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Moneydance for Java- by Chris Wenham
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Summary: As a personal finance manager, Moneydance's current and early state is feature limited and slow even on a well equipped machine. It does make use of Swing, however, meaning that not only does it have a "pluggable" look and feel, but it's also possible that some of the performance issues may be addressed by Sun as a matter of course.

Moneydance is a sign that Java might just struggle to survive in the "Kitchentop" market. It's a personal finance manager, capable of recording all of your checking, savings and credit card account activity as well as breaking down your expenses and incomes into summed categories that you can read in a single glance. It'll do the basics, managing splits, the difference between cleared and uncleared checks, plus hold a memory of all past payees.

Installation and Documentation

Moneydance installation is an affair of unzipping the archive and briefly customizing the CMD file that it comes with. Moneydance is available with or without Swing included in the package (the difference in compressed file sizes is over a megabyte), but even though I had Swing 1.1 beta 3 installed from Sun's web site, the version of Moneydance without Swing included would not run.

Documentation at this point is severely limited. If you can't figure it out from a few minutes of exploring then you're out of luck, but fortunately the interface and feature set is simple and small enough to learn quickly.

User Interface

Moneydance was one of the first complete applications I'd tried that used Sun's new Swing libraries, also known as the Java Foundation Classes. The largest part of Swing appeals only to programmers, but what might get your motor running is the very end-user concept of the pluggable "look and feel". That is, with a click of the mouse you can change the whole appearance of the program's user interface elements (buttons, scrollbars, and if the Java VM you're using allows it; titlebar and window controls too) while the program is still running.

At the moment the only three appearances you can choose from in Moneydance are the Metal (Sun's proposed "Java look and feel"), Motif and Windows. But while the Windows look and feel is technically available, you must be running Moneydance under Windows itself to actually access it. Sun seems to be sensitive to delivering the look and feel of the Windows (and soon Macintosh) interface to other platforms, so even though they are implemented in the code itself, they are "locked out" for users of other operating systems.

Given that the Motif look and feel seems kind of homely these days, I chose to stick with Metal. There was no "OS/2" look and feel available to choose from.

Aside from Swing's contributions, the Moneydance interface is very plain and minimal. When you start, all you see is a menu bar, and it isn't until you load or create a new file that you see anything that resembles a finance program. Moneydance chooses to drop you right into a summary ledger view (.GIF, 25K) of your accounts and their sub categories. At a glance you can see how much you've spent on gasoline, for example, or groceries and music. But what you see from the main screen is only a sum of all activity in that category, opening it will show you the details. But to actually edit and add new transactions, you need to jump to the Checking Account ledger.

Editing and adding new transactions in these ledgers is an extremely simple affair. Click on an entry and its details are loaded into a frame at the bottom (.GIF, 30K) of the screen. Like Communicator 4.04's URL completion feature which speculates what web page you want after typing only the first few letters, Moneydance will flip through possible payees as you begin typing their name. What it will also do is remember how much you paid them last, what expense (or income) category it was in, and what the memo was.


But Moneydance 2 is a product in the early stages of its life. It's sophisticated enough to handle splits and reconciliation, but it couldn't even display a graph of your account activity until very recently - even then the program crashed when we tried that. At best, you would find it only slightly better than a regular paper ledger and pencil, since not even basic report generating tools are included yet (although the author has set aside a grayed-out button for it).

But maybe Moneydance has an eye to the future, because this very basic finance program still has the ability to import Quicken (.QIF) data files - not something an author would implement unless he were sure the program would evolve to the point where it could actually be an attractive alternative to Quicken users seeking to migrate away from Windows. Unfortunately, Moneydance does not have the ability to export to QIF format.

For those who live outside the United States, or who deal with foreign currency on a regular basis, Moneydance not only has the ability to work with any of the world's currencies, but also has a translator that will calculate the value of any sum of money from one currency to another. The program has several world currencies already predefined, but you can add more (.GIF, 13K) as you please. What's useful is as you switch between base currencies, Moneydance will re-calculate the exchange rates of the others relative to the new one.

Wrapping Up

Truth be told, Moneydance doesn't yet shape up very well at all. The use of Swing makes screen painting and especially scrolling a very sluggish deal, even on a 225 MHZ chip and PCI graphics card. Sun has claimed that it's solved these performance issues in its latest revisions of the programming library, but Moneydance doesn't make use of them yet. (Editor's Note: The author claims that a new beta of Moneydance will be available soon that uses the newer Swing libraries.)

Yet Moneydance could be worth a serious look in the future, if not just for the fact that balancing your checkbook on your Java compatible pocket organizer with the same program as you use on your desktop PC is an appealing idea.

* * *

Moneydance For Java version 2.0 beta2

by Sean Reilly
download from The Moneydance homepage (1.6M / 194K)
Registration: $25
Copyright © 1998 - Falcon Networking ISSN 1203-5696
October 16, 1998