Quicken 2002 slowing a bit compared to MS's Money

by Alan Zisman (c) 2002
First published in Business in Vancouver,  Issue #638 January 15-21, 2002, The High Tech Office column

We're starting the new fiscal year off with a look at personal financial tools. Last week, we looked at Microsoft's new Money 2002; this week, we'll focus on Intuit's Quicken 2002.

Intuit's Quicken franchise has four times as many customers as Microsoft Money. Perhaps as a result, however, Intuit seems to feel less of a burning need to improve its product. This year's version is not dramatically different from either the 2000 or 2001 editions.

Change for change's sake is not particularly good, but the improvements Microsoft has made to Money suggest some areas that Intuit might want to focus on. Take setup, for example. Like Money, Quicken asks a number of personal questions. 

Unlike Money, you too often have to enter the same data again as you configure the program.


And once you get started, there's less handholding than Microsoft provides to users new to financial record keeping.

The core of the program remains the same as in the past, which is a good thing. The program retains its ease in keeping personal financial records and paying bills. Once again, the program integrates its data with the TurboTax tax preparation program (another Intuit program). And once again, the program is available in comparable Mac and Windows versions.

The new budgeting module is much improved, offering a series of tabs that walk users through the budget-building process. The tabbed interface is used in many of the program's screens, an effective way to keep a lot of options handy while controlling on-screen clutter. New tabs can often be added, allowing customized views.

Like in recent versions of Microsoft Office, each centre now features a useful set of shortcuts to commonly used features, running down the side of the screen.

The program's portfolio tracker especially shines. It's easy to find the information you need by sorting your listings in a variety of ways. A capital gains estimator points out the tax implications of selling at different times. Portfolio information can be posted online with Quicken.com so it can be viewed (but not changed) from different PCs. And users can connect to a wide range of brokers right from the program.

Compared to Money, Quicken's Web connections seem anemic. A portfolio analyzer offers generic advice on how to improve your investment's performance. You can see estimated one-year to five-year returns, the best and worst performers, and again, link to the capital gains feature to see tax implications of sales. Similarly, a tax planner allows what-if games to try to maximize after-tax income.

While Money offers an integrated life-long financial planning module, Quicken focuses on each life event separately: college savings and retirement planning each gets its own planner. This may be less effective than Money's over-all approach.

Both Money and Quicken have optional small-business editions. Money's includes some invoicing features, but not much else.

Quicken's small business edition includes additional features, such as a mileage tracker, a forms designer, and an entry-level business planning tool.

The program features excellent built-in help, including a superb introductory video for first-time users.

But if you need phone support, be prepared to pay and to call on a weekday. Even then, phone support is only available during the day. Money's toll-line support is also limited to day-time hours, but at least it's available seven days a week. (Quicken does offer free phone support for installation and bill-payment issues.)

The new versions of Microsoft Money and Intuit's Quicken for 2002 are both mature and full-featured programs.

Quicken offers stronger tools for small-business users and for portfolio analysis. Money is easier to set up for new users, and offers better online banking tools, and better Internet linkage overall.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan