The ability to quickly and easily create invoices for email could be a significant time and money saver for some businesses. If your business sends out hundreds or thousands of invoices, imagine the savings in postage alone.

Another new feature is the Report Finder, which allows you to select the report or graph you need, with samples shown onscreen, before you print it. QB Pro 5 has over 80 built-in reports, separated into various categories. Customization of reports and forms has also been enhanced in this new version.

Another thing we really like is that QB Pro 5 comes with an honest to goodness printed, 518-page users guide. No searching through PDF files or visiting websites required for basic (or even advanced) operational instructions. Supplemental material is available via PDF files.

QuickBooks Pro 5 handles payroll using Aatrix Top Pay, a topnotch third-party program included in the package and completely integrated with QuickBooks. A full-featured payroll program, Top Pay prints payroll checks, handles direct deposit of employees' paychecks, and issues reports on everything from employee vacation and sick time to payroll taxes.

If you are a new user, QB Pro 5 will have you up to speed in less than half an hour, thanks to its tutorial and setup wizards. Tell the program what kind of company you run, and QuickBooks will take it from there. If you are upgrading, QB Pro 5 will only open data files created with QuickBooks Pro 4 revision M12a. It will not open files created with earlier versions of the Mac product, QuickBooks for Windows, or any other accounting packages.

Rating: 3 out of 4 LEMs

Low-down: A good upgrade for OS X users or those new to QuickBooks. Value is not as clear-cut for QuickBooks 4 users still running the Classic Mac OS.


  • Best program around for business bookkeeping
  • Everything it does, it does well
  • Easy to set up, even for beginners
  • OS X native; also runs on 9.2.2


  • Lacks feature parity with Windows counterpart
  • Inability to share files with Windows version
QuickBooks Pro 5 works great. Everything it does, it does well and performs just as advertised. However, all of the shortcomings of the product lie in what it does not do. QB Pro 5 is woefully lacking in feature parity with its Windows counterparts.

There is no cross-platform compatibility with the Windows version. Mac files can be converted to the Windows file format, but not vice-versa. This is an essential feature that is present in almost all programs, including Microsoft Office and MYOB Account Edge. The most common scenario requiring seamless file sharing would occur when a business needed to send its file to an accountant, who might do some work on the file and return it. Currently, that is not possible with this Mac version.

QB Pro 5 is not multi-user capable. Although it can be installed on a network, only one user at a time can access the data. It does not support online banking. All of these are features we would like to see included in the next update. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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