Goodbye, Quicken

In the early aughts, I purchased a copy of the game Civilization III for my Mac. I have played it ever since, especially after I learned that its copy protection code would mistake a mounted disk image of its CD for the real thing so I could run it without a CD in the drive (no funny business here: I still have the CD and in fact recently came across it). A great casual game, suitable for mindlessly clicking away, I used to play it on the bus home from work. Another regular commuter even accosted me once saying “You’ve been playing that same game for years! Haven’t you ever thought of getting a different game?” I still occasionally play it even though I have several versions of its successor Civilization IV, because III is easier on the battery and improved copy protection in IV doesn’t fall for the disk image trick. Now, its long tenure is coming to an end. Apple is releasing OS X Lion and retiring the PowerPC compatibility layer. Goodbye Civilization III, you will be missed.

However, this post is not about Civilization III. It’s about the only other application I use that requires PowerPC compatibility: Quicken 2007. I have now used it for over ten years to manage my finances, track my investments, time and pay my bills, and forecast savings. A couple of weeks ago, Intuit sent out a notice to the effect that Quicken 2007 would not be compatible with Lion, and support for it (such as it was) would end. Customers were advised to migrate to Quicken for Windows (ha!) or Quicken Essentials, their long awaited ground-up rewrite that does take advantage of current SDKs and runs natively on Intel Macs.

Unfortunately, Quicken Essentials has significant feature discrepancies compared with the older product. It has no bill pay feature. It also can’t track investments: the web site suggests that you manually enter stock and fund prices which seems to me a slightly less fun proposition than drying untreated wooden plates and spoons with a tea towel. Finally, Intuit states that they “ we are evaluating options for Quicken Essentials for Mac”, which to me sounds like “It’s dead but we won’t tell you yet because we want to get some more revenue out of it” and is not a confidence builder.

Here’s what I would like my next financial management app to do:

  • Run natively on my Mac, without having to run a VM
  • Ingest bank statement data through OFX files from multiple financial institutions
  • Ideally, pull said OFX files directly from the respective fiancial institutions’ websites (dream, dream)
  • Track inter-account transfers. Ideally, instigate inter-account transfers but I’m not holding my breath
  • Pay bills, with a settable future payment date. Quicken 2007 lost this capability when Wells Fargo dropped support for that version and WF’s interface is nice, but I now have to enter payments in two different places. This is not ideal
  • Track loans: Balance, Interest and Impound
  • Break down my Paycheck into various taxes and withholdings (a welcome new feature in Quicken 2007)
  • Report on spending by category, tax table, comparison with previous years etc.
  • Track investments, keeping track of security prices, cost basis, dividends, etc. for various investment accounts at multiple financial institutions

As far as I can see, I have the following alternatives:

  • Drop $50 (or, temporarily, $25) on Quicken Essentials, see if I can live with the reduced feature set, and hope they don’t put me in the same position in the near future
  • GNU Cash, an open source finance tracker which seems to have a fairly horrid user interface at first glance, but the major advantage is that there is no company that can unilaterally pull the plug on it
  • Buy and Install Quicken for Windows on a VM and use that. Not a viable option as far as I’m concerned
  • Buy iBank from the Apple App Store for $60 and see what it’s like. It’s getting some good recent reviews from people clearly in the same boat as I am
  • Start using, which is now also owned by Intuit and has never struck me as the financial management app I need

Dear LazyWeb, what are your experiences with the above? Any alternatives I missed?

OK Apple, Where Is It?

Apple says: “Apple will support Microsoft Windows 7 (Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate) with Boot Camp in Mac OS X Snow Leopard before the end of the year. This support will require a software update to Boot Camp.”

My VMWare VM is running Windows 7 on the Boot Camp partition, but I’m waiting for this new version of Boot Camp so I can boot Windows 7 directly on the metal. It’s the end of the year. Where’s my update?

Snow Leopard

Just installed… so far, so good. I took a full Time Machine backup before I started, and ran a disk check (which showed Green) from the install CD.

After the restart, the system asked me for the System Events application, but that was easily found.

I had to reinstall the Cisco VPN Client, because the Snow Leopard install clobbers /System/Library/StartupItems and erases the client’s StartupItem. Aside from StartupItems being highly obsolete, Cisco has no business putting stuff under /System anyway. Otherwise, I am now up and running using the same version (4.9.01 (0100)) I had running under Leopard.

Entourage (EWS) works; Microsoft Document Connection works: that’s about all I’ve used to far. Next time I do an expense report we’ll see if the Brother combo fax can still scan for me. Fingers crossed on that one.

Entourage for Exchange Web Services Public Beta

An interesting post landed this past Monday about the Public Beta of Microsoft Entourage. Entourage is Microsoft’s Mac equivalent of Outlook, the mail client that comes with Microsoft Office and connects to their Exchange groupware server.

