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Innovation

Personal Financial Management Software for Linux - Continued

During the past week I was able to look at a few more candidates in the Personal Financial Management area, and to gain some experience with the one that I have decided to use for now. Please keep in mind that what I am presenting here is intended only to give you an idea of what is available, with a very brief overview of each package, and give you a link that you can follow if you want to investigage further or try one of them yourself.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor on

During the past week I was able to look at a few more candidates in the Personal Financial Management area, and to gain some experience with the one that I have decided to use for now. Please keep in mind that what I am presenting here is intended only to give you an idea of what is available, with a very brief overview of each package, and give you a link that you can follow if you want to investigage further or try one of them yourself.

One thing that became clear to me while doing this is that easy availability and ease of installation in the popular Linux distributions is crucial for the success of application packages. My choice of packages to investigate was based on a very simple criteria - they were present in the Linux Mint Software Manager (with one exception, noted below). If such packages are in included in whatever software/package management utility is in your preferred Linux distribution, the chances of even knowing that it exists are reduced, not to mention the hurdles of finding, downloading and installing it.

HomeBank: This looks like a very interesting (if somewhat odd) program. It seems to have a very long history, as their web page mentions "more than 14 years of user experience", including an Amiga version for which there is still an "import Amiga data" function. When you start it for the first time, the best description I can think of for the main screen is "Spartan". A blank window with a menu bar. This is quite a contrast to programs like Quicken, which insist on starting with a barrage of propoganda, publicity, hints, tips, and a "Wizard" to help you set up your accounts and import your data. It takes just a little investigation to figure out how to create an account. Once you get that done, you can start to add some transactions, and you are on your way. HomeBank seems to have all of the usual features and capabilities - Categories to group and track your income and expenses, descriptions and tags to help you identify and later search for transactions, graphs and reports to help you analyze your financial state. It doesn't fit my personal taste and preferences, because I find it to be a bit tedious in a lot of small ways. It always seemed to start with that blank window, and I had to tell it to open a "wallet". Getting to my accounts overview, or to an account register, required a couple more steps after opening the wallet. Creating a transaction was also a couple more steps, and when I finally got there, rather than the typical "Deposit/Withdrawal" or "Credit/Debit" scheme, it uses +/- on each transaction. This is part of what I mean about the "European" feel to the program, that seems to be very typical here, perhaps even more so in France, where HomeBank originates. Even worse, the default seems to be "+", which makes every new transaction a deposit by default! If only that were really the case - but unfortunately, most of my transactions are debits or withdrawals, so I ended up having to remember to click +/- almost every time. The bottom line, though, is that it seemed to work very well for the testing that I did, and it seemed to be very complete. If it suits your needs and style, it could be a good choice.

Grisbi: The only thing I can say about this program was that it crashed on me. Repeatedly, and at various different places. I tried to import a QIF file, and it crashed. I tried to change the currency on an account, and it crashed. I tried something else (I don't even remember what at this point), and it crashed, so I gave up.

Skrooge: This one was the exception to the selection rule I mentioned above. It is not in the Linux Mint Software Manager, but there was a comment posted to my first article on this subject suggesting that I try it. As I appreciate those who take the time to read my blog, and I'm happy to get suggestions for things I haven't found on my own, I decided to have a look. What I learned was I have already forgotten what a big advantage it is for a packed to be included in a Linux distribution, or at least accessible in some way through the distribution. Skrooge is a KDE application, and is now distributed through KDE-Apps.org. However, what it tells you there is that the best way to get it is with or through your Linux distribution, and if that fails of course you can compile it from source. I looked at several of the distributions I use, and didn't find it in their repositories or software managers. I finally went to the openSuSE Build Service, and of course found multiple listing for it there. That always confuses me a bit - which version should I take? - and it was worse than usual this time because there were versions that just said KDE, others said KDE 4.3, and others didn't mention the version. I tried one-click installing the KDE version, and after a good bit of thrashing around it told me that it wanted to install 47 additional packages. No thanks! I'm just trying to get a simple look at a program here. I tried to one-click the KDE 4.3 version, and it eventually came to the same place - not too surprising, I suppose. At that point, I decided that I had learned my lesson. For this kind of application package, and for the average user, having it included in the distribution repositories, so it can be selected and installed very easily, is absolutely crucial. I think Skrooge might be a very good program, and I'm sure that some people have put a lot of hard work into it. But for this kind of package, in today's environment, if it can't be installed quickly and easily, I don't think it is going to gain much accpetance.

So, that's all the alternatives I'm going to be looking at for now. For my own use, I have decided to continue with KMyMoney. I have been using it, entering my accounts, current transactions, scheduled transactions and the lot. The choice between it and GnuCash was actually not easy, I felt that the two of them were about equal overall. I chose KMyMoney because I thought the user interface was a bit simpler, and it seemed to fit the way I work a bit better. But it was really small things like the way it uses Categories rather than making everything into an "Account" (which is mostly a matter of semantics, but it is the way I think of it, too), the way new transactions are entered, and the way scheduled transactions can be selected and entered manually. It certainly wasn't 100% in KMyMoney's favor, though. I particularly liked the way GnuCash uses tabs for pages in the main window, and it seems much more powerful in the way it handles scheduled transactions. Also, KMyMoney is in principle a KDE application, which means that if you are using Gnome (as with the standard Ubuntu distribution), or some other desktop manager, not only is the user interface going to look different from your other programs, but when you install KMyMoney it is also going to install a lot of KDE-related libraries and such. This was not a problem for me, because I installed it through the Linux Mint Software Manager, but I think it might be more trouble in other distributions, and some users might object to KDE-ness of it, or to the amount of additional stuff it installs. In the end, I'm pretty sure I would be happy using either one of these. In fact, I am going to keep GnuCash installed, and I have been keeping the accounts more or less up to date, although with larger batches entered less often, so that I have a reference and comparison and in case I find some significant problem with KMyMoney as I get deeper into it.

jw 13/12/2009

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