The strength of Moneydance is its power and features combined with a simple user interface. Add to that a complete cross-platform capability and features that Quick Essentials lacks, and the result is a plain and simple, but complete money manager.
The reason programs like this exist is because developers have felt that Quicken Essentials (QE) has left a gaping hole in the market, big enough to drive an M1 tank through. Single minded developers can sit down, assess the competition, and build what they believe is a superior app and win the favor of customers — without a lot of bureaucracy or corporate agenda. In the case of Moneydance, the developer has also chosen to use Java (in Xcode) to make the app cross-platform: Macintosh, Windows, Linux and even traditional UNIX such as FreeBSD and Solaris. That has both advantages and disadvantages, as we’ll see.
As I did with the review of iBank, the first thing to do is look at Moneydance Features, especially with respect to Quicken Essentials. This is done not because there is widespread belief that QE is the best or even a standard. It’s done because QE has so much mind share, thanks to the Quicken name, and newbies might fall into the mistaken belief that it’s the best — overlooking the serious competition out there.
Here’s the developer’s listing that compares Moneydance to Quicken Essentials.
Moneydance Comparison to QE, page 1
For a more descriptive list of features, see the developer’s website. Notable are check printing, import and export capabilities, the triple DES encryption of the datafile, the localization to Spanish, German, French, Korean, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, and Norwegian plus the cross platform capability of the app.
Moneydance Comparison to QE, page 2
In some small ways, Moneydance does a few things better than iBank. The password protection is a pass phrase to single (fast) or triple (more secure) DES encryption of the data file. iBank simply uses the password to prevent the app from launching and the data file loading. (Not that iBank’s binary data file is easy to read by other means.) On the other hand, iBank is better at some other things which I’ll list below.
Moneydance also has a plugin architecture so that features (extensions) can be added by others. Here’s the list of current extensions:
I haven’t created a spreadsheet of all these features in comparison to iBank, but a scan of iBank features related to import, accounts, transactions, and analysis suggests that both programs are on par with each other.
Out of Box Experience
The first time Moneydance is launched, there’s a simple splash screen that invites you to select one of three options:
- Create New File. Select this option to create a new data file with the default set of accounts and categories.
- Open Existing File. Select this option if you have already created a Moneydance data file, including Moneydance 2008 and earlier file types.
- Import File. Select this option if you would like to create a new data file using information from a QIF file that was exported from another finance application.
First Time Splash Screen
That’s likely the last time you’ll see that windows because, from then on, you’ll likely be working with your personal financial data file — which automatically loads when the app is lunched — unless it’s been encrypted. Even with triple DES, it only took a few seconds to open a sample data file supplied by the developer.
The first time you see the full display of Moneydance, it defaults to a Home Page with a lot of summary data. (Note: it’s on this page you’ll see the “Check for New Updates/Extensions link. It’s not a menu item in contrast to many other apps.)
As with most other programs of this kind, there’s a panel of sources on the left: Reminders, Bank Accounts, Credit Cards, Investments, Budgets, and Graphs & Reports. A disclosure triangle reveals more details. (Note, I’ve used a color preference to make the background pale green.)
The first time you look at the account listing, you’ll notice that there is a certain starkness in the design, in contrast to the rich visual look of iBank. Also, there are no icons along the top as one typically has with a Cocoa app — where this facility is traditional and easy. As a result, for the first time, one sees a possible irritant. Moneydance doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi Cocoa look and feel — perhaps due to the Java basis. On the other hand, the payoff is the cross-platform nature of the app. You’ll have to decide whether this is a benefit.
Checkbook register (sample data)
There is a customary work flow for this type of program. You create accounts, link to your financial institution to download data (if desired), enter transactions, create a budget (where applicable), and then report and graph.
