There's good news for people in the market for inexpensive small-business accounting software. The low end of the market is growing steadily more competitive by offering multifeatured products, more and more of them available in Windows versions. The bad news is that it can be hard to get clear information comparing the various packages; tracking down computer-magazine reviews of accounting software can be a thankless task, and reviewers have very different opinions. To make the decision-making task easier, Inc. examined reviews of some of the leading generic small-business-accounting packages for Windows, priced at less than $500. For a more thorough report, Computer Training Services, in Rockville, Md., sells Guide to Small Business Accounting Software Priced Under $500 (800-433-8015, $95), updated annually. And, of course, be sure to check out any accounting packages specific to your industry.

DacEasy Accounting for Windows 2.0; DacEasy, Dallas; 800-DAC-EASY; $149.95 * What the Reviewers Say: "Includes many of the features that are found in traditional contact managers. . . . Excels at promoting communications yet is not a formidable rival for low-end accounting packages such as Peachtree and QuickBooks." -- PC Magazine, March 28, 1995. "DacEasy's Product (inventory) module is versatile. . . . Payroll supports an unlimited number of employees, with provision for all federal, state and local taxes. . . . DacEasy invoices and purchases must be posted, an onerous chore made somewhat easier by batch processing." -- Computer Shopper, April 1995.

Great Plains Profit 2.0; Great Plains Software, Fargo, N. Dak.; 800-926-8962; $249 without payroll module; $299 with payroll * What the Reviewers Say: "Profit 2.0 match[es] market leader QuickBooks 3.0 for Windows in core features. But for usability, QuickBooks is the winner." -- PC Computing, April 1995. "One of the best programs in its class. . . . Profit handles [accounting-system setup] beautifully. . . . Contact management isn't supported. . . . Reports still run a little slowly." -- Computer Shopper, May 1995.

M.Y.O.B. Accounting for Windows 5.0; BestWare, Rockaway, N.J.; 800-322-6962; $79.95 without payroll module; $139.95 with payroll * What the Reviewers Say: "Strong accounting features and an easy-to-use interface. If you don't need complex sales-tax calculations and reporting, it's worth a look." -- PC Magazine, April 11, 1995. "Lots of hand-holding during setup, but customizing templates could be easier." -- PC Computing, April 1995.

Peachtree Accounting for Windows 3.0; Peachtree Software, Norcross, Ga.; 800-228-0068; $169 * What the Reviewers Say: "An excellent program, providing solid power, ease of use, and beyond-just-accounting features." -- Computer Shopper, November 1994. "Users with a strong accounting background . . . will like Peachtree's . . . flexibility and diverse features. Users with limited accounting knowledge may find it difficult to master." -- The CPA Journal, November 1994. "A superb choice. . . . Network ready." -- PC World, September 1994.

QuickBooks 3.0 for Windows; Intuit, Menlo Park, Calif.; 800-624-8742; $99 * What the Reviewers Say: "Remains extraordinarily easy to use. . . . Reporting functions are excellent . . . but there are a few trouble spots with the Inventory feature." -- Computer Shopper, March 1995. "QuickBooks lets you completely avoid words like 'debit' and 'credit'. . . . If you've got simple inventory management needs and don't want the complexity of a higher-end system, this program is a good choice." -- PC Magazine, January 10, 1995.