The post is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, Entourage has been using WebDAV to access Exchange, which is very communications intensive and for all practical purposes makes it a second class citizen among Exchange clients. With this beta, Entourage fully adopts Exchange Web Services.

This is a great step forward for Entourage: it will improve its Exchange support and hopefully bring it much closer to the integration level offered by Outlook on Windows.

What’s also interesting is that the Exchange Web Services API seems to be documented and available for integration by third parties. Perhaps this is a good integration point for clients like Thunderbird and Evolution. It looks like their Exchange plugins are still using WebDAV.

Microsoft Overloads MIME Types, Breaks Safari

Safari Downloads Window For some time, any time I downloaded a Microsoft Office document in Safari, the browser appended an extra filename extension to the saved download, which turned the Office Document into an Office Template. A Word Document gets a .dot suffix, a Powerpoint slide show gets .pot, and an Excel spreadsheet gets .xla, which turns it into an add-in library which is really not what that file is. ?Devastating? No. Annoying? For sure yes. Life is too short to have to munge file name extensions all the time, and this is a Mac, right, so stuff should just work.?

Fortunately, a Google trip across some web forums leads to the cause of the problem, which in itself is an interesting illustration about how intricate even Personal Computers have become, and how easy it is to break something. ? Continue reading

Unit Testing Not Necessarily teh suck

I finally took time to read Will Shipley’s impassionate 2005 post about unit testing and why he doesn’t do it. He’s of course exaggerating for effect and the post is best taken in together with BBum’s excellent follow-up where he argues that unit testing made a huge amount of sense for his project, but may be less relevant for software that directly interacts with users.

Unit testing serves to define and enforce the interface that a piece of code presents to the outside world, which makes most sense (and makes a whole lot of sense) when the user of the code is itself a program. Hence: libraries, Frameworks (oh wait, they are also teh suck) and the like. Having a comprehensive set of unit tests gives the folks who have to work with your code confidence in its quality, and gives you liberty to change stuff under the hood as you see fit, with no fear (ok, less fear) of breaking the confidence the other folks have.

Unit tests don’t find bugs. They ensure that there is no unpredictable behavior (bugs) in the bits they test, but they are not as good at finding new bugs that you didn’t know were there. That’s still up to other techniques like exploratory testing that Will likes so much better. Perhaps Unit Testing is incorrectly named, and we should be talking about Unit Verification.

Apple Roundup

In the past month we have seen the annual Macworld trade show. I spent a day on the show floor, and it is kind of devolving into iPodworld. The big news of course was the iPhone, revealed well ahead of schedule and not universally well received. I want one, but critics point out that the marketplace is very crowded, the technology moves very fast and while the iPhone looks very glam and sexy in the US marketplace, other regions like Japan are already way ahead of where Apple will be six months from now. I think there is a big difference between the phone market and the PC market, where Apple has operated so far. In the PC marketplace, there is virtually no competition. There is one monopolist, Microsoft, who has the marketplace locked up and dictates progress or lack thereof. Then there is Apple, which is trying to carve out a niche for itself in this Microsoft-owned arena, and does so with some success by creating compelling products that play strongly in some areas (media, the home) which allows them to largely ignore the areas where Microsoft is most deeply entrenched (cubicle land, etc.).

In mobile phones, the situation is entirely different. There is no market incumbent that stifles innovation, but a host of players who compete on a fairly level playing field. There’s Motorola, Sony Ericsson, Nokia, LG, Samsung, Siemens, Pantech, Sagem, RIM, Palm, … and those are just the players operating in North America. They are responsible for an incessant cavalcade of flip phones, smart phones, camera phones, music phones, even phones on which you can make and receive calls. The existence of several local markets across the world?the USA, Japan, every European country?with their own culture, requirements and local phone companies allows for a regional variation in phone features, so technologies can mature on a relatively small scale. There is actual competition in this market, which fosters actual choice for the consumer and makes it much more interesting to watch than the PC market. Seeing Apple enter this melee is even more interesting.

Bill Gates flew off the handle, and no one was there to stop him. Many bits have been spilled over the utterly uncritical interview in Newsweek, and it has been soundly refuted. ‘Nuff said.

Apple’s new I’m a Mac, I’m a PC ad pokes fun at what is supposed to be a Security feature in Vista: the fact you have to approve certain actions taken by programs running on Vista that could change or reconfigure your PC. I haven’t used Vista myself but, as John Welch noted in Information Week, Vista doesn’t actually tell you what it is trying to have you approve, and approving doesn’t require anything in the way of authentication. It’s just an ‘Allow, Cancel’ dialog box that anyone who walks up to your PC could click. Any other OS at least requires you to enter your password when authenticating for potentially PC-altering stuff. The ad is the best one yet in the Mac vs. PC series.