Java Zen:Thinking Out Loud Sunday, 2024.04.21
We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question which divides us is
whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. My own feeling is
that it is not crazy enough.

		Niels Bohr


Farewell to Quicken

I’ve been a Quicken user for a long, long time. The oldest version for which I could find disks was MS-DOS version 5.0. Although I have an earlier manual, the accompanying disk has long since been buried in a long forgotten box.

Prior to Quicken, I used a program called Pacioli 2000 (this was 1990, before marketing types hijacked versioning.) Named after the monk who invented double entry bookkeeping, Pacioli 2000 was also an excellent program. It was straightforward to use, the documentation was excellent (it contained one of the more concise MS-DOS tutorials I’ve every found and came with a cheesy video on accounting) and reporting was robust. But Pacioli 2000 was geared more for business and accounting principles confused the heck out of me.

Back then, Quicken was also straightforward and easy to use. Like your grandfathers roll top desk, everything had a place, organization was easy and reporting was concise. Everything in the package was yours. Customization was limited to screen colors and the like.

It’s different today. Everything isn’t yours and you don’t have access to all the cubby holes. Some of the drawers are locked and you don’t own the key. Tickers for mortgage loans scroll across the status bar and you cannot turn them off. Features you might find useful are displayed, billboard style, but only available via subscription. Grandfather’s roll top desk has become cluttered and stuffed with junk mail. Finding what’s yours consumes half the time spent floundering around in the program.

The last upgrade I endured was to Quicken 2001. Endured because, once again, the user interface had radically changed. Menu items were jumbled and the opening screen had morphed to a link infested hive infiltrated with traps to upsales and subscription based services. Finding what I wanted required frequent visits to the help files (thankfully, Quicken’s bundled help files remain high quality.) Sadly, I lamented, this would be my last Quicken upgrade. This past year I dumped Quicken’s sister product, TurboTax, for many of the same reasons plus one small additionally irritating feature – the bastards decided they owned my computer.

More than Quicken had changed in the previous 10 years. I had changed and so had my accounting needs. I had re-engineered a career as a software developer, specializing in middle tier and Internet technologies. Software was no longer a mystery. Even complex systems were easy to “decompile” mentally and figure out how they worked. By Quicken 2001, it was clear the program had become bloated and was oozing the stench of freebee electro-brochure-ware masquerading as an accounting package.

Banking had changed. Account information is now securely available electronically from any location at any time.

It’s a matter of taste and tolerance, I suppose. I don’t have cable TV, subscribe to magazines (well, except for Skeptical Inquirer) or follow the latest reality pimp shows (Who Wants To Sleep With My Dad/Mom/Bachelor/Bachelorette/Goat) and gag feasts (Extreme Surgery Hacks, Slurp Animal Guts, Hang Out On The Movie Set Beach And Not Shower For 12 Weeks). The older and more experienced I get, the more effort I exert toward filtering the amount of data I have to deal with each day. Some channels, like TV, carry such a high concentration of crap they are not even worth the effort of filtering. (One used to be able to tape a TV show to VHS and fast forward through the commercials. Not any more. Increasingly larger portions of the TV screen are dedicated to perpetual advertising. So much so, it’s difficult to find the show you were interesting in buried amongst the blips and banners.)

So, when this level of intrusion invades the software I pay for, a threshold within me is crossed and I seek to simplify. When it involves my data, simplify means finding new and better ways of filtering. With some data sources, like e-mail, this is relatively easy (Thank you Thomas Bayes!). Financial data is a little more problematic. Since it involves money, there is an added layer of security. This is a good thing, unless the keeper of your financial data is treating it as if it is their data and therefore want to charge you a fee for getting your data. More on this later.

I began the transition away from Quicken rather simply. With everything else going on in my life, I needed a way to track 1) what bills were coming due and 2) how much cash I had on hand to cover them. That’s it. Didn’t need fancy financial planning wingdings and whatnots. Since the dot com bubble burst and corporate scandals, all my investments were trashed. So I wrote the first incarnation of the Quicken replacement, Bill Planner1, to do just what I needed – show me the cash I had on hand and which bills I had to cover.

Developed as a web application, Bill Planner was available to me 24/7 and from anywhere I had Internet access. For the first time, I could handle personal accounting issues from work and while traveling. What emerged was a much more concise picture of my current financial position than I had had in several years. From the moment this first effort went live, I was happy again.

From there I began to add only the features I missed from Quicken. Recurring monthly bills are automatically inserted into the ledger on the appropriate date and an e-mail sent to my attention when this has happened. Screen colors were modified to give the application a true ledger look and feel. Negative values are in red and positive values in black. I’m currently working on more robust recurring ledger entry schedules (e.g. a bi-weekly pay check entry), automatic import of on-line banking and credit card data and transaction categories (for eventual reporting features).

I feel a connection to members of my family several generations past. Folks who crafted exactly the tools they needed when they needed them. They made their own clothes and cooked their own meals. Granted, they had radically different reasons for doing this, I nevertheless feel the satisfaction they must have felt for having done this.
1Bill Planner is available as part of my Web Application Gateway open source project.

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