Getting there is half the fun

The conversion from Money to Quicken continues. Once the reports were finished (I don't know how long the account one ran, but the investing one was quick -- probably because it is a much smaller fraction of my database), I ran the conversion tool, which finished and launched Quicken with the converted data. Now, I know data conversion is an inexact science. I've written data conversion programs myself, and even when the source and target databases are designed in-house, not everything comes over as cleanly as you hope.

The first problem I noticed came up as I tried to set up my accounts' online access. When it converted the accounts, every account came across as a "Bank" account. "Credit Card" accounts, however, are a different type. While this doesn't seem like a big distinction, there was one very clear issue. When selecting financial institutions, Quicken filters the list based on the account type. It confused me at first, because an institution would show up, but the specific bank that manages credit cards wouldn't be there, and trying to continue with the bank listed wouldn't work (because I don't have a "bank" account with them, I have a "credit card" account with someone else).

The fix wasn't horrid, fortunately. I had to set up a "Credit Card" account for each credit card, and then I could select all transactions from the "Bank" accounts in turn and move them to the appropriate "Credit Card" account, and finally delete the old "Bank" account.

What made this process a little more annoying was the "Move" dialog box. The destination was a simple dropdown list that showed maybe four or five accounts at a time. The sort order was as it appears in the ever-present sidebar: Cash accounts first, then credit, then assets (I think -- I might have that order wrong), alphabeticaly sorted within each group (unless you move one, which I did accidentally on occasion). But there were no dividers or anything in the dropdown; it was just a list. And if you're not expecting that exact sort order -- because, for instance, the application is new to you and you don't instinctively know credit cards are at the bottom -- it makes it a royal pain to find anything. A point to Microsoft for better UI design here, where account list dropdowns are larger, have descriptive dividers, and in some cases end up being rich custom windows making it very easy to see where and what accounts you have.

Downloading transactions wasn't too painful, but again I did come across another UI blockade trying to have it save my passwords. When you elect to do so, you have to use the "password vault" wizard, where first you select your institution, then (if you have multiple "identities") select an identity (the username -- note this only appears if you have more than one), then enter the password. Why was this an issue? Because I don't often think of my accounts in terms of institutions; I think of them as accounts. I don't think "Citi Cards", I think "MasterCard". And, when I think of passwords, I think of them tied to a username. I don't connect "Citi Cards" to "p@sSw0rD", I think "My credentials for the MasterCard account are yakko_0123/p@sSw0rD". Quicken definitely loses points for forcing me to link institutions to passwords one at a time in their predefined order; another point for Money in that a full list of online credentials is displayed all at once, with a simple checkbox by each for remembering passwords right there, without needing a separate wizard. Although once remembered, I don't think I ever found where to change that information in Money, so Quicken gets a point for having a "go-to" place for password management, even if its interface sucks.

Downloading transactions is pretty straightforward. They have different ways of entering them into the register -- Money puts them in the register and has you accept them in-place, Quicken puts them in a list below the register. When you match a downloaded one to an existing one, both will remember the translation between the downloaded name (usually something messy like "WAL-MAR#919238 COLO") and the name you used ("Wal-Mart"). Quicken tells you it's doing it, though, but I wish it gave you the option to override that new "naming rule" on its popup. When I use the ATM to deposit birthday money from my mom, I'll enter "Mom" as the payee, but it'll get downloaded as "ATM DEPOSIT". That doesn't mean I want all my "ATM DEPOSIT"s to be from "Mom"...

As I was doing this, I noticed something that I knew was going to cause me pain. When Money downloads a transaction, it assigns the same Split information (if available) as it had from the last time that payee was used. Often, the amount will be different, but Money uses the old Split values anyway -- it then flags that transaction with a warning. In the conversion, those splits came across, but the warnings did not; so now I have a ton of transactions (because my wife, who spends the money and keeps promising to update the splits to what was really spent and never does) in Quicken that have invalid data. I'm going to have to compare Quicken and Money side-by-side, see which transactions Money has flagged, and delete the splits in Quicken by hand.

Loans do not convert. This, I knew ahead of time. Still doesn't mean it wasn't a pain to set that up again. I started with the mortgage, because that bill is due first, but at some point I'm going to want to rebuild those properly as well.

