Ubuntu Linux, Day 25: Tracking Personal Finances

30 Days With Ubuntu Linux: Day 25

Along with email, writing, Web surfing, and social networking, keeping track of my finances is one of the tasks I rely on my PC for, and that I need to figure out how to accomplish during my 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux. My experiment trying to get Quicken to work in Wine failed to deliver, so today I am looking at options in Ubuntu Linux to replace Quicken.

I opened up the Ubuntu Software Center and entered 'finance' as a search term. There were a total of six apps that came up in the results, but the two with the most ratings-each with an average of 4.5 stars-were GnuCash Finance Management, and KmyMoney. I installed them both.

Need a QIF

I need some way to manage my personal finances in Ubuntu Linux.
The first time I started GnuCash, it started with a wizard that asked if I wanted to set up new accounts from scratch, or import a QIF (Quicken Interchange Format)--a legacy file format formerly used by Intuit's Quicken software. When I opened up KmyMoney and clicked on File - Import QIF was also on the top of the list for file formats to import from (ironically, the second import source on the list was to import data from GnuCash).

Quicken 2011 doesn't use QIF files any more--the default format for downloading data from the Web is QFX. Both tools provide a means of importing a QFX file, but my bank doesn't seem to offer a way for me to just download the QFX file directly. The Quicken data stored on my PC is in QDF format, which neither program can import. So, I rebooted into Windows, opened Quicken, and exported my account and transaction details to a QIF file. Then, I rebooted back to Ubuntu Linux so I could import the file into the finance apps.


GnuCash asked a lot of questions during the import process. As it attempted to map accounts from the QIF file to accounts in GnuCash, or transaction categories to types in GnuCash, or payees from Quicken to payees in GnuCash I simply accepted whatever GnuCash suggested and clicked 'Forward' because I certainly don't have any better idea how to map those things out.

Once it completed, the GnuCash application began with all of my Quicken data imported. The main screen is a list of accounts. The problem is that GnuCash interpreted every payment category as an 'account', so I have an 'account' for clothing, and an 'account' for groceries. My actual accounts are on the list as well, though.

I can't tell offhand if that is a 'feature' of GnuCash, or an issue introduced by me not taking the time to tediously walk through the install process and do a better job of mapping things than what GnuCash did on its own. I will say, although it makes the default screen a bit of a mess, and makes it more difficult to find the real accounts, having a complete breakdown of each spending category available at the click of a mouse has its perks.

I like that GnuCash has a variety of built-in reports, and support for connecting directly with online banking, but neither works very great. The reports are better than nothing, but nowhere near the level of polish or variety available in Quicken. The online banking is a nice concept in theory-if you can get it to work. I started walking through the process, but ran into issues and quit. Admittedly, I didn't spend much time troubleshooting to work it out, but I also shouldn't have to.

When I tried to shut down GnuCash by clicking on the 'X', nothing happened. It minimized just fine, but would not shut down. Normally I would use the Windows Task Manager to kill the stubborn software, but I am not sure what the Ubuntu Linux equivalent of Task Manager is, so I'll leaving it running for now.

KMyMoney is a much more polished and functional tool than GnuCash.

Next, I gave KMyMoney a shot. KMyMoney imported the data from the QIF file with much less hand-holding-like none. But, It did take a while. The progress bar kept sweeping up to 100 percent and starting over, but I had no way of knowing where it was in the overall process or when it would be done. After a minute or two, the Quicken data was imported and I was on the KMyMoney screen.

KMyMoney is much more aesthetically pleasing than GnuCash, and it did a significantly better job of importing the Quicken data. The left pane has icons for the various elements of the program: Institutions, Accounts, Payees, Reports, etc.. Clicking an option in the left pane changes what is displayed in the main console window. There, you can click to drill down and dig into the details of the info.

KMyMoney apparently uses the same AqBanking tool that GnuCash uses for online banking. The KMyMoney implementation was cleaner and easier to understand and work with, but I still ran into some problems finding my bank and getting it all set up. I will come back and work on that at some point, but for now it's just not that important to me.

The Verdict

I am sure there are more Linux-based personal finance options to choose from. These just happen to be what came up in the Ubuntu Software Center when I typed 'finance'. Between these two applications, KMyMoney was my preference by far. It had a more polished look and feel, and seemed to just work better.

That said, I prefer Quicken itself, and if I wanted to invest more time and effort troubleshooting why it won't work in Wine, that could be an option. Or, I could use Quicken's cousin-Mint.com-and just manage my personal finances from the Web.

Read the last "30 Days" Series: 30 Days with Google Docs

Day 24: More Secure By Default

Day 26: Connecting Peripherals

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