Mac Finance Software Update

I previously wrote a post in 2011 on selecting Mac financial software. A lot has happened since then and it is time for an update.

I have to admit that finance software is an area where Mac OSX still isn’t competitive with Windows. It is an anomaly because in my opinion in almost every other category (except possibly games) Mac has more choice and better high end programs. Also Mac freeware is much better for many reasons. Finding free software on Windows is a terrible experience filled with malware and installers that force installation of unwanted and often hidden software.

I used Quicken for Mac before but it didn’t have the features and support that the Quicken Deluxe for Windows version has. It also didn’t get updated properly by Intuit so I didn’t like that they treated Mac users as second class citizens. They also treat Canadians as second class customers by not providing a full featured Canadian version. Yesterday (August 21 2014) Intuit announced Quicken for Mac 2015. There are lots of improvements but not feature parity for some features that probably matter to you.

I am still a beginner using iBank and it seems to meet my simple needs so far. It downloads transactions from my bank easily and runs the standard set of reports with customization options. I would be interested in any views from Quicken power users on where iBank falls down. Features and reports missing or how it works? All?

I am also starting to use a different program called YNAB (You Need a Budget). I like the approach and expect it to be quite useful for budgeting and perhaps other features as well.

BTW. I also use the free GnuCash software for my business accounting and the functionality and stability is adequate. The software is not Mac specific and is unattractive but it does the job. Minimal is good when you just want to get the job done as simply as possible.

You have a lot of options if you want the best of both worlds on the Mac. Some people say Macs run Windows better than Windows specific computers.

Bootcamp comes for free from Apple which allows you to boot into OSX or Windows on startup. You have to have the Windows OS license purchased separately as with all of the options.
This can work well if you are more regimented about when you want to use each operating system because a reboot is required. An advantage is that you are dedicating your computer resources (except disk storage) to each operating system so performance should be as good as a dedicated computer.

The other approach is to go virtual and run both operating systems at the same time which has the advantage of being able to dynamically switch back and forth at will and also easily transfer information between your two virtual worlds. The disadvantage is performance because you are sharing computer resources between the two OS.

Virtualbox from Oracle is free. I have used it in my security lab courses and it works well. It can be a bit technical to use so the main feature in its favour is price.

Parallels is a really slick virtual OS manager as is VMWare Fusion. These two programs have a reputation as really solid and sophisticated virtual managers that are so well integrated it is like Windows is a part of OSX or vice versa. They tend to leap frog each other on features and price.

There is a review on PCMag comparing the virtual OS managers. It shows the price in 2012 of Parallels at $80 and VMware fusion at $50. On their web sites they have basically have retained these price points with Parallels at $80 CAD and VMware increasing to $60 USD. Prices are comparable in Canadian (CAD) US (USD) dollars. Both products provide free 30 day trials to determine which one you prefer.

As for me, I rarely see a need to run Windows software so I don’t want to split my computer resources between operating systems even though the latest virtual managers are getting quite efficient at it. I am content to use old dedicated Windows machines on the rare occasion I want to run Windows software (mostly to test web sites in Internet Explorer).

Let me know if you think I am missing out on something.

Technology of the Web

There are many different technologies that are advancing rapidly and will have huge impacts on our future. The one’s that I will be focussing on in future blog posts will primarily be in the theme of “Communicate to Connect”.

A major set of web technologies are the following:
• HTML(5) [Hyper-Text Markup Language]
• CSS(3) [Cascading Style Sheets]
• Javascript
• SVG [Scalable Vector Graphics]

Web technologies are advancing in exciting ways and I love it!

Apple in June 2013

Well that was a long wait for announcements.

Despite the “analysts” calling for Tim Cook’s head I think Ben Thompson is right.

There are some exciting things in IOS7 and Mavericks so far. There are also some puzzling gaps that need to be filled before the operating systems are released.
What I am still looking for:

  • the interapplication communication feature needed in IOS (cure for application data silos and workflow automation better than URL schemes)
  • the fix for iCloud data syncing that developers have been begging for (Do you use Omnipresence? It is great!)
  • iWork updates other than web versions of the apps which nobody seems to want
  • Siri on the Mac
  • IOS7 for iPad is coming but how will it be optimized for the bigger screen
  • etc.

