Money Tree from Mount Baker software is a study in the virtues of Workplace Shell integration. This capable home finance program's unique approach to the user interface utilizes and expands Warp's shell by creating several new classes of folder and object, to the point where it's hard to tell where the Workplace Shell ends and Money Tree begins. For a 1.0 release it's an excellent product. It will overwhelm you with new windows and folders flying open everywhere, but the idea is that as with any other Workplace Shell object, you can make shadows of commonly accessed ledgers and reports on the Desktop or in toolbars -- reducing the clutter and complexity yourself.
Money Tree uses a custom install program that handles the chore of copying files and registering the large number of new classes with the Workplace Shell. Its documentation centers around a tutorial which does a better than average job of introducing you to its concepts and guiding you through the creation of accounts, reports, categories, queries and other functions.
Support is questionable, I was not able to get any response from Mount Baker software when I sent e-mail.
Being a particularly flexible program, Money Tree has features to handle almost every aspect of your financial life. It can keep track of not just savings and checking accounts, but loans, credit cards, budgets, petty cash, can generate net worth reports, amortize a loan, and play games of "What if?" to help you plan into the future and choose a savings plan intelligently. It has the ability to print checks, but unfortunately has no online banking features for paying bills.
Money Tree groups and organizes your accounts, portfolios, ledgers and reports in special adaptations of OS/2's folder and Launchpad class. Centering around what are called Master Portfolios, which group together all the ledgers and budgets and reports related to, say, your home and personal finances, the finances of your small business, another family member's personal finances and so on. You'd create a Master Portfolio for yourself and within it all your checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, loans, expenses and so on.
The view for the folders is split into two panes (.GIF, 4K), one where the user's objects are stored, and a thinner strip along the bottom that holds a tiny-icon view of available templates. This makes it easier to create new objects such as ledgers, check printing objects and such when the template for them is sitting right there. The "Launchpad clones" (.GIF, 4K) divide the Master Portfolios up into their different categories such as account ledgers, data trees, reports and budgets.
The power of Money Tree's workplace shell approach becomes evident whenever you want to make a shadow of your personal master portfolio or your checking account ledger available on the Desktop for instant access. It means that after scribbling out a check or making that impulse buy with your credit card for that Instamatic Combination Food Dehydrator/Blender and Coffee Maker on TV, you can instantly jump into your Visa card ledger and record the transaction. You don't have to fiddle around with starting the main program and loading your data file before you can jump to the appropriate account. These objects can be dropped onto the Warp Center, Object Desktop's Control Center or Tabbed Launchpad, or whatever other WPS compliant toolbars and launchpads you may have.
Since Money Tree's internal structure seems to come in two parts -- a front end of folders and objects, and a database that's started and closed in the background whenever needed -- you'll see a small status bar open in the bottom left corner of the screen from time to time. The closing of the database is evidenced by a dialog that pops up at unprompted times and simply says "Money Tree is unloaded from memory". This action seems to be on a timer and appears after a minute or so if you don't open any more ledgers or reports after the last one you closed. It's annoying, and there doesn't seem to be a way of changing the limit on this timer.
Money Tree's ledgers (.GIF, 21K) come in several different varieties for savings accounts, checking accounts, credit cards, loans, petty cash and so on. With each variety come a few slight differences in the types of transactions you can enter in them. Savings account ledgers deal in withdrawals, deposits, interest and fees; Checking accounts add checks (normal and printed), debits and ATM transactions; Credit card accounts deal with payments, purchases, credits and interest charged against you; and so on into loans and cash. These specialized ledgers make it easy to record transactions in a logical and clear way, instead of trying to boil it down to a case of simple deposits and withdrawals.
The ledger is set up to navigate through easily with the arrow and tab keys, but still feels too dependent on the mouse. Each new transaction, starts with a popup menu that requires you to select what kind of transaction it is (deposit, check, interest, payment etc.) and moves on to the payee, category, and amount. On each field Money Tree usually has a tool that pops up automatically or with the click of a button. The date field has a mini calendar, the payee field has a drop down list of previous payees as well as a popup category tree, and a small but fully functional calculator (.GIF, 10K) is available with the click of a button when you come to entering the dollar value.
What I didn't like about the ledger was its tendency to pop up a dialog box right when it would interrupt your flow. It'll confirm every new payee you add to your list and every transaction you finish entering, but there doesn't seem to be an option anywhere to switch these confirmations off. There's also the problem where the ledger will repaint itself four or five times when it's first opened.
A bonus is the ability to easily customize the toolbar that runs along the top by dragging and dropping any menu item. Just navigate to a menu option you wish represented as a button, hold down the right mouse button and drag it onto the toolbar.
Money Tree has the ability to generate a number of reports and graphs that chart your financial situation but at the moment this is limited to Cash Flow and Net Worth reports only. What's more interesting is the "What If?" modules that let you play with your figures to see what would happen if you put a few extra dollars than usual in your retirement account, or chose a different plan for paying off a loan.
Money Tree's principle "What If?" modules are: Annual Yield (convert a periodic interest rate to an annual yield), Credit Card payoff, Future Value (find out how much you'll save if you pay a regular amount on schedule), Loan Amortization, Present Value (find out how much to contribute to meet a savings goal) and Rate of Return.
For both reports and "What Ifs?", not only is each module powerful, with the ability to handle several different conditions and payment strategies, but the graphs (.GIF, 6K) and tables they generate are easily customized too by right clicking over the labels and elements you want to modify. Once generated, they can also be saved to the clipboard in bitmap or OS/2 Metafile format to be used in another program such as a word processor.
Money Tree is unique in that it includes a Rexx API for users to write their own import filters, although this is really only useful if you know Rexx and understand the structure of the file format you wish to import. Nonetheless, Money Tree comes with two filters already written for you that will import .QIF (Quicken Interchange Format) and .MBF ("predefined category") files. What's disappointing is that the export function has not yet been implemented at all -- not even the Rexx API, so you couldn't write an export filter even if you did know Rexx. There's a button for it in every ledger toolbar, but clicking it only produces a "coming soon" message.
Money Tree is a superb display of OS/2's Workplace Shell harnessed and put to use for something other than launching programs and managing files. Its roughness shows where the program occasionally crashes and the incessantly disruptive confirmation dialogs break up your flow. But I must still concede that it's a world class job, superbly thought out and designed, with a strength in home and personal finances.
Money Tree v1.0
Chris Wenham is the Senior Editor of OS/2 e-Zine! -- a promotion from Assistant Editor which means his parking spot will now be wide enough to keep his bicycle and a trailer.
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