This article originally appeared in TidBITS on 2011-08-05 at 9:29 a.m.
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Finding a Replacement for Quicken

by Michael E. Cohen

Unlike the death of the classic Mac OS, which came with a full-blown funeral service [1] officiated by Steve Jobs himself, the passing of Rosetta, Apple’s software that allowed PowerPC applications to run on Intel-based Macs, took place without any public acknowledgement from Apple at all.

The first that many people learned of Rosetta’s demise was when they installed Mac OS X Lion and, upon attempting to launch a PowerPC application, saw a rather distressing dialog like this one:

[image link] [2]

Though many PowerPC applications have newer Intel-based versions that will live happily in Lion-land, one popular application, Quicken 2007, does not. Sure, Intuit offers a version with a reduced feature set, but Quicken Essentials [3] isn’t a direct replacement for Quicken 2007. Instead, it’s just another alternative financial package, one that may or may not be a suitable replacement for Quicken 2007, depending on your needs. Intuit itself makes this very clear.

So what is a long-time Quicken user, with years of accumulated financial records stored in Quicken, to do?

Two Preliminary Pieces of Advice -- My first piece of advice is obvious: Don’t panic. There are a lot of personal finance packages to which Quicken users can turn. For nearly all Quicken refugees, one or more of them is probably right for you.

That said, my second piece of advice is the crucial one: Don’t upgrade to Lion until you have exported your Quicken data, imported it into a replacement, and tested it. That’s because the export feature in Quicken 2007, unsurprisingly, requires Rosetta to run. Although some Quicken alternatives may be able to read Quicken data directly, many more require that information in Quicken Interchange Format (.qif) files. You don’t want to lose your ability to run Quicken until your financial data has found a new home, moved in, unpacked, and had a little time to get comfortable. Lion can wait.

Some Candidates -- Ah, but which new home? That’s not an easy question to answer. Among the many candidates that might replace Quicken for you are the following, listed in order of decreasing cost:

These are not, by any stretch of the imagination, the only possible Quicken replacements around, merely the ones I’ve taken a quick look at or that readers have suggested.

Also note that you can keep your Rosetta-requiring Quicken 2007 if you are willing to partition your hard drive so you can reboot and run Snow Leopard when necessary; you could also transition to Quicken for Windows if you are willing to run Windows in Boot Camp or a Parallels- or VMware-based virtual machine. These seem like stopgap options to me, but if you want to learn more, Joe Kissell discusses them in “Take Control of Upgrading to Lion [21].”

But, in any case, I’m not going to recommend any one of these replacement options in this article. Instead, I have a bunch of questions for you to answer. Your answers to these questions will put you in a much better position to examine the available alternatives and find the one that’s right for you.

Quicken 2007, its predecessors, and its Windows-based edition, all offer a variety of features and capabilities. It’s a rare Quicken user who needs all of them. What you need to figure out is how you use Quicken, which of its features are essential to you, and which you can live without.

Where You Come In -- But wait! We need your help! First, if you know of viable Quicken replacements not in the list above, please share that information in the comments, so we can add them. Second, after you’ve read the rest of this article and thought about the questions suggested, let us know in the comments if you have any additional questions for people to consider.

Here’s why. We’re planning something new with this article. Once we’ve compiled a full list of products and questions, we’ll be contacting the developers of each of the products and asking them to explain how their products will meet your needs. We’ll then make an edited version of each developer’s response public for everyone to read.

On to the questions!

Do you use Quicken primarily as a smart checkbook register?

If so, most available packages, including Quicken Essentials, may fill the bill. Questions related to this category include the following:

Do you use Quicken to track investments, loans, budgets, and net worth?

Now we’re getting into some serious financial stuff, stuff that’s beyond my personal experience. Fortunately, my younger brother has a complex financial portfolio, and he has clued me in on some of the questions to ask related to this overarching question.

Who else needs access to your financial information?

It turns out that there are several audiences who may have to be considered when you adopt any financial software: yourself (obviously), a spouse or significant other, possibly an accountant, almost certainly the Internal Revenue Service in the United States (residents of other countries have similar governmental organizations who may have a burning need to examine your finances from time to time).

How to Choose -- Okay, you’ve answered all my questions (and, I hope, others that have occurred to you). Now what?

First, prioritize the features you need based upon your answers. Some features may be essential, some may be nice to have, some are almost certainly irrelevant.

Next, you may want to wait until we’ve published the developer responses to our questions to start looking for a replacement. If you’d rather get going right away, or if you’ve read the developer responses and need to move on to personal testing, start with the list of products I provided above. Explore the Web sites for each of the candidates you have in mind, just to see if they offer the features that you need. Focus especially on the ones that offer a free trial version: With the exception of Quicken Essentials, all of the ones in my list do.

After that, download one or two candidates that offer free trials and try to import your exported Quicken data into them. If that works out, try them out for a couple of weeks, putting them through their paces, while still maintaining your “real” information in Quicken.

Once you have found your replacement, do a final export of your Quicken data, purchase the replacement, and bring your data into it.

With only a small amount of luck, you should be able to cut your ties to Quicken and finally move on to Lion.