Quicken 2004 for Macintosh OS-X
Review

On April 26, 2004, in Review, by Owen Rubin

Quicken 2004 for Macintosh OS-X
Company: Intuit

Price: $69.95 retail
http://www.intuit.com/

In my review of the MacWorld trade show earlier this year, I took a cheap shot at Intuit and Quicken, basically saying that Quicken 2004 was a release to forget. I said on initial use, there were serious problems using the new software that may leave some users stuck at Quicken 2003. But as it turns out, this problem only affects a small percentage of the existing users (like me), so I decided to take a second, closer look. Perhaps the ugly work-around may be worth the time. Stick with me here as I am writing this as I investigate


My History with Quicken

I have a love / hate relationship with Intuit. On the one had, I feel Quicken is one of the most useful pieces of software I have ever owned, and it has, in the past, worked fairly well on the Mac. I have my entire financial life is in this program and use the software almost every day. On the other hand, for quite some time the lack of customer support for Mac products, the ever-increasing number of unfixed bugs, and even reported and confirmed bugs still going unfixed, and I was quickly reaching a breaking point with Quicken.

I have been a Quicken user since the early 90’s, and keep everything in Quicken including my checking accounts, credit card transactions, assets, and tracking all my stocks, bonds, and other investments. I do budgets, and rely heavily on the ability to easily and quickly reconcile checking, credit card, and portfolio accounts. Recently integrated on-line services makes keeping accounts always easily up to date without having to enter every transaction manually, and this feature in Quicken seems to improve with every release being one of this releases bright spots. Quicken is an amazing product that offers so many features as to satisfy every user with plenty of user options. While the program is easy to learn on the surface, the complex abilities of this program are still sufficient enough to handle almost all personal and small business financial needs. And add this all to the ability to (supposedly) quickly export all your transactions right into Turbo Tax, making that year end tax chore considerably easier, and this is an amazing piece of software.

But with complexity comes a price, and for many years, there have been so many issues, bugs, crashes, and data corruption errors plaguing this product that I often become aggravated just trying to use it correctly. Many of these problems I reported as a beta tester many versions ago, and they still went unfixed from version to version. I was loosing faith in Intuit to properly support Quicken, especially on the Macintosh. And until this 2004 release, the Macintosh products had only one real support option: a charge of $1.95 per minute to call a 1-900-phone number. There was no email support, poor “live” (non-FAQ) web support, and this phone support became expensive to call EVEN if just reporting a bug. I even considered changing to another program, but what are my choices without switching to a PC?

To be fair, Intuit did and does have an extensive Quicken FAQ and help support web site, and product updates are also handled there as well. You can usually find a fix or work-around to most problems by searching this area. However, the data to cover issues and problems is so vast that it can take a long time to find the proper solution to a problem. This site supports current and many past versions which is also impressive. (Note: support for Quicken 98 and 99 ended April 20th, and will end for Quicken 2000 on May 18th, 2004)

For Quicken 2004, Quicken claims improved Macintosh support. They still offer the same $1.95/minute “fee for call” 900 number, but they also claim to also offer a non-fee phone number direct to Quicken, but I could not find this number on their website. They also now offer a “live support chat” on their website, which, again supposedly, you can chat live with a tech person to get Quicken help, but the several times I tired this option I waited over 30 minutes in the “#1 next in line” position and never chatted with anyone even though I was supposedly connecting during normal hours. Lastly, not supporting their improved Macintosh claim was the following dialog I saw on their site which gave me a good laugh: If you go to Intuit.com – Support page and select Quicken and then press GO, a dialog pops up that says “Some customers may experience difficulty viewing our Web site using Internet Explorer and Macintosh OS 10.3. If pages do not display correctly, please try an alternate browser.” How’s that for great Macintosh support?

It also bothers me greatly that NO free phone support is included with the purchase of Quicken, even if only for a limited time. To me, this meant that people who copied this software from someone else receive the exact same support from Intuit as one who bought it, and this seemed wrong. The difference between buying software and stealing it should, at the least, be support when needed.


