Quicken Essentials: A hard reset of Intuit's Mac business
When I put together today's review, I tried not to write like myself. No, not in the sense of my throwing in too many parenthetical remarks (oh, really?) or an excess of em-dashes -- if you say so -- but in the context of my having used various versions of Intuit's Quicken software since 1997 or so.
That experience has left me with a profound dislike of most recent Mac releases of Quicken but also an excessive familiarity with its mind-set. Let me put it this way: When I spend too much at the farmers' market, I feel a little Quicken guilt about my cash purchases there escaping that program's scrutiny. (It's probably for the best that I never went to the absurd extreme of setting up a cash-only "Rob's wallet" account in that program.)
Intuit's new Quicken Essentials for Mac breaks with that heritage in good and bad ways. This $69.99 application looks and acts like a normal Mac program and exhibits much of the clean, refined design of Mint.com, the Web-based personal-finance site that Intuit bought last year. But it also junks many long-standing Quicken features, not all of which appealed only to Quicken extremists.
It would not have been too hard to itemize the features missing from the new release and pronounce it inadequate on those grounds alone. But I happen to read my colleague Michelle Singletary's work and know that the contingent of Quicken experts is dwarfed by the population of people who desperately need some financial guidance.
So at the risk of going easy on Quicken Essentials, I tried to assess it from the perspective of somebody who just wants to know where the money came from, where it's going and if the monthly bottom line will be positive or negative -- not someone attempting to run a freelance business through the program. This wasn't a huge stretch for me, as I have often cursed the complexity of previous Quicken releases when I just wanted a simple chart of my cash flow.
(To get a third-party comparison, I also tried out IGG Software's iBank, since I'd once publicly wondered if that application would benefit from Intuit's inaction. Unfortunately, that did no better than the old Quicken 2007 Mac release at the crucial test of downloading account information for me.)
My verdict: Essentials isn't that bad for basic financial management but still needs serious work. In the end, I wound up arriving at about the same verdict as veteran tech writer Glenn Fleishman reached in his expert-oriented review for the Seattle Times; he concluded, "the program feels much more like a sketch of what a full Quicken update might look like."
Longtime readers may recall that at the start of 2009, I noted that I desperately needed to extricate my financial records from the obsolete Mac edition of Quicken. So what did I do? Several months ago, after I'd reviewed Mint.com for the second time, I elected to keep my test account active and use that for day-to-day financial management.
Quicken Essentials doesn't change that; it's just too useful to be able to check my records from any (secure) Web-connected computer. But I will migrate my old Quicken data over to Essentials -- so if I have to check any records, at least I won't hurt my eyes in the process. And if Intuit fulfills its goal of offering a unified, connected line of desktop and Web applications, I will someday be able to switch between a copy of Quicken and Mint.com, just as I can choose to read a Gmail account in a Web browser or a standard mail program.
I've got a Web chat coming up at noon today, during which you can either commend me for making the right call or explain all the ways I have lost my mind. In the meantime, so that I might have a better sense of what to focus on in my next review, how much do the following features matter in in a personal-finance application?
* just stop me from missing payments or bouncing checks
* help me stick to a monthly budget
* log every one of my purchases, just in case
* monitor my investments
* help me prepare my taxes every spring
* gauge my (hopefully ever-increasing) net worth
Rank them from 1 to 6 and explain your vote in the comments, and I'll do the same there myself.
March 5, 2010; 10:08 AM ET
Categories: Mac , Productivity
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