Another typical, haphazard review of questionable quality. Written after one hour’s use of the product. Random mutterings by a confused man. Basing a buying decision on this is like trusting O.J. Simpson at cutlery convention: not for the faint of heart.

Virtually No New Ideas…
What’s different this time around for users of Intuit’s popular Quicken personal finance software? Not much, and God knows you can only carry this charade so far. Once you have the basic Quicken tools of registers and reports, everything else really is extraneous. By this calculus, version 3 is adequate. But company shareholders must be appeased and in that harsh light, Intuit has released Quicken 7 Deluxe, a marginal upgrade to the marginal upgrade which was Quicken 6 Deluxe. Company revenue has to come from somewhere, and Quicken has been a marvelous cash cow. Well, somebody pass me the tenderizer…

Visually, the differences between Quicken 7 Deluxe and Quicken 6 Deluxe are dramatic. The feature set has been shuffled around like a deck of cards. Sure, we’re basically talking about same old features in a new format, but did you see how pretty everything looks? It’d be a dubious claim to say that this increases either productivity or functionality, but my God one almost feels like blue-blooded royalty with all the soft pastels everywhere. That’s got to be worth something, if not the $59.95 purchase price.

Lest any of you Quicken fans think I’m being far too cruel, let me say that there are definite enhancements in this latest version. I think they’re pretty weak improvements on the whole, and I’m ever-cynical about the motivation behind an upgrade that lacks lots of great new features, but Intuit’s been kind enough to throw us end-users one or two bones in this release, and I guess that’s something.

For example, we’ve most thankfully been given a reprieve from the inane advice-giving financial advisor movies from Quicken 6 Deluxe, which have been removed from this upgrade. So there is a God. In their place, we get a quasi-useful set of “financial fitness” analysis tools. Comprised of a debt reduction planner, a networth planner and a retirement planner, these modules operate a little too slowly and require too many steps while ultimately providing too little information. (The debt reduction planner also indicated that at my current rate of repayment, I will NEVER repay all my loans, a situation which I’d like to assure my creditors is grossly untrue.)

One diamond in the rough for you investors out there is that via the Quicken Quotes features, you can now automatically download stock prices via the Internet. As I was previously entering this quote information by hand, this is a killer feature. This will save me 5 to 10 minutes a day, easy. You can even set up Quicken to let you know if a stock reaches a certain high or low price. It need not be a stock you own, either. Like Quicken 6, you can set up a Watch List of stocks you’re just thinking about purchasing and track them just as easily.

Unfortunately, most of the rest of the cool features will cost you extra. On-line bill paying looks like a marvelous invention for those of you writing between 15 and 20 check per month. (If this applies to you, what are you doing writing that many checks instead of using electronic funds transfers? And why are none of those checks addressed to me?) Bill pay runs $6.95 or so a month, but if you get writer’s cramp from paying the bills every month, it’s probably a worthwhile savings in terms of time if not money.

Similar problems face Quicken’s on-line banking. Great if you have a bank that supports it for little or no cost. But what if your bank hasn’t yet jumped on the Quicken bandwagon? Or worse, what if your bank charges you to view your own statements, make on-line transfers, etc.? Too bad, Chief. Another cool but useless feature.

Reports and most notably graphs have received welcome upgrades. You can now print and view all kinds of graphs, and they’re fairly customizable, too. Frankly, it’s about time. Macintosh Quicken users have suffered a lame graphing capability for far too long, and now that it’s finally here, I say we throw a party to celebrate. (yawn)

As a final note, Intuit has thoughtfully decided to to act like a man and include an actual manual, unlike Quicken 6 Deluxe where they wimped out and forced you to spend another $10 if you wanted the printed materials. Not sure the shareholders will be pleased, but it’s probably cheaper than having to field all the tech support calls from users who couldn’t figure out what to do and to whom you couldn’t say, for once, RTFM!

Here’s What I’d Do If I Were You
So what’s the bottom-line? If you’re upgrading from version 5 or earlier, there’s enough new features here (plus the couple they pulled-up from version 6) that it’s worth doing. Particularly if you can wrangle a $20 rebate from Intuit. That’d bring your purchase price to $40, and that’s more than reasonable. (Make sure you check out the technical specs, though; anybody without an ‘030 or better machine is out of luck.)

If you’re a Quicken 6 user, it’s a much tougher call. Unless you’re an investor who can use daily the Quicken Quotes feature and at least one of the on-line features (i.e. banking or bill paying), this is a hard upgrade to recommend, even at $40. You’ve already got most of the stuff that’s here, and why not wait for Quicken 8 Deluxe? As an upgrade path, I think it makes a lot more sense to spend $40 every two years than every one.

But if you’ve never used Quicken, well, you’re missing out. It remains among the most useful software tools on the market today—one truly capable of changing the way you live your life. There are literally millions of people who use Quicken to plot their financial course, and as one of those millions, let me assure you in the strongest terms possible without the aid of a firearm that Quicken is a program worth owning and using whether you’re an Intuit shareholder or not.

Technical Notes
Quicken 7 Deluxe requires a 68030 processor or better, a CD-ROM player, System 7.0 or higher, 8 megs of installed RAM, a 640 x 480 monitor resolution with 256 colors or better. Installation requires an astounding 24 megs of free hard drive space (for decompressing files and such); total size of the install is 18 megs. Online features, of course, require a modem.