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Moneydance: It's under new management

By on February 24, 2003 (8:00:00 AM)

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- By Norbert Cartagena -
People often talk about Linux's ability to become a "real" desktop OS. Popular belief is that Linux doesn't have enough 3D Blood'n'Guts games. I beg to differ. The real key to making Linux a run-of-the-mill desktop OS lies in its acceptance on home and business office desktops, and this takes good money management software. One Linux program that showed potential in this area was Moneydance. It was dropped by the company that owned it and apparently died, but recently the package experienced a rebirth when it was repurchased by its original developer, Reilly Technologies. This review is not a "buy" or "don't buy" recommendation as much as a discussion of where I'd like to see development of the product go now that it's back in Reilly's hands.


For a while now, Moneydance has been a favorite of Linux users who wanted to find something similar to Intuit's Quicken or Microsoft's Money. But a little while back, the company which owned Moneydance, Appgen Business Software, dropped the product. Many feared it would be a permanent loss. Good news came in a joint February 13th press release from Reilly Technologies and Appgen. Reilly, the birthplace of Moneydance, was again taking over.

When I found that Moneydance was under new management, I quickly went to its Web site, Moneydance.com, to learn more details. I remember it comming with my SuSE Linux distribution, as well as seeing it at the local Apple Store a few months after that. To my surprise, they actually had a freely downloable version available. You can also purchase a registered version for $29.95. They claim you can buy it on Amazon.com, but Amazon's site says otherwise. Maybe that'll change soon.

After downloading the 17MB tar file, it wasn't long before the program was up and running on my Red Hat 8.0 system. To install it, I just had to double-click on Red Hat's box-looking tar file icon to untar it, double-click on the folder, and then double-click on a file called "moneydance." The program, I was surprised to see, didn't install. It just ran from inside the directory itself, Java Virtual Machine and all. It was really more of a drop-n-run than an actual install. Not a bad trick. Maybe a single click process which would extract the files within the tar file and start an actual installation process would be nicer, something like the Windows version's installation process. After all, I'd like to be able to choose where it's installed, as opposed to presuming that I want the whole (after extraction) 43MB load on my home directory. It really would have gotten annoying if I already had a version of Java running on my machine and the program just dumped another in my home directory (which it did). An icon on my desktop or my menu would be nice, too. For what it's worth, this was still the simplest installation of a distribution-independent product I've seen on Linux, if you could even call it an installation.

The setup process is perhaps the best indication of how this kid differs from its bigger rivals. Simplicity, it seems, is the key with Moneydance. There are no wizards telling you how you should reduce your debt and put your kids through college, what to do about feeding your birds, or how much to tip the waitress at the local Olive Garden. It's just a simple, straight-forward approach to money management, which is good enough for most people's needs, especially anyone who is new to personal finances and doesn't want to dive head first into the world of Quicken wizards or into Microsoft's deplorably unfriendly Money.

The opening screen asked me whether I wanted to set up a new account or open an exsisting file. I chose to open up a new account and a dialog box opened that asked me about my primary currency and which account set out of the two offered I would like to use. Standard was the recommended, so I went with that one and hit "OK." The other choice was the Minimal, for those who want to keep track of their finances but don't want to spend any more time than they absolutely have to doing so. Luckily, adding new categories and subcategories isn't very hard. Reading the menu choices in the Standard set might be, however. The use of separate subcategory menus in the "New Transaction" dialiogue would be a nice feature in a future version.

Clicking on "OK" brought up the home screen which was pretty easy to figure out. It starts you with a bird's eye view of your accounts, reminders, upcomming events, and net worth. It also includes a table of exchange rates which can be updated by clicking the "download information" icon at the top. For the stuff you can't pick up on your own, Moneydance includes a well-written set of help documents.

Setting up and managing the default personal checking and savings accounts was a simple matter. Transactions within those accounts generally consisted of clicking "New Transaction," a little typing, and clicking "Memorize." It was also simple to set up other accounts, such as credit card, assets, liabilities, and investment accounts. Working with it proved to be a comfortable task.

This is accounting for the masses. Simple, with no accountant-jabber, lawyer mumbo-jumbo, techie-speak, or the need to buy a 250-page Dummies guide to translate the three.

The fact that it's a simple program doesn't mean that it doesn't have any advanced features. You can check out the features page for details. Most of the features, such as the graphing and exporting to GIF, report creation, and file encryption are well implemented, powerfully versatile, easy-to-use tools. Some features, on the other hand, could use improvement. The online banking, for example, is a great idea, which will get better once they get support for more than just American Express and Discover. Other features could use a complete overhaul, especially the check printing feature. I don't think I've ever seen checks uglier than Moneydance's, and I've yet to see where in the program you cut a check to anyone.

The question is whether this program, in its current state, is worth the $29.95 price tag, which is essentially paying for support. The truth is that the program is so easy to use that the free download would easily do for most home users who wouldn't need support. Nevertheless, the $29.95 price tag is well deserved, even at this stage of the game, especially considering the Moneydance Autoupdater extension which you can download from within the program.

Now, I know it's supposed to be version 3.2, but there's a lot of room for improvement here. I just hope the simplicity this program offers its users is not lost in the development path ahead.

