As accounting has evolved from the old, time-consuming, all-paper-based task to a near-fully computer-based activity, the range of bookkeeping software now extends to several types of software products.
The two major families of software actually depend on what the software does, and how the software is distributed.
Bookkeeping software families according to features
Feature-wise, three main types of products can be found: those that do most of the common bookkeeping operations, those that do more than just bookkeeping, and those that do more bookkeeping operations for specific industry needs.
General bookkeeping software
These are the most widely available software products, catering for the most common needs.
As these products are distributed to millions of users, they are designed to be easy-to-use, with intuitive interfaces.
Popular representatives of this family of bookkeeping software include:
- Sage’s Simply Accounting,
- Intuit’s QuickBooks series,
- MYOB Accounting,
- Cougar Mountain Software,
- Peachtree Complete Accounting Software.
Business management software
With business management software, bookkeeping software starts doing more, and sometimes much more than bookkeeping. They represent a natural development of these products, as each specialist of one side of business software tries to come up with a product that encompasses features related to all the other sides.
Such software will therefore claim to deal with:
- Customer information (like CRMs),
- Workforce management (like WFMs),
- Billing, procurement, payroll and all the enterprise resource planning (like ERPs), etc.
NetSuite and Everest's Business Management Software are well-known examples.
Accountants from companies in specific industries or business sectors have specific needs, and some bookkeeping software vendors have developed products targeted at such users.
Banking, retail, hospitals, real estate and… accounting usually rely on such industry-designed software. These products are either standalone items, or extensions of general products.
Software families according to commercial packaging and distribution
Some years ago, users would just go to their local high-street shop, grab the program CD off the shelf and buy it once and for all. As with other software, the internet has changed all that and these products are sold under very different commercial packages.
Off-the shelf software through general resellers and VARs
That’s the traditional way of marketing software: there’s a shop and a seller and the customer buys the software and updates.
Understandably, general bookkeeping software is sold by general software resellers, either online or offline, and specialised, vertical software is sold by specialised resellers. The latter are known as Value-added resellers (VARs) and will usually train the customer to properly use the software.
The internet has also made it possible to deliver…free bookkeeping software, through open downloads. And free software is not always bad software: for instance, the free version of QuickBooks can serve all basic accounting operations for up to 20 customer accounts, plus the appreciated extras of invoicing and payroll management.
The emergence of cloud computing has reached accounting software. With usage-based, or monthly fee-based pricing plans, it’s now possible to do all the accounting operations online, through the browser, without the need to actually install any software on a local computer.
Cloud-based software is now proposed by :
- “Traditional” vendors like Quickbooks or Peachtree,
- Pure players like NetBooks, Less Accounting or Clarity Accounting.