My First Trial of Quicken 2004

But being a junkie for Quicken, when Quicken 2004 was originally released, I was eager to upgrade for hopes of new fixes and features. I first installed it on my G3 500 MHz PowerBook running 10.2.8. Upon first running it, I immediately noticed that my “net worth” shown at the bottom of the accounts window was wrong. In the accounts list where you can see the current balance of each account at a glance I noticed my portfolio accounts (ones that track stocks, bonds, etc) had values that differed from those in the 2003 version of Quicken. Not one of them had anything close to their correct balance. (NOTE: I started running Quicken 2003 and 2004 side by side to do a comparison of the two products.)

During install of 2004, a dialog suggested reading a warning about using old Quicken files from Quicken 2003, so, I read the documentation and discovered that Quicken admitted a previous error in the way they calculated stock values inside a portfolio account (I believe I reported that bug as in 1998 or 1999.) It seems actions on the accounts, such as “net worth”, as well as other calculations will result in the wrong values in Quicken 2004 when importing a Quicken 2003 or earlier file.

Unfortunately, in order to correct the problems of my Quicken data file in 2004, instructions say I must re-enter any transaction for any stock where it split or partially sold at different times. And each transaction was to be entered not once, but twice! TWICE, by hand? Sadly for me, over the last 8 years, I have thousands upon thousands of transactions in my many portfolio accounts, and re-entering all these transactions by hand twice would take months. It was starting to look like I was not going to be able to use Quicken 2004.

What I did not understand is why these errors are not fixed when importing the old data file into 2004, or at the least, include a small application to fix the problem before importing the file? After all, they know the problem! In a discussion with Intuit, I learned two thing:

1). They said, “If we could have fixed it this way, we would have.” I read this to mean that the engineering cost to fix it this way was not justifiable. But if the main program can fix the data by re-entering it, it should be easy to take the same code and make a small application to fix it as well. I found this answer disappointing.

2). They also said they feel that the problem only affects only a very small user population. I read this to mean they deemed it a less important problem than others, which is strange as ANY data error should be a high priority bug. But this decision might result in abandoning their high end advanced users, the one group I would think they would want to keep. This too was disappointing.

Needless to say, I returned Quicken 2004 and continued with 2003.


Trial #2, A Second Chance

To better understand these problems, I called Intuit and spoke with the product manager of Quicken. I told her of these Quicken issues, explained how upset I was at not being able to upgrade, and she agreed to speak with me about the product. I wanted to know what else was new in this release to know if I should invest the great deal of time necessary to get me to Quicken 2004. I must say, this person is very committed to the Macintosh version of the product. I only hope she can make some difference in the long run.

I was given a pre-release copy of Quicken 2004 R2, an update from the R1 version I bought the first time. (They are now up to R3!) So I installed R2 on my new 1.3 GHz G4 17” PowerBook. Installing Quicken 2004 was again easy.

Quicken 2004 automatically backs up your old data, but you should do this yourself BEFORE starting to install just to be safe, because for me, Quicken immediately crashed after converting my 2003 file, corrupting the new version of the file. Not a good start! A long search of the web FAQ told me I should delete my old Quicken preferences before I install. (So why do they not just do this with the installer?) To do this by hand, go to /username/Library/Preferences/ and throw away the Quicken Preferences files and the file called “com.intuit.quicken.plist.” Once I did this, the program modified my file and started correctly.

Again, I ran Quicken 2003 next to Quicken 2004 R2 to do some side-by-side comparisons. First off, I notice something quite different with this R2 version. With the exception of 2 accounts (I have around 30) the account values all matched the values in the 2003 version, which was quite different from the first time I tried Quicken 2004. For the ones that were wrong, it seems a few recently entered stock transactions did not properly set the stock price correctly resulting in a different value. However, after re-entering 8 or 9 stock transactions (all purchases) the values were all correct. (To do this, go to the line that is wrong, change the memo area and then hit enter. Simply hitting enter without any change to the transaction line will not actually re-enter the transactions.)

