Quicken 3 for Windows. (Productivity Choice) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Richard Mann
This latest upgrade makes managing your finances easier than ever.
It's no accident that Quicken has outsold all of its competitors combined over the last ten years. Produced by Intuit, a company possessed by an obsession to make things easy to use, Quicken is tempered with a healthy dose of common-sense understanding of what real people want and need in a financial package. Quciken 3 for Windows, the latest version, upholds this proud tradition with helpful new features and a Windows interface so effortlessly elegant that you'll wonder why others don't match it.
For those of you who've never heard of Quicken, here's an overview of its wonders. If you can write a check and fill out a standard check register, you can use Quicken. It puts your checks and register on the screen--they look just like your checkbook. It takes over every manual process possible, including printing checks, adding and subtracting balances, balancing your checkbook, and summarizing your information into reports, graphs, and tax-return information. It takes all your financial matters firmly in hand, making it easy for you to cope with everything--if you can exercise the discipline to regularly record everything in the computer.
And it does all this with superb ease. Quicken is unfailingly confortable, intuitive, and easy to understand.
To demonstrate the lengths to which Untuit is willing to go to make things easy for you, consider the Quicken VISA card, introduced with last year's Quicken versions. Using a special VISA card, you get your monthly VISA statement on disk or via modem in Quicken-ready format. Vendors, dates, amounts, and even your categories are already recorded: Just feed the file into Quicken, and your data entry is done. No competing product has attempted to match this coup.
You could summarize most of the new features in Quicken 3 by saying that it does almost everything easier, faster, and better. Take as an example the screen's appearance. The control buttons sport large, colorful, consistent symbols with text labels--you'll never have to wonder how to leave a window. A new button bar rides the top of the check register to make copying, deleting, and inserting data child's play. Throughout the program, all icons appear on buttons that include text labels--none of the those button bars that leave you guessing what all those tiny icons do. With Quicken, everything is perfectly clear.
The financial calendar is the most noticeable new feature. It gives you a place to record payments you'll make in the future. In previous versions, to schedule a future payment, you added it to your check register with a future date--an unsatisfactory solution for many. It's no fun to search for your current calance in the middle of a check register.
The calendar removes all of those as-yet-unwritten checks from the check register and into a graphic monthly calendar. There, they're stored until you're ready to write or record them.
When a check's scheduled pay date arrives, Quicken prompts you for a payment decision. If you're ready to pay, it posts to the register and reminds you to write the check. If not, it keeps the item on the calendar until you're ready to pay. Or, if you know you'll want to make the payment on schedule, you can set it for automatic payment, requiring no intervention.
If you put your incoming earnings on the calendar with your planned expenditures, Quicken will draw a graph of your projected daily cash balances. You can see when your checking account will go negative--unless you spend less or earn more. The calendar can also store color-coded text notes for each day.
Earlier versions of Quicken have investment tracking, but the feature seems more of an afterthought than an integral part of the program. Not so with Quicken 3. Six useful views of your investment portfolio offer 18 performance measures, including estimated income, market value, percentage changes, and investment yields. Getting investment information into Quicken has been difficult in the past, but the new entry forms in this version simplify things considerably.
The reporting function has improved from good to excellent, with more standard reports, easy customization, and onscreen previews. Loan-analysis tools have been beefed up and simultaneously simplified. New savings goal accounts earmark funds to save for future goals, such as major purchases, college coasts, and retirement. These funds appear to be set aside where you can't spend them, even if they're really in your normal accounts.
Research indicates that the one thing we all hate about finance programs is the drudgery of data entry. Quicken does everything possible to reduce the pain, from drag-and-drop calendaring of payments to QuickFill's intelligent quessing at what you're going to type and pull-down lists in every possible field. Amount fields have a quick calculator attached; date fields allows you to pop up a minicalendar to point to the date you want. Little bits of simplification and automatic computer assistance are peppered throughout the program; many are so natural that you won't notice they're new.
If all the features of Quicken 3 aren't enough, you can purchase Quicken Companion 2 for Windows, which adds several extremely useful new modules. It's Quicken-style custom database helps you inventory your home for insurance purposes. And Quicken Tax Estimator calculates your taxes usng the new tax law and lets you change rates as the laws change. Investors can use Quicken Quotes to go online to retrieve current stock quotes, which then post to Quicken's investment files. The Quicken Tips section offers expert tips on using Quicken in new ways, shortcuts and timesavers, and ways to customize the program to suit your individual needs. It's a treasure trove of eyeopening ideas and techniques.
Never one to pass up new technology, Intuit has jumped headfirst into the CD-ROM multimedia arena with its new Deluxe Edition. It includes The Wall Street Journal Video Guide to Money and Markets, The Wall Street Journal Personal Finance Library, The Tradeline Electronic Stock Guide, and 22, government consumer publications.
The Video Guide includes small windows of full-motion video wherein experts explain various financial topics. The Personal Financial Library offers excellent advice on planning your future, including several interactive pages where you calculate mortgage statistics or a wise investment mix.
The Tradeline Electronic Stock Guide is excellent, offering detailed information on over 6000 publicily traded stocks to help you with your investment research.
The CD-TOM version of Quicken 3 also includes Quicken Companion 2 for Windows, along with electronic versions of the manuals for both Quicken 3 and Quicken Companion. (You can send for printed manuals separately if you desire.)
Quicken 3 is both a simple, easy-to-use checkbook program and a powerhouse of sophisticated financial capabilities--in one box. Those wanting the simple program won't be put off by complesities: Quicker has always had a knack for keeping the advanced stuff out of your way until you need it.
In short, I predict that Quicken 3 for Windows will retain Intuit's traditional stranglehold on the personal finance software market. Quite simply, it's just unbeatable.