After a four year absence, the next version of Quicken for the Mac is here. It's called Quicken Essentials for Mac and is a ground up Cocoa rewrite. I've been using the program for a few weeks now. Is it worth the wait? Well that depends what you need in your financial software.
When I interviewed Aaron Patzer, VP/GM of Intuit's Personal Finance Group, he was quick to point out that it's called Quicken Essentials for a reason: "It's called Essentials because it's what we consider to be essential for most users - about 80% of users. We went to people's homes and watched them use it. The majority of them just want to know: How much do I have? How much do I owe? How much do I spend on gas and food? How many times do I go to this restaurant? How many times do I go to Starbucks? What investments do I have? Let me set a budget to control my spending."
If an easy overview of your financial life is the goal Intuit had in mind, they've outdone themselves. The first thing you'll notice is the completely redesigned interface. Gone is the horrible toolbar navigation with multiple windows. Quicken Essentials has got that familiar streamlined iTunes/iLife look and feel with all your accounts, reports, budgets, and tools nicely displayed in a source list. Its single window interface makes it easy for the user to get a complete snapshot of all their finances. The interactive pie charts are snappy and responsive, and the built-in reports make it easy to view your checking, savings, and investing accounts.
Perhaps the most standout feature of this revamp is the improved categorization that takes a ton of work off the plate of the user. The guys at Quicken have developed a learning algorithm for Quicken Online that allows users to self-tag, with the Quicken Online software remembering those tags and then applying them to other people's data. The more people who use it, the smarter the tagging gets. In my tests, the automatic categorizing/tagging works exceedingly well. Though Quicken Essentials takes a lot of cues from Mint.com, it's method of categorization is different (and superior). Mint obtains its categorization by performing a relatively simple Yellow Pages look-up. Later in the year Intuit will be combining the two approaches and hopes to achieve 95% categorization accuracy (Intuit bought Mint in 2009).
Out of the box, Quicken Essentials supports 12,000 US and Canadian banks. That will grow to 16,000 banks in the next 2-3 months. That's full coverage of every credit union and bank in the US. Transferring and converting your data from Quicken for Windows to Quicken Essentials worked pretty well in my tests. I just saved a copy of my Quicken for Windows file, moved it to my Mac, and double-clicked on it. All my data was easily imported without any errors. Keep in mind that I was only working with two years of Quicken data though. Quicken Essentials allows for conversion from previous Mac programs, Quicken for Windows 2007+, and the now defunct Microsoft Money.
If you're like me and just want a simple program to view all your financial accounts, see where your money is going, and keep track of balances and upcoming bills, I highly recommend Quicken Essentials. If, however, you're a Quicken power user who needs investing and planning tools, investment buy and sell tracking, TurboTax integration, or in-app bill pay, then QEM is not for you. Think of this edition of Quicken Essentials as iPhoto for your finances. It presents a snapshot of your finances and transactions in a simple to use interface. If you need more than that, it's best to look at iBank or Quicken Premier for Windows running under VMWare Fusion or Parallels.
Quicken Essentials for the Mac goes on sale today for $69 and requires Mac OS X 10.5 or 10.6, an Intel-based Mac, and 1GB of hard disk space.