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.

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.

Pogue on OSX Lion

David Pogue, New York Times technology writer and author of the missing manuals series of technology books, has released a video providing OSX Lion tips to promote his latest book “missing manual for OSX Lion”. David does his best to deal with some screen casting glitches while providing a 1 hour session on OSX Lion improvements.

In his video explains that Lion is the start of the ipadization of the Mac where innovations started on the iPad are being applied to Mac desktops and laptops. Gestures that can be used with the new trackpads are probably the most obvious example of this but since they supplement previous mouse techniques they may not be as relevant as other Lion enhancements to the average user. Where David excels is in his obvious enthusiasm in the less obvious enhancements throughout Lion which he reveals like easter eggs. Lion also has some flaws like intermittent permission problems and preview bugs but David doesn’t get into that. He does go into detail on how to turn off Lion changes that some people may not like and how with the new versions feature that “Save As” has been replaced with “Duplicate”.

All in all David’s video is helpful and gives you an idea of what is included in more detail in his missing manual book.

Mac Finance Software

Do you like to manage your finances by using a program to create budgets, account ledgers, track progress and prepare reports?

If so you may have got started with Intuit Quicken (Mac or Windows) or Microsoft Money (Windows).

Personally I started with Quicken on Windows and moved to Quicken 2007 on the Mac when I rediscovered Mac computing with the Mac Mini.

The problem with Intuit’s Quicken however is that Mac support especially in Canada has been spotty. The Mac version of the software hasn’t been kept up to date with the Windows version and the update for Mac Intel processor computers, Quicken Essentials, dropped some features – most importantly the ability to download files from banks. Quicken 2007 is written for the PowerPC processor so it runs less efficiently in the Rosetta emulator which will not be supported in the next version of Apple’s OSX Lion due to be introduced in July 2011.

My requirements include:
– Mac software preference
– Also mobile syncing for iPhone/iPad desirable
– Personal and business capabilities
– Semi-automated account transaction data transfer
– Simple workflow with tax software

Some of the options for maintaining or moving forward with Mac Finance software:
1. Keep running Quicken 2007 on an old PPC Mac
2. Run Quicken 2007 in Rosetta on an Intel Mac but don’t upgrade to OSX Lion
3. Update to Quicken Essentials and lose bank file transfer
4. Convert to Mint.com
5. Update to iBank
6. Update to MoneyWorks Express
7. Update to iFinance
8. Update to GnuCash
9. Use an IOS app that is compatible with your Bank
10. Quicken and/or QuickBooks for Windows running on the Mac under Parallels or VMWare

1. Keep running Quicken 2007 on an old PPC Mac

This is an option especially in the short term to maintain the status quo but there are no updates and the inconvenience of having to use a separate computer to run this application and having the information less available.

2. Run Quicken 2007 in Rosetta on an Intel Mac but don’t upgrade to OSX Lion

This is more convenient but has the drawback of holding back any further operating system updates.

3. Update to Quicken Essentials ($50) and lose bank file transfer

Not an appealing option because of the expense, loss of features, doubtful future, and inability to download bank files.

4. Convert to Mint.com

This recent acquisition seems to be where Intuit is putting their focus so it has a future but it does involve trusting your sensitive financial data on a remote cloud service.
The information is available online and from an IOS app. Compatible with Quicken Turbotax software.

5. Update to iBank ($60)

This looks like a capable up to date (version 4) devoted Mac program from a US company with Canadian customization which supports QIF and QFX transactions so it could use the Quicken format downloads from Canadian banks. It has a built in browser to download your transactions. This software has been highly rated and won an Apple design award. There is also an OS version of the program.
The January 2011 Macworld review rated the program 4/5 mice.
iBank imported all the Quicken accounts in QIF format and can import bank downloads in Quicken QFX format.
I found one error when entering old dates for a custom report but in general everything worked well.

6. Update to MoneyWorks Express ($239)

This New Zealand company has a program with Canadian customization that works for primarily business and use. This software is expensive but does provide a free copy for working with your accountant.