Ok, I was AMAZED! The R2 version seems not to be plagued by the portfolio bug of the first Quicken 2004, or if it did, my VERY LARGE data file was not effected much at all this time. I still received the warning at install time, but it SEEMED that there were few problems now. This was great, I could now move forward to Quicken 2004.

But I was still paranoid, so I have been running Quicken 2004 along side of my previous version of Quicken 2003, and entering all transactions into both versions. At the end of a data entering session, I would then check the accounts list balances against each other. I wish I could say that they always gave the same answers, but this is not the case. It seems that register balances would occasionally differ, and a search for these differences found errors in some with Quicken 2004 portfolio transactions. Additionally, the errors seem to be random and hit what appeared to be random old transactions. I suspect that this is part of the problem reported in the install warning. For reasons unclear to me, all of a sudden an old stock purchase or sale transaction would CHANGE on its own and calculate a wrong net value. These were old, reconciled transactions that have been fine for years. For example, I bought 100 share of stock at $5 a share and in Quicken 2003 it showed as expected, a $500 purchase. However, in Quicken 2004 this would show as 100 shares at $5 costing $643. What? Reentering the transaction corrected these errors, but if I were not running 2003 and 2004 side-by-side, there is no way I would ever know it had changed. This is especially disturbing as I use this data at the end of the year to do my taxes, and one needs to trust that Quicken knows how to do math!

Speaking of taxes, Quicken 2004 continues the tradition of making errors and omissions when exporting its data into Turbotax. For the last 3 to 4 years, Quicken has failed to properly transfer stock transactions into TurboTax. I cannot understand why this happens though, since both programs come from the same company, you would think they would actually test this stuff. If you use Quicken and TurboTax, check your imported data carefully for errors and omission.

Lastly, now that I have been using both side by side for about 2 months, I am happy to report that these random errors seem to have stopped. Perhaps I have triggered them all? But I remain paranoid of this product and continue to run both side by side just to be sure, as for the first time in Quicken history, I do not trust this version completely.


What is new in 2004?

As I said above, Portfolios have been completely revamped and contain over 20 new items for dealing with stocks. Most important here is the ability to now customize the Portfolio view. This view now allows you to display much more information, including 52-week range, a daily change as well as values for the day’s change in percent, high, low, gain/loss, open and close. You can also display dividend info, fund averages, industry news and information, Morningstar rating, and other new choices. You can also now display the individual lots for each security with their purchase price. This is very cool if you bought shares of the same stock over time instead of all at once. The look of this window is new as well with easy to read and follow alternating blue and white bands which replaced the simple lines between items before which made this window much harder to read.

Not all is good however. For some reason, this area no longer tells you that Quicken is recalculating the values being displayed like it has for years. If you have a large number of items in this list, it can take some time to update, and rather strange effects happen if you change any numbers in the list while it is calculating. Without the indicator, this can be very confusing.

Customizing windows has also changed to be more OS-X like in look and feel. Gone are the old style check box lists for options, replaced with two side-by-side lists where you move items from the list on the left to a list on the right to make selections.

In general, the basic look and feel did not change much from Quicken 2003 to 2004. The button bar, the icons, the account registers, the Accounts windows, reports and graphs, and most other basic features have not changed, nor have the general preferences panes, which still have check boxes! There is one new addition to Quicken 2004 registers: A small iCal button is displayed next to the RESTORE button which lets you “move” a transaction to Apple’s iCal program. Selecting a transaction and pressing this button will launch iCal (if not already running) and add a new calendar event named after your Quicken account name. In iCal, clicking on this event will display the Quicken transaction details. I am not sure is why I need this however! I suspect if your do not launch Quicken all the time (which I do) this will let you put a reminder in your calendar to make a payment. While this is an interesting feature, its one I would never use, and I would much rather see Intuit spend their engineering efforts fixing the problems mentioned above than adding additional features such as this. Additionally, I, like many, still use Entourage’s calendar, and there is no way to export transactions to that calendar.

