Quicken for the Mac: Finally!

After three years, Intuit releases a (simplified) version of Quicken for the Mac. It's attractive and useful, but people with complex financial lives may run into walls with the product.

A year ago at the Intuit booth at MacWorld , Quicken founder Scott Cook pressed a CD into my hand . It contained a beta version of the company's long-overdue update of the Mac version of Quicken, called Quicken Financial Life. Eagerly awaiting its release were Mac users who needed a personal finance app with some meat on its bones. They were getting frustrated with Quicken's maker, Intuit. The ancient Quicken 2007, which was the last new version of Quicken for the Mac, was so unloved that you didn't have to look far to find people running Windows (inside Parallels or VMWare Fusion) on their Macs just so they could use one of the grown-up versions of Quicken that was available for the PC.

QFL never saw the light of day. It was unloved even inside Intuit. Before the product could make it out of beta, Intuit bought Mint.com , the upstart online personal financial information company. Mint's CEO, Aaron Patzer ( interview ), became the general manager of Intuit's Personal Finance Group, and took as one of his first jobs overseeing the re-creation of Quicken Financial Life into Quicken Essentials. Features were dropped from QFL, the interface was redesigned, and Patzer made sure new users could set up the product in 10 to 15 minutes.

Quicken Essentials, the first new version of Quicken for the Mac since 2007, finally ships Thursday, at a retail price of $59.99.

Quicken Essentials takes a page from Mint in its approachability (sample data used). Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

The app is a modern financial product. It's approachable instead of feature-laden, and in most areas it's very Mac-like. It's clearly not a Mac port of the Windows version of Quicken that old fogeys like me are accustomed to. It's missing features like bill payment, and it's no good at tracking investments.

In exchange for its limited feature set, Quicken Essentials gets ease of use. It is very easy to set up if you're starting from scratch. Once your accounts are hooked in, an Overview page gives you a super-clean Mint-like screen that shows you where your money is going to and coming from. Patzer says Quicken is very smart about automatically categorizing expenses so you can identify your habits accurately. It aggregates categorization corrections from other users to continuously improve its performance (the Windows version, by contrast, uses Yellow Pages lookups).

Like the now-departed Microsoft Money , Quicken Essentials will show you activity in individual accounts or in a combined ledger with everything. But its real benefit is its budgeting tools. Here again its smart categorization helps a lot: It does a good job of analyzing your spending habits to help you create realistic budgets, and it has a good, simple screen to keep track of them.

As I said, Quicken Essentials doesn't do bill payment for you. Patzer says that only 6 percent of Quicken Windows users use this feature; most people today pay bills either through their banks' online systems or at the site of the companies billing them. Quicken Essentials is also a miserable product if you want to keep track of investments. You can't even enter investment transactions manually. Quicken Essentials will download and record your transactions, but you can't see them. You can't get more detail than current values of your holdings, in fact. There are no historical charts or other forms of analysis. Patzer says that in 2011, a Deluxe version of Quicken for the Mac may include these features.

There's also no integration with Intuit's consumer tax product, TurboTax.

Quicken Essentials features "the mother of all file converters," Patzer told me. It will read data files from any version of Quicken as well as from Microsoft Money. But you do need to run old files through an external converter, which I did not receive in time to test.

The Mint aesthetic is clearly part of Quicken Essentials, and that's good. Patzer told me he's aware that Mint will never appeal to a large number of users who don't trust a company, even Intuit, to store all their financial passwords on computers outside of their control. For many of these people, Quicken Essentials is a very good solution. The app is simple, attractive, and useful. It doesn't overreach and it's not bloated. However, people with complex financial lives may run into walls with the product.

The app's portfolio tracking tools are nearly nonexistent. This is it. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

You can dive into each account's register for full transaction details. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Related: Mint founder on branding: Keep it simple .

 

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