Quicken Essentials: Essentially useless

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Intuit has finally released the Mac update to Quicken 2007, Quicken Essentials. I haven’t purchased it, nor do I plan to, and while I don’t typically “review” software I haven’t seen, I thought it important to highlight a few things about this package.

You may not know this, but Quicken originated on the Apple ][ back in the infancy of the personal computer industry. At some point, they not only ported their software to Windows, but started adding features to it that did not exist on the Mac version. We Mac users were relegated to second-class status, all the while hoping for eventual parity with our Windows brethren.

Now, after four years since the last Mac version, Intuit has released Quicken Essentials, a complete rewrite specifically for the Mac. The new version has a revamped interface that they claim is easier to use, and it makes it easier to import data from the Windows version. Huzzah!

Unfortunately, it removes features that existed in Quicken 2007. Like the ability to pay bills online. Or enter, or even view, transactions in your investment accounts. Or export your data to TurboTax. You know, little features that might actually be considered “essential”. And for the privilege of getting snazzier icons with less ability, Intuit asks $70. Welcome to third-class.

I’m sure that, at some point, Intuit will add some or all of these features back to the Mac version even as they continue to improve their Windows software, but I will be sticking with the rapidly aging Quicken 2007 for now and exploring alternatives like iBank for the future.

For another opinion of this software, see Walt Mossberg’s review here.

iPad

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iPad PictureLast week, Apple introduced its much-anticipated tablet, the iPad. There was plenty of speculation before the fact of what it might be, but much of it turned out to be just that. Here is a brief rundown of what it is and, perhaps more importantly, what it isn’t.

What It Is

Think of the iPad as a larger iPhone, or iPod Touch, that can’t make phone calls. It uses the same OS as those devices and connects to the Internet via an available WiFi signal, and some models can connect to via 3G with an extra data plan from AT&T that that runs either $15 or $30 per month depending on how much capacity you need. The price range of the iPad is $500 - $830.

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Update on iPhone

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When the iPhone first came out, my recommendation was patience. Wait to see what the bugs were, wait to see what the problems were, and wait to see if it would live up to the hype.

I’m happy to report that the wait is over. After its release several months ago, few problems have been discovered or reported, and the device has generally met expectations. There are some drawbacks of course (see below), but it’s remarkable how many things they got right.

If you are on the fence, you probably know all the areas where the iPhone excels so I’ll list only the trouble spots here:

- You will be limited to AT&T.

- Slow Internet service. One of the drawbacks of AT&T is that their Internet service is comparatively slow and, for a unit that is marketed as a great Internet device, this is a big deal. This is supposed to change in the future (but it’s unclear whether these first iPhones will benefit from that anyway) and you can always use a local wireless network to speed things up when you are near one, but when traveling, be prepared to wait a bit while loading pages. (Important note: It is annoyingly slow, but still usable.)

- No cut and paste. I have at least one client for whom this is a deal breaker. There is currently no way to cut or copy text from, for example, one e-mail and paste it into another. I hope this will change in the future, and it can be worked around, but this 1980′s technology is a glaring omission from an otherwise bleeding-edge unit.

- Lack of expandability. Right now, there is no legitimate way to add apps to the iPhone. Developers are limited to “web apps”, which are just web pages that you can view using Safari, but you cannot add icons to the iPhone’s front page. Apple is supposed to be releasing a developer’s kit in January that will change all that, but for now, it is what it is.

If none of these items is a compelling flaw to you, go ahead and get an iPhone. Among those I know who have already taken the plunge, not one has regretted it.

The iPhone is coming

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On June 29, Apple will release the long-awaited iPhone, and we know at least two things about is already.

First, it will be lauded as the ultimate phone/iPod/Internet appliance/gizmo, the first and finest such device to ever hit the market, with innovations and features that would put small events like the discovery of penicillin to shame. (To this end, some have already dubbed it the “Jesus Phone”, as in “The Second Coming of…”)

Second, it will be derided as the worst junk ever to be foisted upon an innocent and unsuspecting public. There will be reports of how it can be scratched by cotton balls, has the sound quality of a turntable with a rusty needle, has a battery life of roughly two minutes, and will dissolve if subjected to vibrations strong enough to disturb a glass of water.

Obviously, this contradictory analysis will be released by those who have an interest in how well the iPhone succeeds or fails and, as usual for any new product, the truth will be somewhere in the middle. My guess is that it will be a fine device that, for the most part, will work as advertised, but will have drawbacks and outright flaws that may be addressed by revisions or new models down the road.

As always, YOU should not be the one to discover the truth by trying to grab the first one off the line. (That is, even if you could. By all accounts, the the first shipments are already sold and I think it will be weeks before the masses can get their hands on them.) Wait for objective reports as to whether it is worth the price after others have had the chance to use it for a few months, then be sure to go to an AT&T store to hold one in your hands before making the decision.

You can get more hype… er, that is, information, here:

http://www.apple.com/iphone/

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