Desktop in the Cloud or Genuine Online: which QuickBooks version is right for your small inventory-based business?


Small inventory-based businesses, whether in an early stage or already on a roll, are always on the lookout for a software system that can align their books and inventory management, streamline operations and make reporting more transparent from a regulatory perspective. With Intuit still being the market leader, most businesses heavy with inventory tend to opt for QuickBooks. Many, however, find themselves challenged to decide which of Intuit’s products they should go for: QuickBooks Desktop, QuickBooks Online, or QuickBooks with hosting, with the last two having seemingly much in common. Let us drill down on the differences between the desktop version with hosting and the online app, as well as figure out which would be the right fit for your business from an inventory tracking standpoint.

What is QuickBooks Desktop with hosting anyway?

In a nutshell, hosted QuickBooks Desktop is a way of delivering the functionality of Intuit’s desktop accounting system in the cloud to clients with licensed copies of QuickBooks Desktop. Hosting providers authorized by Intuit install these copies on their servers and make them 24/7 available to clients for a fee.

How QuickBooks Desktop tapped into the reign of QuickBooks Online

Intuit has been heavily investing in QuickBooks Online for the last couple of years. Being an established player on the accounting software landscape they are, Intuit never stopped seeing market opportunities for their Desktop version. When going with the Cloud Desktop idea, they obviously intended to give more mobility to their as-of-yet most powerful Desktop version… and QuickBooks with Hosting started proliferating in use almost in lockstep with the Online version. At some point, even the QuickBooks community jumped into the debate whether Hosted QuickBooks was somehow competing with or even crowding out the Online product. Many saw the untapped potential of the revived Desktop. But why would Intuit put so confusingly similar products/versions out there and challenged their clients to sort out all the major and minor differences? As a matter of fact, they never saw any adverse influence of hosting on their heavily promoted online version as long as both had their own way of addresses their clients’ pains.  

QuickBooks Desktop Hosting Vs. QuickBooks Online for your inventory: how both apps play to their strengths


Both options are Internet-accessible 24/7 from anywhere and on any device allowing multiple user collaboration.

The Online version you as an inventory business owner would be looking at is ‘Plus’ because any versions lower than that do not offer inventory-related features. The ‘Plus’ plan allows access to 5 users including a third-party accounting specialist, if any.

The hosted Desktop has a wider range of access options due to a superior server network provided in the hosting environment. You can access the hosted Desktop via a virtual desktop and a web browser and make the data available to as many as from 3 to 30 (you will not need that many unless you are an SME rather than a small company) people based on the license version (Pro, Premier, Enterprise).  

Business size and inventory needs

Are you a small company just getting into your niche, managing a single location with inventory? If so, most likely your inventory tasks are pretty basic and can be handled by QuickBooks alone (no third-party inventory app involved). The Online version with its ‘Plus’ plan will enable you to track inventory by item, set low stock alerts, create Purchase Orders, Invoices, keep an eye on selling trends and taxes. What it does not have is Sales Orders, multi-location tracking, availability to promise calculations and a manufacturing-oriented feature like building assemblies, serial/lot number tracking and a few more advanced things.

If you are a small business with more complex inventory needs, QuickBooks Desktop version in the cloud is the right fit. Tracking, receiving inventory against Purchase orders, creating Sales Orders, Units of Measure, Bar-coding, Multi-location Tracking, Building Assemblies, Serial/ Lot Number tracking (the last five are available, if the “Advanced Inventory” solution is turned on) – the hosted Desktop covers it all and more.

Set-up, security, and support

QuickBooks Online users enjoy immediate access to their accounting system through a web browser, automatic real-time updates and backups, as well as the privilege of unlimited tech support. One of the key considerations here is your ability to ensure the security of data.

Those who choose to go with hosting get all of it plus saving on some IT expenses as they need no server infrastructure – all technical headaches are addressed by the hosting company of their choice that is made fully responsible for the security of accounting and inventory data.

Integration with 3rd-party inventory management apps

QuickBooks Online has a versatile eco-system of apps that step up to the plate and augment its inventory block through a seamless integration and more advanced inventory tracking features of their own. So, whenever you feel your inventory management tasks are going beyond what this accounting app can handle, just search the Internet for a QuickBooks third-party app that does the job.

With this respect, QuickBooks Desktop in the Cloud has fewer options to offer but still a lot of QuickBooks hosting companies strive to bundle this accounting software with other apps that extend its reach and bring extra value to their customers.


QuickBooks Online will charge from $30 (‘Plus’) to $150 (‘Advanced’) per month provided they do not run any specials.

With QuickBooks Desktop and its way more powerful inventory features, you will be charged considerably more – from $100 to $700 (dedicated servers, backups, upgrades, maintenance included).

Which to choose?

If you are just starting out with your inventory business, QuickBooks Online is ideal.

If you are on QuickBooks Online but feeling its weakness in inventory management more acutely, just look for an app with a strong connection to QuickBooks and a more distinct focus on inventory control.

If you are running a geographically distributed inventory-centric business, again consider looking at third-party inventory tracking apps with QuickBooks Online integration or go straight to exploring QuickBooks Desktop with hosting.

If you own a QuickBooks Desktop licensed copy and feel a little lukewarm on the perspective of having to switch to Online, try hosted QuickBooks Desktop and you might find the experience really game-changing.

All this said, you need to base your decision on your company size, the type of inventory tasks you tend to and the infrastructure you own or will have to obtain. What QuickBooks Desktop in the Cloud and QuickBooks Online are equally good at is removing all ties to the office and helping you run your inventory with much more mobility and pleasure.

The SmallBizRising Blog is designed to be an educational content hub pulling information, best practices and practical advice for the small business owner and features topics including accountingmarketingtechnology and more.  Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with new content as it is posted.  The blog was created by The Neat Company and receives contributed content from a group of contributing companies that provide technology, services and solutions to small businesses.

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HandiFox™ is an inventory & sales management software solution by Tecom Group, Inc. that allows small businesses to automate the inventory processes to leave inefficiency behind.
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