February 24, 2003

Moneydance: It's under new management

- 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
. 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

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
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

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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