I've been using Quicken since it was on DOS (and was printing checks fun in that environment, futzing with Quicken printer drivers!). I used Quicken for Windows until I switched to Macs, and then (sort of) imported my files from Windows to Quicken for Mac when I switched in 2003 (it didn't do a great job, and I had to do a lot of manual cleanup). I've been using Quicken 2006 since it came out (I didn't see any compelling reason to go to 2007). I've never been as happy as with the Windows version, which seemed to have better features (and a less cluttered interface). Also, I never had Quicken crash on Windows, but it does all the time for me on my Mac (in fact, I know one way to cause a crash – just save your file 6 times in the same session without closing the program – boom!).
So I was happy to hear that Quicken was (finally!) releasing a newer version of Quicken for the Mac tomorrow – at least until I looked it over.
The new version, "Quicken Essentials for Mac," ($59.99 pre-order until 2/25/10, then $69.99) is Intel only (no surprise there, and not a deal-breaker for me, as I have Intel Macs now). What I didn't like was the fact that they came up with an interface that looks like it was designed by a web guru (I mean, really, different sizes for my categories – which are tags – based on usage or balances or some such?), and they also dropped features that were in 2007. Yes, you read that right – the new version drops features, like exporting to TurboTax (what, wouldn't the guys down the hall give you the format? Oh, wait, you already have it, you just couldn't find time in the three years or so you've been trying to come up with a new version of the program!), bill pay from inside the program, and some of the investment tracking features in 2007. Now for me, the last two aren't as big a deal, as I don't pay bills inside of Quicken or use it to track investments, but for some people, that's certainly a deal-breaker. The goofy interface and non-export to TurboTax made me give this a pass, however.
Still, I wanted to dump Quicken, but when I'd looked in the past, it seemed that the alternatives just weren't good enough for me. Since I hadn't checked in a while, I decided to have another look and see what was available. Comments in the Quicken blog (overwhelmingly angry!) gave me some alternatives to check, and I decided to take a look at one of them, iBank.
iBank, by IGG Software, is a Mac-only program, available for both PPC and Intel Macs (it's a Universal application). The current version requires at least 10.5 (Leopard) but older versions are available if you're not up to 10.5 yet. It's the same price as the Quicken pre-order, $59.99. There's a 30 day trial version available for download, so I decided to give it a whirl.
I started by importing my Quicken data (there's a video on their site that shows you how – it's pretty easy). It took about 10 minutes (I have data going back to the 90s). The only thing it didn't get right was my cash account (it was off by a few hundred dollars) so I just did a Balance Adjustment. Considering all the thousands of other transactions I have over all those years, I considered that a huge success.
Now that I had data I could take the program for a spin. It allows you to download data from your financial institution (if it supports QFX – the Quicken format – downloads), and do all sorts of reporting, just like in Quicken. Where it's not like Quicken – well, there's a few interface elements that take getting used to, such as the reconcilement. Instead of breaking out debits and credits and having you click on them to clear them, iBank gives you a list of cleared transactions and a list of uncleared transactions, and you drag the uncleared ones to the cleared ones to clear them. It's certainly not as fast (you can select multiples and drag them up all at once though) but it does work. Also, it saves off the clearing as a "statement" which you can name and review later, which is nice, because sometimes I want to look back at what I did the month before.
Another great feature is the images for transactions. You can snap a picture with your iSight or drag an image to the transaction editing screen to add it to the transaction. You can then see it right with the transaction in either the normal "checkbook" view, a larger list view, or CoverFlow view. I have asked the author to consider adding scanning directly into the program rather than scanning and then adding to the transactions, which I would love to do. I'd attach a lot of receipts for the important things (some receipts are no big deal, but others, that I might need for tax or business purposes? Yeah, I want them in there!).
iBank will also compress and backup your data to MobileMe, just like Quicken, although it won't password-protect it unless you turn on protection for the data file itself (which means you would need to enter the password every time you start the program). I really just want the off-site zip file password protected.
There's also a companion program, iBank Mobile, for your iPhone/iPod Touch ($4.99). It can be used as a stand-alone program (I didn't try this), or you can sync with the desktop via WiFI via Bonjour on your local network, WebDAV, or MobileMe. I've been using MobileMe syncing and it seems to work just fine. The sync on your device is manual (although the desktop can be configured to send it up when you exit or you can do it manually). The initial sync took a looooooooong time, but subsequent syncs have been pretty quick. You can get balance into, account info, expense info, and enter transactions that will sync back to your desktop.
A word of advice – set things up on your desktop the way you want before doing the initial sync. When my accounts were initially imported, iBank made every Category/Class combo in Quicken into a category (as it doesn't do "classes" like Quicken does). So I decided to go in and clean things up. You can organize categories into subcategories and even combine them. When you do, all the transactions involved are updated. I easily changed 50-60% of my categories, all of them very active ones. When I went back to do a sync with the iPhone, it took forever. I needed the phone, so I aborted the app. At that point, it seemed wiser to just uninstall the app, re-install, and do a new initial sync. That seemed to work out fine, and now my new categories are listed on the iPhone.
IBank will print checks on pretty much any existing stock (it has some templates that you can edit for placement) including blank check stock (you can have iBank print everything, rather than use pre-printed checks). I have a lot of checks and windowed envelopes for use with Quicken, and they worked just fine with just minor changes to the standard template.
You can't do bill pay via iBank, so if that's important to you, stick with Quicken (apparently 2007 will still be sold since it has features not in the new version) or check out another alternative (such as MoneyDance, a Java-based program that's available for Mac/Windows/Linux for $39.99). But it does everything I need it to do. If you're in the market for a new finance program, download the eval version and see if it's right for you.