Most of my investment accounts, I just left as-is, because they've closed, so if the information isn't entirely accurate, it's not a big deal. My active ones, though, for some reason didn't convert right. I forget what kind of account they came over as, but it wasn't the right kind of investment or something that prevented online access. So, I set those up by hand. And that included having to enter the purchases of each lot of stocks (which, with dividend reinvestment plans over the course of a few years, was a lot of data entry). Pretty annoying; and the interface felt rather clunky. And after doing so, I of course was a little off by thousandths or ten-thousandths of shares. I'm sure this is not helped by the fact that E*Trade seems to round shares to thousandths in its file downloads -- in Money, whenever I got a statement update from E*Trade, I always had to log on to the site myself to get the exact share amounts before entering the transactions into my register; otherwise Money would complain that the brokerage statement and my Money register were off by 0.000128 shares.

I noticed, too, that categories were a little off. Quicken has its own predefined list, and in many cases, it took categories I used and converted them. It took Bills:Telephone and turned it into Utilities:Telephone, for instance. All things considered, it's not too bad. Half of my bills are under Bills and half are under Utilities now, but Quicken can move and merge categories just fine. One thing I did find amusing is it seemed to match my Insurance category to its Auto:Insurance subcategory. This led to categories such as Auto:Insurance:Automobile, Auto:Insurance:Health, Auto:Insurance:Dental, Auto:Insurance:Life...

The next thing I decided to do was to enter my scheduled bills and transfers, so I could pretend to get back on schedule. This wasn't too bad. The option to set a bill for the "First Sunday of the Month" was nice for scheduling Fast Offerings, which I used to have scheduled for the first of the month and always be "overdue". I did have a slight annoyance when doing the transfers, because the payee/category is listed at the top of the form, but transaction type is further down, and when you switch the type to "Transfer" is when "Transfer To" replaces "Payee". It should be strongly noted, however, that this replacement is probably one of the most idiotic UI blunders. When it hides "Payee", behind the scenes, it enters the word "Transfer" into the payee field. When I was done, I looked at the upcoming bill list. What did I see for the week? "Transfer", "Transfer", "Transfer", "Transfer", "Electric company", "Transfer", "Transfer", "Transfer", "Transfer", "Transfer". The only option I could find for customizing this view was to add "Account", which showed me the account that was paying out, namely my checking account. THIS DOES NOT HELP ME. In order to see what "Transfers" are due next, I have to double-click and open each one in turn.

When I went to actually pay my bills, I noticed something a little odd. Due to medical bills (and an uncooperative insurance company -- which reminds me, I still need to call and ask why they're refusing to pay for the emergency surgery performed by an in-network surgeon), cash flow has been really tight, so, in the back of my mind, I was wondering if I would need to pull money out of savings to pay this week's bills. So, after entering my bill payments, I checked my checking account balance, and it was higher than I remembered. A lot higher. Somewhere to the tune of $3000 higher. "Hey, good news! I just saved a bundle by switching financial software!" Um, no. That can't be right. I switched over to Money, and sure enough, my balance was just as low as I remembered. It seems that my next major task is to have Quicken and Money side-by-side and comparing each and every transaction over the past 10 years and see what's missing (or extra).

When I first switched from Quicken to Money, the two programs were virtually identical. Now, they are so different, I feel like I'm on a completely new operating system. (I can't quite put my finger on it, but Quicken "feels" like a Java app -- maybe it's just that all those Java-based financial apps I checked out were made to look like Quicken?) Although some of it could be chalked up to familiarity, I have found so many reasons why Money's UI is far superior to Quicken that I'm actually tempted to return Quicken for a full refund (I really wish they'd had a demo available for download).

Except I won't be going back to Money. Not when it pegs my CPU for minutes at a time doing apparently nothing, and certainly not when they demand a Passport ID to connect to my banks. That's right, it's worth the pain to go to Quicken for that.

Here's what I'd like to see from Money:

Better/faster database
Money started out on a Jet database, and I suspect it still is. Why not upgrade it to the SQL Express engine, the one they've been promoting for .Net developers? I don't know if that's the source of all the slowness, but it couldn't hurt to move into the current century. Perhaps Reporting Services could take over some of the report work?
Open database
Back in the 1900s, you could fire up Access and connect to your Money database and access your data at will. Now, there's what, one tool out there that lets you connect Excel to Money? I say let me at my data.
Lose the Passport
I do not want my data stored on your servers. Do not make that a requirement for useful and unrelated features.

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