/>
X
Innovation

Personal Financial Management Software for Linux

One of the few things which still require me to use Windows is my personal financial management program - I have been a Quicken user for a very long time. I used to be very conscientious about entering my transactions more or less daily into Quicken, but as I boot Windows less and less frequently, it has now gotten down to somewhere between weekly and monthly.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor on

One of the few things which still require me to use Windows is my personal financial management program - I have been a Quicken user for a very long time. I used to be very conscientious about entering my transactions more or less daily into Quicken, but as I boot Windows less and less frequently, it has now gotten down to somewhere between weekly and monthly. Add to that the fact that a new year is approaching, which can be a good time (or a good excuse) to start with a new financial program, and the fact that I am tired of trying to figure out each year what new versions of Quicken have appeared and/or disappeared (Basic, Deluxe, Super-Duper Deluxe, with extra vitamins and minerals, automatic psychic detection of transfers, or whatever).

This seems like a good time to reconsider the alternatives available for Linux, so I spent some time looking at a few of the possibilities. What follows here is a "first impression" summary of the four programs I installed and tried. All that I have tried to do so far is transfer the data from Quicken, and then do enough basic set up to be able to get a feel for how the program will work, what it will look like, and how it will handle come common transactions.

A quick word about obtaining and installing these programs. Depending on what distribution of Linux you are using, you will find some or all of these programs in the "Software Manager", "Package Manager", or "Add/Remove Software". If you don't find the particular program you are looking for, you can usually go to the web page for that particular package (I have tried to include links when I can, and when I remember), and get it from there. I did all of this testing on Linux Mint, because all four of these packages are in the Mint Software Manager. The average time to download, install and start one of them was about two minutes. It doesn't get any easier than that.

- GnuCash: I started with this one because it is probably the oldest and best known of the group. It is certainly the one that I have known about for the longest. This was the only one which "sensibly" imported the QIF files I had exported from Quicken - by that I mean, after importing I ended up with something that looked reasonable and familiar, and seemed to have the correct balances for my bank accounts. The main window is "tabbed", initially with an Accounts overview. When you double-click an account, a new tab opens with the transaction details for that account. It has nice, obvious icons for various kinds of account and transaction operations. It has scheduled transactions, account reconciling, multiple-split transactions, and much more. Of course, beyond simply tracking your account balances, what you want one of these programs to do is provide you with reports, and preferably graphs and charts, of your finances. GnuCash has an extensive list of pre-defined reports for cash flow, income and expenses, asset and liability management, and much more. It also has a number of bar charts and pie charts, and a "custom report" capability that I have not had time to investigate yet. The only thing that bothered me about GnuCash is that it is a classic, and strict, double-entry accounting system. Every Quicken "category" became an "account" in GnuCash, so the account overview window is very cluttered, and my actual bank accounts are just mixed in with all the rest. Once I had opened tabs for each bank account, this was not so much of a problem, but I think it will always be an irritant, and it might have other effects that I haven't noticed yet.

- KMyMoney: This is probably the best known alternative to GnuCash, and their web page claims that it is "the BEST Personal Finance Manager for FREE Users, full stop". They might be right about that, it definitely looks very good. Although it is developed with and for KDE, and I use the Gnome desktop with Linux Mint, it installed with no problem. When I imported the QIF files from Quicken, it gave me a lecture about how bad, confusing, unreliable and otherwise objectionable QIF files are. I suppose that is true, and is evidenced by the fact that Quicken themselves gave up on QIF files several years ago. KMyMoney did manage to import the files anyway, and the data seemed to be all there, but it was not as familiar or obvious as it had been when I imported it into GnuCash. In the long run, I might just decide that it is better to make a clean break, and start fresh with one of these new programs, and just keep an old copy of Quicken with the data in it for future reference when necessary. KMyMoney seems to be specifically designed to be easy to use for those changing from Quicken or M$Money, and it will probably succeed in that. The user interface is clear and simple, with large icons for Home, Accound Ledgers, Account List, Scheduled Transactions, and so on. Categories are handled in much the same way as in Quicken, rather than being converted into accounts as in GnuCash. Scheduled transactions are easy to set up - easier than in Quicken, in my opinion - and easy to process either on schedule or early, which was something that I didn't see how to do in GnuCash. Typical things like reconciling accounts, searching for transactions, and transferring between accounts were all obviously there and easy to use. It looks like reports and graphs are where KMyMoney really shines, though. There is a very extensive set of reports, graphs and pie charts, organized into groups for Income and Expenses, Cash Flow, Investments, and lots more. I don't have enough data loaded yet to really look closely at these, but they certainly appear to be very good.

Both of these programs include some sort of "online banking" capability. I have not looked at either of them, mostly because I have never dealt with that kind of thing before, so I wouldn't know what I was doing anyway.

In addition to these two major programs, I have also looked at least briefly at two others, HomeBank and Grisbi. However, I have not had much time for either of them yet, and I don't want to do them a disservice by writing a preliminary review based on far too much information. So I will follow up with information on these two later this week.

These are certainly not the only programs of this type available for Linux. If you are already running Linux, take a look in the software management utilities, and you are likely to find several to choose from. The point is, if personal financial management software is one of the things that has been keeping you with Windows, then it is likely that you will find that you have one less reason now.

jw 7/12/2009

Editorial standards