I have a feeling this is going to be a topic that occupies me for a while. I really want to make the right choice on this one, because firstly, all the options cost money, and secondly, you don’t want to keep swapping finance apps, you lose your historical data that way. So, in this first post I’m going to explain why I’m in the market for a new app, and what apps have come up in my initial trawl of options, and which ones I like enough to look at in great detail.

So firstly, why am I ditching my current app? Actually, lets back track, what IS my current app? I’ve been a Cha-Ching 1 user, and to be honest, I’ve been happy. However, this week I had an experience that so put me off the company I’m not comfortable sticking with their product.

This week I finally moved my 4 year old MacBook Pro to OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard because I was completely out of disk space yet again, so a nuke and pave was needed anyway, and I liked the idea of Snow Leopard’s small footprint on disk. The install of Snow Leopard was problem free, and I soon started re-loading all my apps. When I do this I like to re-download from the website so I’m sure I have the very latest version. So, as I did with all my other apps, I went to the Cha-Ching website. They were pushing the Beta 2 version hard, and I mean hard, to the point that it was the only version I could see. I figured, if they’re pushing it to the fore like this, it must be ready for prime-time, and it must be the version they’re recommending people download. If not, why make it so in-your-face, and why hide the old version so well? As you can probably guess, this was a mistake.

I can’t remember the last time I used such a buggy piece of junk. It’s not that it crashed, it’s that it didn’t work right. My very initial impression was already bad. They changed the UI, and managed to make it significantly worse. The sidebar no longer allows quick jumping from account to account. In the past all your accounts were in the side bar, so you could hop around quickly and easily. In the new version the individual accounts are not listed in the sidebar, there’s just a single button for all your accounts, which puts up a screen with a list of accounts in the main pane, and you have to then click on that to get into an account. It has literally become twice as hard to move from account to account, and that’s something I do a lot.

That initial GUI shock put me in a bad mood, but I struggled on and went to add in some transactions. That’s when I noticed something was really seriously wrong. My balances were different than before the move to 2.0. The act of upgrading my library had changed my balances. This meant that either transactions were lost, changed, added, or miscalculated. All very bad things. As it happens the opening balance was duplicated, but that took a bit of detective work to figure out.

In the process of find the duplicate opening balance I noticed the next disaster, my transactions were randomly ordered. Transactions from all the different months and years were all jumbled up. A complete mess. I was not able to find where I’d left off entering stuff. At that point it was clear that this thing was not usable, so I went to look for the support details which I remembered were in the help menu on the old version. That’s when I saw the the most glaring error yet, there were TWO help menus! The QA on this thing was so pathetic that no one even noticed the menus were messed up!

So, we have a company that clearly has a badly broken QA department that is pushing unusable code on people. I sent them a letter outlining my concerns. It was hard-hitting but polite, and asked the fundamental question, how can I entrust my financial management and planning to a company that would let a turkey like this out the door? That was about 48 hours ago, no reply yet. In the mean time, I have sent questions to developers of other apps I’m considering and have already gotten replies. So, people I have no relationship with and have paid no money to at all, are treating me better than a company I have paid money to, and have an on-going relationship with in that I’ve been a customer of for a year, and would likely have remained one for many more had they not messed up so royally.

That a beta can be buggy is not shocking, but that a company would push such a crappy beta on their customers who they know use it to manage their finances is just not acceptable to me. If it were a game or something I’d grumble, download the old version, and then shrug it off. But I can’t do that for a mission-critical app like this. We have a recession on, money is tight, and I need to be able to manage it with confidence.

So, having vented quite a bit on Twitter (apologies to my followers, I did get a tad irate for a while), I then turned to Twitter for help and asked for suggestions. As always, Twitter obliged. I got a list of nice alternative to investigate. Here’s the best of them:

  1. MoneyWell – this looks like a fabulous budgeting app, but it’s not what I’m looking for. It has a really defined philosophy, and it just doesn’t match mine. I’d be fighting this app all the way, and I’d just end up hating it. Don’t let me put you off it though, this looks like a great Mac app, and like it’s really well thought out. They have some great videos on their site that explain their thinking really well, and it could well be exactly what you’re looking for.
  2. Moneydance – this is a cross-platform app, and like most such apps, it’s Faux-cocoa, which is always a turn off for me. It’s not an in-surmountable turnoff, I am a FireFox user afterall, but it’s definitely always a black mark against an app for me. However, it fits desires very well. It’s accounts-based, it lets me easily enter transactions, it has support for both a name and a note for each transaction, it has categories, and it has good transaction support. At $40 it’s about average price-wise, so a viable option that I’m actively investigating.
  3. Squirrel – this is the app that reminds me most of the simplicity of Cha-Ching 1, which is what attracted me to Cha-Ching in the first place. It’s not high on fancy features, but that doesn’t bother me, I think it’s a bonus actually. I did run unto a bug with it though, which stopped transfers from working. This is a big deal, so I immediately wrote to the developer and got a prompt reply asking me all the right questions. I’d also asked some other basic questions when I queried the problem with transaction, and I liked the answers I got to those too. I also like the price, definitely below average at just at $25. If they fix the bug I found promptly then this app is definitely still in the running.
  4. iBank – this app is big. The feature list is huge, and the price is on the high side too. It looks fantastic for people who have stocks and shares and investments and expenses and all those things I don’t have or care about. The interface looks good, and considering how much it does, the $60 price tag seems very reasonable. However, for me, it just feels like over-kill. I like simple. I haven’t completely ruled this option out, but I’d have to find a show-stopper of a flaw in both Moneydance and Squirrel before I’d consider iBank.

So, that’s where things stand at the moment. I’ve installed the demo versions of both Moneydance and Suirrel, and I’m really putting both through their paces. When I make my decision I’ll post again to let you know which app I chose, and why. And, in the mean time, if you think there’s anther alternative that I really need to look at, do please let me know in the comments section.