7. Update to iFinance ($30)

This looks like a capable up to date Mac program from a German company with Canadian customization which supports QIF transactions so it could use the Quicken format downloads from Canadian banks. Includes an IOS app.
Macworld has done a review with a rating of 2.5/5.
The review rates the interface highly but says that data entry isn’t easy, account reconciliation is missing, and basic reporting functionality is lacking.

8. Update to GnuCash ($0)

This free program supports QIF transactions so it could use the Quicken format downloads from Canadian banks. Can be used for business and personal accounts. This is a universal application with versions for Mac, Windows and Linux. Doesn’t include an IOS app.

9. Use and IOS app that is compatible with your Bank

the following banks have IOS apps:
– TDCT
– CIBC
– RBC
– ScotiaBank

10. Quicken and/or QuickBooks for Windows running on the Mac under Parallels or VMWare

I am not an advocate of dual operating systems due to the view that I don’t want to allocate system resources for just one exception. This could be more appealing if there were multiple Windows applications I needed to use.
Quickbooks is popular and easy to use for small business accounting. Another possible option is to run the software on a dedicated legacy Windows computer but this has many of the same issues as using a separate legacy Mac.

Conclusion

The tradeoffs could be different for you if you have other specific prioritization of requirements. For me I want something I can run on my Macs, is being updated to keep it current, supports business use, and has mobile syncing capabilities.
In the near term Quicken 2007 on a legacy Mac maintains the status quo. Gnucash is free and can import Quicken data and bank data. iBank is highly rated, can import Quicken data, bank data transfer, and mobile apps. IOS banking apps allow mobile transactions but are not a replacement for personal and business finance (accounting) software.

Update

Intuit has just published their current policy regarding their products positioning with Apple OSX Lion. Their recommendation is to transfer from Quicken 2007 to Quicken Essentials or to mint.com. Mint.com is an online service and Quicken Essentials locks in your data without online banking support or transaction exporting. Intuit is reviewing their update plans for Quicken Essentials but seem more committed to an upcoming iPad app and Mint online service.

Android Issues

Android (whose kernel is based on Linux) currently looks like the Linux of mobile operating systems. It doesn’t just work – you have to enjoy complications. Lack of upgrade paths seems to be a big problem with few handsets having OS upgrades from their original release. Actually the comparison to Linux is probably unfair since Linux on the PC platform has evolved to be not that bad.

Motorola’s Android Issues

Android’s open reputation is also under scrutiny as Google’s agreements with carriers look a lot like the bad old days where handset manufacturers got their orders for specific (crippled) versions from carriers.

The dirty little secret about Google Android

Update: Techcrunch has some analysis that most Android users have picked the platform for its supposed openness even though in reality the platform is constrained by the cell phone carriers.

Keep in Sync with Dropbox

If you have more than one computer you will probably find it very useful to keep them in sync. As for me I have a multitude of computers from the desktop Linux, Windows, Mac OSX, laptop Mac OSX, iPad, and iPhone. Keeping these computers in sync would be much more of a challenge if I didn’t have Dropbox which can share files between all of these computers and also make them securely accessible on the Internet.

I love Dropbox since it has many features MobileMe should have. A key criteria for my evaluation of software is that files that are created can be synced between computers because my workflows include working on documents on many different computers before I am finished with them. More and more software is being made to be compatible with Dropbox because it provides a reliable set of syncing services. An example is keeping text files in sync between iPhone, iPad, and desktop computers. I use WriteRoom (on my iphone and iPad), TextMate, and Notational Velocity to write text files that are immediately available on all of my computers. It is a tremendous productivity boost to be able to update these text files on whatever computer I have available when I have a spare moment.

I have been happily using Dropbox for some time as these posts describe:

  • Get Dropbox, September 18, 2009
  • Dropbox Version Control, November 10, 2009
  • Reliable Syncing of Textexpander Snippets, January 12, 2010
  • Check out this article for a lot more things you can use Dropbox for.

