QuickBooks Desktop vs Online: Which Is Best for Construction?

Use this guide to understand the key differences between QuickBooks Desktop vs Online. Discover key features, pros, and cons to choose the right edition for your business.

Construction companies of all sizes use QuickBooks to streamline their accounting and improve efficiency when tracking expenses or running other day-to-day operations.

But if you’re new to QuickBooks, you may not yet be sure which version is best for your construction company. It’s not always easy to know which version of QuickBooks is the best fit, so we’ve created this guide to help you decide.

QuickBooks offers traditional stand-alone desktop software – QuickBooks Desktop. This is a downloadable copy of QuickBooks you’d install on your computer.

The other version, which is currently Intuit’s priority, is QuickBooks Online. It’s a cloud-based app with many of the same features as QuickBooks Desktop, as well as some distinct differences.

In this article, we’ll outline the differences between QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online. We’ll focus on differences specific to the construction industry, so you can make an informed decision about which version is best for your accounting needs.

QuickBooks Desktop vs. Online: What’s the Difference?

The biggest upfront difference between QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop lies in how you access them.

With the desktop version, you are fully responsible for installation and maintenance, which must be run on a local computer – generally one at your office or a laptop assigned by your employer. You’ll have access to tech support while maintaining a valid subscription, but securing and storing your data remains your responsibility.

Everything is cloud-based in QuickBooks Online.

This version automatically backs up your data to the cloud, and the service is always updated remotely and automatically whenever changes, patches, or improvements happen. You can access all QuickBooks Online’s features through any computer with an internet connection. You can even access QuickBooks Online from a mobile app, but it’s up to you to decide if you’re comfortable doing your bookkeeping on a handheld screen with no keyboard attached.

The QuickBooks Online mobile and desktop apps are worlds apart – the Quickbooks Online mobile app is generally seen as being leaps and bounds better than the mobile app for QuickBooks Desktop. The Desktop-specific mobile app has minimal functionality and is mostly used for receipt uploading and other basic tasks.

If you plan on doing some accounting while at the beach or in a hotel room, don’t expect to do it efficiently or effectively with the QuickBooks Desktop mobile app.

In general, smartphone-based accounting and bookkeeping probably won’t be as feature-rich or as functional as either popular version of QuickBooks for PCs, but at least with QuickBooks Online, you’ll have access to more functionality while on the go.

Feature differences between QuickBooks Online and Desktop

Despite its better mobile functionality, QuickBooks Online still lags behind QuickBooks Desktop in terms of job costing and advanced estimating features.

For example, QuickBooks Online does not provide the following important features, which  construction companies may need:

There are some workarounds for these issues in QuickBooks Online.

For example, QuickBooks Online’s products and services module allows you to incorporate more advanced estimating features that initially may not seem accessible. 

In QuickBooks Desktop, you can easily add markups for estimates. In the online version, you will have to use either custom fields or another workaround to achieve the same result.

These drawbacks also mean QuickBooks Online’s reports are not as fully featured as those generated by QuickBooks Desktop. Online still has good reporting features, but its reports are not as useful for construction businesses without the advanced job costing and estimating features found on the desktop version.

Early in QuickBooks Online’s release, there was a significant price difference between the various desktop and online versions. However, that price gap has closed among lower-tier plans in recent years. The lower tiers of QuickBooks Online are still much cheaper than the costs for QuickBooks Desktop. But top-tier plans – targeted at enterprise businesses – are within the same ballpark.

This means most established construction companies choosing between the two likely won’t see price differences as a huge factor. Smaller businesses may find QuickBooks Online a better fit on price considerations but may also want to consider whether Online can provide everything they’ll need as they grow.

QuickBooks Desktop recently began requiring an annual payment to maintain live technical support and even some features, such as payroll. Thus, QuickBooks Desktop effectively forces you to pay for an annual license if you want full support.

QuickBooks Desktop vs. Online: Direct Comparison

In the previous section, we gave you an overview of the main differences between both versions. Now, it’s time to see the differences head-to-head, to give you a better idea of how each version stacks up.




$549 – $1849 annually

$15 – $100 monthly


Up to 40 (w/ add’l licenses)

Up to 25

Mobile app

✅ (very limited)


File Only

View Online w/others

Learning curve

Difficult for non-accountants

Easy – only basic skills needed

Windows & Mac support

$549 – $1849 annually

$15 – $100 monthly


3 versions

4 plans


24/7 phone-email-chat

24/7 phone-email-chat

Free Trial

✅ (30 days w/ 60-day return window)

✅ (30 days)

QuickBooks Desktop vs. Online: Key Features and Integrations

There are a few key features construction companies typically want from their accounting software. Below, we’ll review how these features stack up between QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online.


Both versions have powerful invoicing tools.