With Moneydance, several hundred banks are supported. The list, while extensive, is not as great as QE. To create a new transaction, instead of a plus sign at the bottom of a listing, there is a button at the top: “New Transaction” — something I found a bit unconventional. When a transaction is opened, it’s similar to a spreadsheet entry at the bottom which, again, is a bit stark compared to iBank’s option to also have a transaction form open. I’ll chalk this up to a matter of taste, but I liked iBank’s option for both.
Account columns are resizable, but there is currently no way to color code categories of expenditures. So the look and feel, again, is rather stark.
There are built-in graphs and reports that are easy to edit. For example, Account Balance (select one in Edit mode), Asset Allocation, and Net Worth, to name a few. The built-in reports are well thought out and a joy to configure. In this case, the black and white, business-like look of the reports is most welcome. It’s my feeling that most users will find the graphs and reports built in to Moneydance preferable to iBank in terms of design, completeness and visual clarity.
Pie Chart, Net Worth (sample data)
Import/Export and Interfacing
One of Moneydance’s strengths, as shown in the comparison chart at the top of this review, is its facility for import and export. In addition to importing and exporting QIF files, it can import QFX and OFX files essential for downloading banking data. Also, Moneydance can export to CSV and export reports to HTML. (Use the Save button at the top of the report.)
Online bill paying is something that can be tricky. Your institution has to be set up for it and allow remote access and local definition of payees. I didn’t look at this in detail, but it’s nice to know it’s there. My experience, however, is that you’ll have better luck and a more cohesive experience if you log onto your bank and conduct bill paying within their system in a Web browser.
The Moneydance iPhone app (free) allows one to make entries on the go and then sync them with the main app. You’ll need to load a sync extension first.
What I liked
I liked the price, the cross-platform nature, the localization to many countries, the encryption of the data file using DES (triple DES is about as secure as AES-128 according to the developer), and the design of the graphs and reports. I generally liked the documentation (but see below), and I liked the built in loan calculator with a complete amortization schedule. I liked that the PDF User Guide is instantly available as an item in the Help menu.
What I Didn’t Like
I didn’t like the plain nature of the account listings and the generally stark look of the application. As I mentioned in the iBank review, financial data entry is tedious. It’s important for an app like this to be as charming, colorful and fun as possible, and Moneydance leaves something to be desired there. I didn’t like that the Menu item for a calculator brings up a doofus line-oriented calculator instead of simply launching the built-in Mac OS X calculator. I didn’t like that the built-in reminder calendar doesn’t integrate with the iCal database.
The User Guide is easily available from the Help menu. It’s 62 pages, but, oddly, the page numbers are missing. That’s an odd omission and prevents one from referring to certain page numbers. Also, it’s not quite as colorful and nicely laid out as iBank’s 358 pages, but all the information is there needed to operate the program.
Sample User Guide Page
The Moneydance license is also a menu item in the Help menu. In a day when some developers go out of their way to hide the license — after you agree to it — this is nice gesture.
For the Mac, Moneydance requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later and Java 1.5 or later installed. (To check your Java version, enter this command in the terminal: java -version)
The Bottom Line
Moneydance is an austere program that has a lot of functionality and power. (I didn’t have room to thoroughly discuss every feature in this review, but the charts at the top lay it out.) The simplicity of the menus belie the many features, and that’s a good thing for a program like this. iBank has lots and lots of menu items, and that creates an overwhelming UI. The app never crashed or acted quirky.
Regarding features, Moneydance doesn’t have some of the bells and whistles like iBank: iCal integration, data entry widget, MobileMe integration. But it does have a companion iPhone app. Otherwise, it has just about every thing one could want — and all the things that are missing from Quicken Essentials. Aside from the reports and graphs which are excellent, it doesn’t have that attractive look that a platform specific Cocoa app can have. That’s the price one pays for cross-platform capability.
That said, the price is also US$20 less than iBank, and that’s something to take into consideration as a compensating factor. Finally, many will find that simplicity is a virtue while others need a certain amount of sex appeal in a financial app to make data entry more appealing. That’s the essential trade between MoneyDance and iBank.