Caught in the Quicken web

The Thinker by Rodin

I have often joked to my wife that Microsoft’s greatest invention was its random behavior generator. If you run the exact same software, using the exact same data on the exact same computer day after day you should get exactly the same results. Except that, this does not happen in the world of Microsoft Windows. I believe this thanks to their secret random behavior generator. Some days you can be lulled into a sense of complacency. You think that things are finally predictable, only to discover later that either something surreptitious is going on under the hood, or some sort of bizarre behavior that never manifested itself the last hundred times has occurred.

Because of its secret random behavior generator, Microsoft has ingeniously generated hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue. This has forced us to upgrade, buy new versions of their software, reformat our hard drives and reinstall Windows, and even buy entirely new computers. We also pay money to call their technical support lines to maybe solve these mysterious problems. What is the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results? By buying an iMac, I have demonstrated that I am now sane. Release me from the rubber room, please. I now have a computer, which while not perfect, works predictably with me instead of against me.

As I documented, it is not a trivial process to move from Windows to a Mac. There is a lot to learn and a lot to unlearn. There are some inevitable compromises. You may not find precisely the same software for the Mac as you will for Windows, but you can come close. As in the case of Quicken, you can expect to pay more money for the privilege of having it work on a Mac. What you get in return is consistency and reliability.

Quicken may be the exception. I found that moving from Quicken for Windows to Quicken for the Mac was a hugely frustrating experience. Quicken is not some fly by night company. It has been around for more than twenty years and owns the lion’s share of the personal finance market. It has expanded into the business market with its Quickbooks line. It also offers an array of online services. You would think that such a large and well-financed company would offer a version of Quicken for the Mac that is consistent with Quicken for Windows. You would think that you could simply move over your data files and use them transparently.

Sorry, no. Moving from Quicken for Windows to Quicken for the Mac feels very much like trying to solve some bizarre and distressing Microsoft Windows problem. I mean the real irksome kind, where you are reduced to hacking Windows registry entries and upgrading drivers in the wan hope that maybe you will return to some level of consistency and reliability. Quicken blew it big time with Quicken for the Mac. For some bizarre reason it is largely a different product than Quicken for Windows that also looks and behaves quite differently than it Windows version.

Ironically, Microsoft did a better job of porting its Microsoft Office Suite to the Mac than Quicken did with its flagship product. I installed Microsoft Word and Excel for the Mac and there is almost no inconsistent behavior with the Windows version. Yes, you get feature windows that sit outside the main window. That is standard Mac stuff. In addition, you have to use the CMD key where you would normally use the CTRL key. That is about it.

With Quicken for the Mac, not only are the features I took for granted missing, but also all sorts of things both subtle and overt are markedly different. For example, you might want to have your register show the date column first and then the check number column so it looks like your paper register. There is no way to do this with the Mac version, which markedly slows down the process of entering transactions into Quicken. Moreover, why is the category field now on the left and the memo field on the right? It would have been just as easy to keep it consistent with the Windows version.

All these sorts of annoying inconsistencies though pale compared to the hassle of actually moving your data from Windows to the Mac. First, according to their own knowledge base, you must go through the hassle of exporting each type of data (accounts, categories, etc.) to a QIF file, which is painful. It also tells you to do things like shorten your account and category names and to move over data in a stepwise manner, which is also painful. Yet despite all this, I was not successful moving over my Quicken data. Instead, I got repeated “Transaction File Full” messages while importing. I was reduced to calling their technical support line and waiting for a call back. Their technician was anxious to end the call early because their support closed at 5 PM. However, he did give me some useful advice. He told me to create a new QIF file with all my data in it and import just that. The good news was that it appeared to worked.

However, there were some problems. The import program ignored many transactions, making the account balances incorrect in many cases. As I had taken care to trim my account and category names as instructed, I expected no problems. The problems were occurring in transactions with category names I could not change on Windows, those “automatic” categories like _401KEmployerContribution.

Searching the Quicken support forums I found a number of people with similar problems but no one who had a solution. A number of people like me though were frustrated and tearing their hair out. With 18 years of Quicken data, going through probably one hundred thousand transactions and fixing those ones did not import or imported incorrectly was not a viable option. Why could Quicken not at least provide an error log? What to do?

I figured that as a last resort I could just create a balance adjustment so that at least the account balances would be accurate. Except that in most of my accounts, the option was disabled. Naturally, I sent an inquiry to Quicken. Their customer relationship management software just automatically pointed me to articles I had already read. Of course, no human was actually going to bother to read my email. That, like, costs money! Instead, just have a computer parse it for keywords, send an email with likely matches and hope the customer goes away!

In desperation, I was reduced to changing my opening balances. That was the only thing that Quicken for the Mac would allow me to do. So now, my account and share balances are correct, but I have no idea whether it is calculating my stock portfolio values correctly, because I am not certain that all buy and sell transactions were recorded correctly. Nor am I confident that any income or expense reports will be accurate. All this for the privilege of paying $69.99 for a Mac version, which you can get for about half this price and which has about 10% less functionality than the Windows version!

Quicken though keeps sending me emails that it is still vitally concerned about my problem. I cannot be bothered to respond because it is clear even they do not know what to do. If I had to guess, I suspect their advice would be to stick with the Windows version. However, I will not shell out $80 or so for Parallels or install Boot Camp to run Windows on my Mac. My whole goal of moving to a Mac was to put Windows behind me.

There is hope. Reputedly, Quicken is rewriting Quicken for the Mac from the ground up for a future version. Maybe then, it will have the same features as in its Windows version. Maybe then, moving over your data will be simple. Maybe then, future customers will not have to troubleshoot this bizarre accounting stuff largely by themselves. As for me, I feel justifiably disgruntled and used. This is no way to treat a loyal customer.