For the most part, the menus have not changed either. A new item has appeared in the ACTIVITIES menu called the “Emergency Records Organizer.” This is an interesting tool to help you collect and organize important information about you and your family in one place. Selecting this option launches a separate program to handle this task. You can store information on Contacts (emergency, accountant, childcare, doctors, lawyers, etc) , Financial Account info (bank, credit, and investment accounts), Income, Loan, Insurance, Real Estate, vehicles, etc., plus info on adults and children in the household. While this too is an interesting idea, I was immediately disappointed that information already stored in Quicken was not exported into the proper places in this program, nor was their an “import” function to easily get this info. And given the major import problems with earlier versions of Quicken, perhaps the engineering effort spent writing this program could have been spent on writing a file conversion program? Or maybe fixing the tax export functions? I cannot help but wonder why this was a better use of engineering time?

The biggest changes in this release are in and around the handling of portfolio accounts and most visible changes can be seen in the portfolio window as mentioned above. Quicken 2004 also returns functionality to the Net Worth function. While this has been in most previous version, the NetWorth graph has been broken for many years, and now once again shows the proper values in the graph. If you are trying to save or build your net worth, this is a very fun tool to see how you are doing over time. It is, unfortunately, VERY slow if you have a lot of transactions.

Quicken’s bill-paying functionality is also improved this year and easier integration with their Bill Pay service (about $10 a month) makes paying ANY bill easy. Integration to a large list of financial institutions for bill paying is also now included, and the Online Access too makes setting this up rather easy. Although once set up, actually paying the bill from the proper account through the proper financial institution is a bit more complex, but easily learned. Unfortunately for me, Bank Of America, one of the first banks in the US to offer on-line bill payment service, while supported for on-line statements, was not supported for direct on-line bill payment and offered only Bill Pay for this institution. Bank of America offers free bill payment, so why would I want to pay $10 a month to use a free service?

Another service added to Quicken this year is something called “Always Up To Date.” Quicken 2004 will now automatically update your on-line accounts, payments, and security prices on a regular schedule. If enabled and Quicken is not running, a dialog will appear to warn you that Quicken is about to launch on its own and do a daily update, so Quicken does not have to be left running to use this feature. If you track a lot of stocks, this is a great way to get daily news and prices into Quicken, as well as to assure that any on-line transactions are automatically handled every day, which is great for reoccurring automatic payments that you might otherwise forget to enter.

Quicken is optimized for OS-10.1.5 OR 10.2.6 or greater, and support for OS-9 is still included, requiring at least 9.2.2. A PowerPC processor is required, at least 128 MB of memory, and 75 MB of free disk space to start, but expect your data file to grow large quickly if tracking lots of stocks and running daily update. Video resolution of 800×600 is required at a minimum of 16 colors, and internet access (broadband or 56.6K modem) is required to use on-line features.


The Bottom Line

To update or not update to Quicken 2004 will be based on your needs. If you are a basic users, the better on-line integration and the iCal feature may make this a reasonable update, especially if you passed on Quicken 2003 last year. If you track a lot of stocks and bonds, then this update brings you a great deal of new features worth considering, but comes at the price of some buggy handling and changes to previous transactions if you come from Quicken 2003. If you do update, I suggest going to www.Quicken.com or using the Update function and be sure to get the latest updater installed before actually opening your account in this release. Finally, Quicken 2004 is MUCH more stable than previous version which were prone to a good number of random crashes and hangs, and eliminating that alone may be worth the update.

If you’re a new users, Quicken 2004 is a great, stable program with a good number of features to help manage your finances. Without the upgrade issues of older data files, this program will work very well for you.

MyMac.com rating 3 out of 5 if updating from Quicken 2003, 4.5 out of 5 if a new user

 

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