QuickBooks Online and Desktop both allow tracking of partial payments and will update the project and subsequent invoices automatically. Both versions have all the core features you would expect, but the difference comes into play when looking at adjustments and flexibility.

Invoicing with QuickBooks Online is much more rigid. Online has fewer features to make adjustments to invoices as the job progresses. If circumstances or contractors change, this is not always automatically reflected in the original invoice. This means you’ll have to make manual adjustments, which are more prone to errors or simply being overlooked.

Also, things like sub-projects are not possible in QuickBooks Online. This can make reporting difficult for more complex jobs, and you’ll need to find a workaround in QuickBooks Online.

QuickBooks Desktop has more flexibility for jobs that change dynamically over time.

Job Costing

Job costing has the same story as invoicing – you’ll notice that it will become a recurring theme in this review. Both versions have core job costing features, but you’ll get more detail with QuickBooks Desktop, especially on more complex jobs.

For example, in QuickBooks Online, you can’t specify a completion percentage once the job is underway. This means your cost to complete won’t be accurate as the job progresses.

Most of these differences may be minor, depending on your workflow. However, companies with complex jobs and reporting will find it limiting. Smaller companies may not find these issues to be limiting at all.

However, setting up and reviewing your job costing metrics in QuickBooks Online is much easier than in QuickBooks Desktop. So if you’re a small construction business that isn’t focused as much on job costing, this will quickly help you track your projects and keep them from going over budget.


Reporting is the biggest discrepancy between these two versions. All the minor things missing from QuickBooks Online can quickly become apparent when running reports.

QuickBooks Desktop also has many more filters and options when running reports that the online version simply doesn’t have. Overall, if detailed reporting is critical to your construction business, QuickBooks will likely make you much happier.

However, that doesn’t mean QuickBooks Online has bad reporting. It has some strong features, and out of most cloud-based accounting software apps, it’s the leader in reporting – but it’s still just a step behind QuickBooks Desktop.

One unique feature of QuickBooks Online we like is its project dashboard, which the desktop version doesn’t have. The project dashboard is a highly visual way to look into a project. This allows you to quickly inspect profit margins per project and see an income/costline chart.

Easily accessible visual tools like this make QuickBooks Online stand out, despite missing more advanced reporting and estimating features.

Breakdown of Reporting Features Not in QuickBooks Online

The desktop and online versions have thousands of menus and features, so we can’t list every difference. However, QuickBooks Desktop does offer some key reporting features you can’t get in QuickBooks Online (yet).

QuickBooks Online vs QuickBooks Desktop Integrations

This is one area where QuickBooks Online outperforms the desktop version. There are many more integrations with QuickBooks Online, including business productivity and sales apps such as CRMs.

QuickBooks Online also integrates with many industry-specific project management tools you may already use at your construction company.

The desktop version has a far more limited range of integrations and mostly just works with the most common apps.

One key integration we always recommend for either QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Desktop is the Workyard app. This industry-leading time-tracking app accurately monitors employee work time for each job and project.

All of this is monitored in real-time and fed into QuickBooks so you can immediately see if projects are staying on budget. All relevant project data is automatically updated and viewable in both the Workyard app and in QuickBooks

With QuickBooks Online, this is a critical integration and one that will end up saving you countless hours when running payroll. You’ll also be able to spot when projects are in danger of going over budget due to labor costs.

If you need to speed up your payroll workflow and lower costs with more accurate employee time-tracking, the Workyard app has you covered.

Workyard’s precise GPS and geofencing-based time tracking features have helped construction companies save up to \$2,000 per employee in payroll waste – with to-the-minute clock-in and clock-out based on employee location, you’ll be able to minimize time theft from employees padding their time to the “nearest half-hour” or clocking in before they even get to the jobsite.

See how Workyard tracks time better for construction companies

Extra QuickBooks Desktop Features Will Cost You

It’s important to note that virtually all additional features mentioned for QuickBooks Desktop are only available in either Desktop Premier or Desktop Enterprise versions. These are not cheap apps – Enterprise Desktop tops out at $1849 per year.

QuickBooks Desktop: Pros & Cons



QuickBooks Online: Pros & Cons



What Real Professionals Say

Let’s take a look at how each of these QuickBooks versions has been received by actual users on popular software review websites.

QuickBooks Online

QuickBooks Online currently has an average rating of 4.3 stars out of 5 on Software Advice. 

Here are some positive reviews highlighting what business owners like about QuickBooks Online.

Positive Reviews of QuickBooks Online on Software Advice:

“The interface is easy to use and the software is quick to set up for a new business. The support and help features are very good…. QBO has features for businesses of all sizes so as they grow and analysis of the accounts becomes more important the tools are there, ready and waiting.”

“…you can access your books online, from anywhere… even on your phone. Allows you to stay up to date, even while away from the office.”