I look forward to reviewing future versions. Reilly has a good starting point with the current version of Moneydance. They can easily take the leading spot for money tracking software in the Linux world. The question is whether they can muscle their way into prominance in the Windows and Mac worlds. And given the rapid development of WINE, it's also possible that Quicken on WINE could upstage Moneydance and become the money management standard in the Linux world.

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on Moneydance: It's under new management

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Not worth it yet

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 24, 2003 08:55 PM
I'm a Quicken user and it's not because of the pretty graphs or the vast amount of unused features. There's only one feature that matters, online billpay and banking. It would be nice not to have to fire up Win4Lin everytime I wanted to balance my checkbook, but Moneydance is falling into the same rut that GNUCash et. all did. Quicken 2003 Deluxe hovers around US$60. If Moneydance offered strong online banking and billpay features (which they don't, check the little blue "*" next to the feature list), they could charge a little closer to what users are used to paying and become profitable.

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Re:Not worth it yet

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 24, 2003 10:50 PM
These programs are becoming irrelevant, my bank has online banking features that lets me pay my bills, tarnsfer cash from other accounts, and I can use it to balance my checkbook and atm transactions.

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Re:Not worth it yet

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 25, 2003 12:08 AM
Yeah, but how about downloading your latest account operations so you don't have to put them in by hand? I agree that until Quicken alternatives can do this, I'm staying with it (using it under Linux with Crossover Office).

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Re:Not worth it yet

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 25, 2003 12:39 AM
I don't have to put them in by hand. My bank has a listing of all transactions. I just mark all the checks I write down in the ledger so I can tell what hasn't cleared yet. I can even cut & paste directly from the web page into OpenOffice.org calc add the outstanding checks an just sum the column for the balance with very little entering in anything by hand. In quicken you have to enter every single check in and atm transaction by hand Yuck!!

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Re:Not worth it yet

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 25, 2003 01:12 AM
Actually, you DON'T have to enter them by hand. You can just download the list of transactions from your financial institution's site and it automatically puts them in the appropriate account...that's what I'm waiting for in a Linux application (wether it's Moneydance, GnuCash or Kapital - which looks very nice, if I may add) before switching.

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Re:Not worth it yet

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 25, 2003 06:07 AM
Does Quicken have a special avenue to do this (i.e., is there some proprietary protocols/formats here, and does it require the bank to explicitly support the software), or is it straight tab-delimited or whatever formatted file you can pick up on a floppy or download from the net?

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Moneydance

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 24, 2003 10:19 PM
I've used Quicken for years (from DOS versions) and liked it. When I found Moneydance I really thought it would develop into a 'Quicken for Linux users'. Unfortunately no sooner had I tried and tested it against Quicken (and GnuCash...) - decided I LIKED it than AppGen pulled the plug. I would certainly purchase a licensed copy and help it become a 'Quicken for Linux'. BTW, if I've paid for 3 versions/upgrades of Quicken for DOS/Win; I would have no problems with paying for Linux versions of similar software - even if Intuit decided to port Quicken to Linux (how about it Intuit?).

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moneydance/gnucash

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 25, 2003 01:50 AM
yes linux needs a good solid dependable home/business financial app.

I'd buy it today!...gnucash is great but its not stable enough for me to trust it 'yet' but has great new business modules to work with...but no sound when hitting return bugs me a 'bit' ( i like audio feedback that I just 'did something'...quicken spoiled sorry ) and a flakey UI is too much for me.

moneydance wan't bad but it was 'slow' due to use of java.at least that was my experience..

build it and linux users will come in masses!!
(apps/games included)
thx
-===

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needs improvement

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 25, 2003 05:56 PM
I've used moneydance in the past and it worked fairly well. The application mainly needed better reports and a more polished way to input transaction and to create categories.

The bottom line is that it will sell well if it gets on par with other packages. The java platform means the market is much bigger than just linux so there is no reason to be indulgent, especially when you see the sophistication of some purely opensource projects.

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Moneydance

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 26, 2003 03:41 PM
I have been using Moneydance for the past year on my linux box and on my Mac OS X and I think it is fine software. It does mostly what I want- balance my check book and more. I have met few people that use other software for anything more.

Although it still has some bugs, and I hope our new owner takes care of these, I highly recommend it!

Sure it would be nice to have on line banking through the software, but you can easily download and load the q files from most banks. The best thing is that it runs pretty much the same on all of the OS's, although I have not tried it on windows.

$30, it is well worth it!

Doug Nichols

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Have any of you actually USED Moneydance?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 27, 2003 12:44 AM
I've been reading a lot of the comments on this story, and I'm surprised by what I read. I've used Moneydance for about 3 years, and it's got most of the features I read here that people want:

When I go online with my bank, I can download either a QIF or OFX format file for the transactions I choose, and then import that file into Moneydance. I use this all the time to keep up-to-date on my transactions. Balancing against my bank statement takes just a few minutes, and is completely painless. Printing checks couldn't be easier (well, that might be a little easier). All I do is set {Print} in the transaction type, and when I'm done entering all my checks, I just go to the Print Checks menu and print 'em. I don't require a lot of the overkill of Quicken or Money, I just want to be able to keep my checkbook balanced and pay my bills, and maybe track where money is going over a period of time. Moneydance is perfect for that...

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