Most analysts are demanding “the next big thing” (e.g. iWatch?) or flashy new features. I am looking for more follow through on the many amazing things previously introduced which need a version 2 so they “just work”.

How about you?

How Much are New OSX Features Used Compared to Photo Management?

Macworld has done an admittedly unscientific survey which nevertheless indicates that most of the newest Mountain Lion features are not used all that much. This type of information merits more attention because it suggests what features should be a priority because they are what people really use. It also suggests improvements needed in new features so they are used more often or with more satisfaction. iMessage is an example of one that many people use but are not happy with the reliability and desire a better implementation of the capability. Apple has a tendency to introduce new innovative features but not follow through with updates for them to work as well as they should. iCloud is probably one of the most often cited examples of this. Given how important Apple itself has stated iCloud is, the next versions of OSX and IOS need to address iCloud issues to show progress. This is also accentuated by Apple’s perceived weakness in Cloud services especially when compared against Google. An often repeated meme in tech journalism is that Google is improving faster in product design than Apple is in online services. One benchmark for Apple competitiveness will be how new operating system releases improve Apple’s online services when compared against Google’s IO conference announcements.

In my opinion refinement of existing features so “It just works” rings true is the critical success factor for Apple. It will be interesting to see to what extent Jony Ive’s design impact will go beyond just cosmetic changes. The June WWDC announcements will be a big milestone for Apple to show whether they have been focussing on what really matters. Apple’s true success may lie in ignoring the critics thirst for new features and applying innovation in progressing the many innovative features they have previously announced and that users actually could use every day. Perhaps a primary example, given Apple’s recent advertising emphasizing the impact of Apple products for taking photographs, is some vastly improved cloud capabilities for managing photos. Photostream was clearly just an interim step and is just not enough to support easy to use photo management that automates the details that users shouldn’t need to be concerned with. Apple should be able to introduce an integrated, synced, and shareable cloud photo service that expands upon the photo features currently in iPhoto. I can’t help but think that Apple could use operating system enhancements to overcome the limitations of the recent third party Everpix Internet service which consolidates photos from various sources but presently has poor photo organizing and sharing capabilities. If Apple is spread too thin to develop these services internally and can’t support both mainstream and power users it needs to include in the operating system APIs to support third party developers to fill the void. Perhaps deeper integration with a service like Flickr could also be an option. One can always hope. We don’t have to wait long (10 days) for announcements to see what direction Apple will take.

Update: Clark’s tech blog has some good analysis on what Apple should do and what they might do that shows the challenge of updating the breadth of technologies Apple is managing. In addition to iCloud and Siri, InterApplication Communication (IAC) and Developer tools are obviously important too. In the spirit of “Lead, follow, or get out of the way” allowing third party apps with better tools and (IAC) to replace Apple’s default apps would take some of the pressure off Apple having to enhance core apps for power users while keeping ease of use for mainstream users.

Update the App Store

Apple’s Mac app store needs some attention. It wouldn’t take a whole lot of effort to remove the rough edges that are ugly examples of neglect.

Show only Compatible Updates

Some Apple customers still like to use their older computers. I have an old MacBook Pro that I still use even though it has a core duo processor and can’t run OS software past Snow Leopard. The app store shows incompatible software updates because it doesn’t have the built in smarts to detect incompatible software.

For example, Textsoap won’t run on my MacBook Pro because it needs a newer processor.

It shouldn’t be listed as a pending software update because I haven’t clicked the link for showing incompatible updates.

Allow Updates to be Skipped

When Evernote acquired Skitch they released version 2 that actually removed a lot of features. I plan to stick with version 1 until the next version is better. The app store doesn’t allow me to dismiss software update notices that I don’t want.