“QB Online has a great support team, any time we have a question and we contact them they are quick to answer. The whole interface is intuitive and the learning curve was not steep at all.”

Most negative reviews were similar to this one:

Negative Reviews of QuickBooks Online on Software Advice:

“I believe QuickBooks Online reports are not as customizable like the offline QuickBooks versions. Also, there are differences in managing multiple companies. We need to create and buy separate QuickBooks Online accounts for each of our companies and with the offline versions we just had to buy one set of licenses, that allowed us to manage multiple company files.”

QuickBooks Desktop Reviews

QuickBooks Desktop currently has a 4.4 rating out of 5 stars on Software Advice.

Most positive reviews shared these sentiments:

Positive Reviews of QuickBooks Desktop on Software Advice:

“Industry standard for ease of use accounting software; easy to implement; many useful and essential features.”

“Desktop Pro is quick and can keep up with me. Reporting is easy and it’s easy to create my own reports.”

Most negative reviews echoed the following sentiments:

Negative Reviews of QuickBooks Desktop on Software Advice:

“Inexperienced users without proper training can Quickly screw up your Books.”

“I do not like how the employee portion to do payroll is completely shut off if we do not subscribe to Payroll. I would still like to use the feature to track hours even if another payroll system is used.”

When to Use QuickBooks Desktop vs Online

If you’re a small to medium-sized business switching from another cloud-based accounting app, QuickBooks Online would probably suit you best. It’s more fully featured than most other bookkeeping apps, so you’ll experience an upgrade when switching.

If you’re currently not using any accounting software, or are new to accounting software, then QuickBooks Online would also be a good choice.

It has an easier learning curve, and you’ll have plenty of new features to learn before you reach the limits of what it can do. But it’s important to remember that even though QuickBooks Online is easier to use, you’ll still need some knowledge of basic accounting principles to use it effectively.

QuickBooks Desktop is also good for smaller to medium-sized companies, but it’s geared toward advanced users who understand the nuances of construction accounting.

It’s also for companies with at least some dedicated IT staff or access to computer support. You’ll need some knowledge of backup and security procedures (or at least be able to implement them) to maintain the safety of your accounting data.

Is QuickBooks Desktop Being Phased Out?

One common question many users ask is whether QuickBooks Desktop is being phased out in favor of QuickBooks Online.

While the official answer from Intuit is that QuickBooks Desktop is still fully supported, there’s no question their focus is now on the online version.

But does that mean QuickBooks Desktop is being phased out? The short answer is no. Desktop is still popular in certain industries, such as construction. In the long term, QuickBooks may move entirely online, but by now, you can probably expect all (or at least most) of Desktop’s key features to be folded into QuickBooks Online.

If QuickBooks Desktop seems like the right choice for you, don’t hesitate out of fear it may disappear in the near future. It’ll be around for awhile yet.

The Final Verdict

The final choice will come down to the advanced customization features in QuickBooks Desktop that help with job costing, estimating, and monitoring ongoing profitability. If you have the accounting knowledge and need for those, then QuickBooks Desktop is the obvious choice.

However, those advanced features come at both a financial cost and increased complexity. Tasks in QuickBooks Desktop can take several more steps than similar steps in QuickBooks Online. This can quickly become tedious if you don’t necessarily need all of those extra features.

QuickBooks Online is a great choice for small to medium-sized construction businesses that don’t necessarily have complex jobs or estimating requirements. QuickBooks Online is still very capable, though, and it’s hardly a “basic” app. 

It also integrates with virtually every other popular business productivity software you might want to use. Your books are also immediately shareable with any accountant in the country since QuickBooks is such a standard in the field.

Overall, both of these versions are capable accounting tools for construction companies. QuickBooks Online excels with its ease of use, intuitive Project Dashboard, and surprisingly good mobile app.

QuickBooks Desktop shines with enhanced customization regarding estimating and reporting, although the app and integrations are not as good as QuickBooks Online.

Depending on your needs, either of these versions should be able to help you run and manage your construction more efficiently.

Ultimately, it’s all about getting the job done right and on time while ensuring your costs are tracked accurately, whether on a per-job, per-employee, or per-period basis. QuickBooks can help – but it does best when properly integrated with apps that offer functionality QuickBooks lacks – like time tracking with Workyard.

Workyard was built from the ground up to support construction companies. With Workyard, it’s easy to manage the schedules of dozens or even hundreds (or more) of employees while accurately tracking their time on the job with our mobile app’s industry-leading GPS and geofencing capabilities.

Experience the difference Workyard can bring to your employee time-tracking efforts, and see how easy it can be to connect your Workyard data to QuickBooks – whether it’s in the Desktop or Online apps. Sign up for a free trial today or contact (650) 332-8623 for more details.

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