    Even if you only have one computer you can use Dropbox for remote file access and file sharing for things like photos.

    You can have up to 2 GB of file storage for free and there are paid plans to store a lot more. Dropbox has a sweet deal for referrals that is Win-Win. If you register for a free Dropbox account using this link I get an extra 250 MB of storage and you do too! I heartily recommend Dropbox to keep your files in sync and share them with other people.

    Contrast the Old World to the New World of Computing

    The iPad announcement has got people thinking about the future of computing and its implications. There is a lot of disagreement but it has got to be healthy that people are considering new possibilities. This debate is at a whole new level than the product management perspective of left brain product specs vs. right brain user experience that I wrote about in my product management blog (Magic or Specs?).

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    Old World Computing

    Mark Pilgrim is nostalgic for the Old World of computing (Tinkerer’s Sunset) when computers came with a readily available command line and could be programmed easily in Basic. He speculates that there will be fewer programmers initiated with new computers where the programming is abstracted away so it is not as easy to tinker. In reality there are whole new levels to tinker at and there is still opportunities for programming in new ways. However, in the Apple model at least there is a structure that puts more controls on enforcing Apple’s views on consistency, quality, and the user experience. The debate and battle will go on for many years about what structure will win for development and end user delivery of value. The reputation of Android is that it provides a more open environment with fewer controls on programmer freedom. The issue is how to establish a platform that delivers quality to consumers while being open enough to let multiple parties add value and consumers to have choices. Who will have the best rules for their platform? This is yet to be determined but the era of old world computing where there was little structure and programmers could build their “world” from scratch has been coming to an end slowly but surely.

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    New World Computing

    Steven Frame really nails the key attributes of this transition from old world to new world computing. A problem with innovation transition is that when a new product is introduced it usually hasn’t yet implemented all the new things to replace previous products all at once. The solution is not always to include a hybrid of old capabilities – sometimes there is a delay while other new capabilities are developed. Steven’s hybrid example is replacing the floppy disk with an optical disk drive. Apple is attempting something more ambitious in the mobile context by innovating in several areas at once:

  • file system
  • touch interface
  • software development and distribution
  • multitasking
  • data sharing
  • device ports and sensors
  • Let’s use multitasking as the example. The iPad has been ridiculed for taking the supposed backward step of not having multitasking on the iPhone and iPad. In the context of a mobile device is it better to have multitasking with performance issues and the need for the complexity of a kill task utility ala Android or to just temporarily have single tasking until a new multitasking capability can be implemented? New studies have shown that too much multitasking is detrimental to not just computer performance but human performance as well. Maybe what is needed is a new type of multitasking that may be more restricted but where the overall system works better. Could this be similar to the copy and paste feature that Apple delayed until they could implement it to their quality standards? In some cases it can be courageous and right to suffer the criticism until something can be done properly to avoid the confusion of an interim implementation that is clearly lacking. Apple may be applying a do it right or not at all approach.

    While the new capabilities are being developed, the feature limited new device needs to be focussed on a niche where it can be successful. Steve Jobs outlined these use cases in the iPad product announcement.

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    This doesn’t mean that the iPad is intended as only a media consumer device. It is only a starting point and it is only a matter of time that Apple with its iLife history and third parties with their iPhone experience will undoubtably build out previous and new types of creative capabilities using the larger multitouch iPad interface.

    New Computer Interaction

    I enjoyed these TED Sixth Sense video 1 and TED Sixth Sense video 2 . Maybe you will too. It certainly suggests some new ways to interact with computers that could be on the near term horizon. These ideas make the current desktop software metaphor and mouse interface seem primitive by reversing simulating the real world in virtual worlds into projecting virtual information into the real world.

    The new projectors and video cameras are getting small enough to be used in mobile so with new interactive software innovative integration is possible. I loved the demo combining paper and computer editing with the new idea of what can be used as a screen.

    Natal is announced to be coming out this year for gaming interactivity using some of the same technology.