Fix Notification Center

Notification center pops up a notice on my iMac that there are software updates. Since I don’t have a trackpad on my iMac there is no way to swipe the notification away. If I click the notification to get rid of it I am forced to open the app store and then quit it. Apple should recognize that not every configuration includes a trackpad so there should be a clickable way to dismiss the notification too.

Attention to design details especially making things work intuitively are what Apple should be known for. I hope Jony Ive does more than remove skeuomorphism with a flat interface style in upcoming Apple software updates. Apple’s success depends on it providing a good example of how software should be well designed by sweating the details.

Comparison of Screen Capture Programs

Comparison of screen capture programs

  • Apple built in short-cuts + grabber utility
  • Snapz
  • Snagit
  • Jing
  • Voilà
  • Screensteps
  • Clarify
  • Skitch

Macworld review explained how Snapz ($70) has gotten outdated without new features and at a premium price when compared to Snagit ($50) and Voilà ($30).
My goto app is still the old version of Skitch v1.0.12 ( I paid ~$10 but now it is free as part of Evernote) because I haven’t had a big need for full page capture. Websnapper ($15) specializes in this function. Screensteps and Clarify are also good for extra documentation features but they haven’t been updated for retina displays. I have used Jing (Snagit’s little brother) which works well for simple needs.

For people who want a premium screen capture tool Snagit could be a good choice since it is also considered the best Windows OS screen capture tool and it has a dual license.

Brett Terpstra recommended Glui ($2.99) as another screen capture choice but I don’t see anything yet that it has to recommend it over the old version of Skitch if you have that already.

As for me I will stick with Skitch for now and hope that Evernote keeps upgrading the newer version to someday be as good as version 1.

MacBook Pro with Retina Display First Impressions

Previous MacBook Pro model compared to MacBook Pro with retina display.

The MacBook Pro retina display was a big upgrade for me as I have been using an old MacBook Pro core duo (purchased in April 2006 and still working great other than the hardware no longer supports the latest software). I am very pleased with the new Macbook Pro model as it delivered on the items I was looking for:

  • • Ivy bridge high speed 64 bit processors with lower power consumption
  • • Close to MacBook Air form factor without sacrificing pro specifications
  • • Large (16GB) memory capacity
  • • Large (512GB) SSD disk. 768GB was also available as an option but I didn’t think it was necessary.
  • • Ability to run OSX 10.7 Lion and 10.8 Mountain Lion and iCloud as compared to my old MacBook Pro which isn’t compatible due to its 32 bit processor
  • • Retina display was a bonus which I expect will increase the longevity of my using the laptop
  • I have been impressed by the high resolution display and speed of the machine (spinning beach ball a thing of the past) but there have been some problems:

  • • Tweetdeck, which runs on Adobe Air, has had the occasional delay and spinning beach ball . This just indicates to me that Adobe Air apps are to be avoided.
  • • Text is incredibly clear and crisp except with Chrome and Firefox browsers which should get updates to fix this. Text in Safari looks great and images in all browsers are dependent on higher resolution images being used to take full advantage of the incredible display.
  • • Screen capture resolution problems with Screensteps and Clarify apps from Blue Mango make them unusable. A fix for Clarify is being investigated and a fix for Screensteps will most likely be included in the next version (3) when it comes out.
  • • Novamind mindmap software also has screen display issues with node information being updated showing in the menu bar instead of the mindmap.
  • • A couple of times my account has shutdown and application registration information has been lost. I haven’t yet determined what is causing this but hopefully this could possibly be fixed when Mountain Lion is delivered later in July.
  • As I use my new laptop with more applications I am sure I will find more issues especially with the retina display. Most applications appear to work well as is but they will work even better when retina fixes and enhancements are introduced. One of the results of Apple’s secrecy about new features is that there are bound to be glitches until apps are updated to deal with new features. For those willing to wait these transition issues and the premium cost of retina display will eventually go away as software and additional computers in Apple’s product line are updated to what I expect will eventually become a standard feature. Since I am planning to keep my new laptop for awhile I wanted to invest in the future so I was willing to endure some temporary transition issues as third party software versions catch up to the new capabilities.