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Qbox by CoralTree
Qbox - How it Works
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Qbox by CoralTree
Qbox Explorer - File status display
For years I have fought attempts by users to ‘make use’ of QuickBooks files over the internet; after all Intuit tells you that QuickBooks is designed to run in only three environments, on a local computer as a standalone product, on a local area network (emphasis on ‘local’) in multi-user mode, or in a Windows Terminal Server environment in multi-user mode. QuickBooks was not designed, or intended, to be used across a wide-area-network via a VPN where users accessed a remote file from the QuickBooks application on their remote computers.
My own experiences with these unapproved alternatives have been with the results of users attempting to use QuickBooks in this manner and the resultant data corruption those users created. I usually ended up being called when someone had already corrupted their QuickBooks data, or had ended up with a file that would no longer open.
Commercially hosted QuickBooks is essentially a version of Windows Terminal Server in which the hosting company is providing the terminal services to you on a subscription basis. Even in a hosted environment, just as when you are running your own terminal server, the quality of the computing environment (resources vs. demand) and internet connectivity (bandwidth) are essential to successful performance.
A few years ago, with the advent of ‘file sharing services’, the craze (or perhaps I should say ‘crazy’) became attempts by people to ‘share’ their QuickBooks file via products like Dropbox. The same problems existed as with ‘wide-area-networks’ if users attempted to actually open their QuickBooks file while it was still in the ‘file share cloud’. Of course if they were trying to ship the file back-n-forth between users, the issue became who used the file last, and is the file ‘in the cloud’ the most current version of the cloud?
Intuit experimented with a version of ‘file sharing’ for QuickBooks desktop Company files (called ShareBooks), and the Beta was received with mixed reviews. They dropped the idea which seemed to me to be a reasonable approach based upon their SyncManager technology since it allowed only one user to ‘check-out’ the file from the ‘cloud copy’ at a time, then ‘check-it-in’, like users at a library would do with the one copy of a rare book.
There are many ways clients share their QuickBooks files with an accountant, other users, or so they can simply work on the file from a different location distant to where it normally resides. Some clients send back-up copies to their accountants and just stop working in their file until they restore the back-up copy their CPA sends back to them with the changes. Other clients send an Accountant's copy of their QuickBooks file to their accountants and then import the ‘Accountant’s change file’ when completed. It is also possible for CPA’s, accountants, or ProAdvisors using the ‘Accountant’s editions’ of recent year’s versions of QuickBooks to update their clients’ files using the send General Journal Entries feature.
Shortly before Scaling New Heights in June I became aware of a new file sharing service called Qbox (by CoralTree) that advertises they allow you to share your QuickBooks Company file (in a manner similar to the Dropbox file sharing service), but this new service works much like the Intuit experiment, in that it actually locks the QuickBooks file when it is in use by one user, so that there aren't any conflicts. Qbox is not a multi-user service, it is intended for only one person to work in any one Company file at any one time, so it’s access to multiple users is ‘one at a time’, but for many applications that may do just fine. (Figure 1)
Once you have signed-up with Qbox you can create “Regular Sync folders” that allow you to share the changes made to your QuickBooks Company files instantaneously. These folders are what you normally use when you want to share your file with your accountant, or other users that need full access anytime on an on-going. But there is another option depending on the subscription level you select; you can also create “Custom Sync folders” that permit you to to share changes only when you want other users to have access.
With Qbox each shared user has an identical copy of the QuickBooks company file on their own desktop. So the business bookkeeper has a copy and the accountant (or ProAdvisor) has another copy. Let’s say that the business bookkeeper opens the file and they are granted the file lock; any other user attempting to open the file will be declined the file lock. (Figure 2)
When the user (like our bookkeeper above) with the ‘file lock’ makes changes, those changes are sync’d to the cloud copy. Other users can still make changes to their own copy of the file, but Qbox will only sync and share the changes made by the user with the file lock. This way there is never any file corruption. Of course it also means that any changes made by users without the ‘file lock’ will be lost when their file syncs to the cloud copy, but to advise the user, Qbox repeatedly displays a warning message to alert that they do not have the ‘file lock’.
I tried the whole process with a little Company-file; after installing Qbox on both my office and my home computers which was a simple process and went without flaw. The changes I made at home were synced back into the cloud and when I opened the file at the office, the changes in the cloud were sync’d to my office copy. I reversed the process and when I got home, the changes appeared in my home file. I can’t say that I tested this more than a few times, but every time I used it the whole thing went without a hitch. I have very fast cable Internet at home, and lightning fast dual-fiber based Internet at my office, so the process took only seconds, but again this was an experiment using a very small QBW file.
In researching the Qbox product I took notice to several issues reported in their forum ranging from ‘data not updating’, to file copies showing to be ‘out of sync’. I think there were a couple of instances also reporting ‘inability to get file lock’, but for the number of ‘sync’s’ their website reports having successfully completed (820,000+ as of the date of this article), the few number reported in the forum is encouraging.
There are three levels of subscription for Qbox, the first is the ‘basic product’ that is free (yes that is what I said, ‘free’, ‘free forever’). You can access regular and custom sync folders with this level after the trial period, but if you are going to be regularly creating Regular folders then you must be at the ‘Pro’ level (at a minimum). If you need to be able to create Customer folders then you need to sign-up for their ‘Team’ level subscription. I try not to ‘quote’ prices in my articles, because I don’t want someone 6 months from now saying “you said it cost this…and it costs more”. As it stands, the pricing seems fairly reasonable for the level of service each subscription provides. Storage requirements may vary with your subscription but Qbox offers options for those using the ‘Team’ level to add additional storage space.
In my way of thinking a ProAdvisor, or an accountant, or CPA who plans to offer this as a service, then you definitely want the Team level subscription; in those cases your clients should be able to sign-up with the just the free ‘Basic level’ to get access to their file.
On the other hand if your clients are each going to have their own subscriptions, they probably can get along with the ‘Pro’ level (and perhaps in a few cases just the Basic level). ProAdvisors or accountant users would then only need the ‘Basic’ level to access to their clients’ files.
While I have come to the opinion that QuickBooks Online is indeed the ‘future of QuickBooks’, but until everyone accepts that fact and finds ways to overcome (probably via Apps) the limitations of QBO, the QB Desktop versions will remain in use. I do not believe that Intuit will abandon them within ‘my foreseeable lifetime’; as such there will still be a need to share desktop Company files.
I was favorably impressed with Qbox as an alternative to the problem of sharing QuickBooks (desktop) company files for those not using QBO. I am not certain that I would recommend Qbox right out of the gate to a new client, but in the long run it maybe the ‘solution of choice’, unless unforeseen problems arise.