Manual data entry is much less problematic. Double-click an account name to launch the register, then use the section at the bottom of the screen to begin adding a transaction. The Description section remembers previous entries (Tesco, BP, Future Publishing, etc), which makes adding this information easy, and then you just need to define the incoming and outgoing account for the transaction before adding the amount and any notes. The accounts in question here correspond to either categories or payees (depending upon how you like to work), and, while these are not difficult to add or modify, it'd be better if we could do this while adding transactions to the register.
If you're a small household and don't need all the bells and whistles, Buddi is a good choice. It's small, portable and has a good but basic feature set. A growing number of plugins add features such as QIF import, different skins and some online sync capabilities. If your ambitions are slightly more complex, however, you should give this a miss, because you'll probably grow out of it quickly.
Verdict: Good if your needs are modest, but you may soon outgrow it.
Grisbi is a native GTK application that, like many other packages here, is designed to be easy to use and comprehensive. It employs a series of tabs that, while initially slightly confusing, give you rapid access to various elements of the software such as scheduled transactions, the register and payees. In use, Grisbi feels more like an email client than a traditional financial application, which makes navigation fluid. Just select an option, make the changes on the left edge (or bottom for transactions) and hit the Apply/OK button.
The register itself is very flexible. Double-click a transaction to make it editable, then use the options at the bottom of the screen to change things. Grisbi comes with a huge number of pre-defined categories that can be selected from a drop-down list and edited or added to from the dedicated tab.
Our test data imported accurately and it was easy to turn a monthly download into a series of scheduled transactions using the context-sensitive menu. Reconciliation of downloaded data with manually added transactions was also painless, with the split-screen interface being put to good use. Export also worked well, with options available for QIF and CSV, however, there's no password protection or encryption support available yet, so you'll need to be careful with data and backups.
Grisbi kicks against the usual interface conventions (to a point) and makes a more familiar experience for those not versed in accounts software. It does the job of maintaining home accounts well and is highly recommended, especially if you've tried other personal finance software and found the interface unintuitive. The only caveat is that you should encrypt your backups and, depending on how your PC is used, the main GSB file itself, to keep the data secure.
Verdict: Perhaps the best (free) choice for home users, but lacking security features.
This is another Java application that's as at home on Windows or OS X as it in on Linux. We downloaded the latest stable version (at the time, 1.11.7) as a JAR file, double-clicked on it to launch and started working straight away. The startup wizard provides an option to create a new file and has facilities to encrypt the file from the start.
Import options are restricted to CSV, QIF and GnuCash files. Taking data from our previously made 300+ transaction GnuCash file took over an hour, but a QIF file was quicker, so if you intend to use this software in conjunction with an online banking service, you'll need to make sure it's able to output those files.
This software can work using either a multiple window approach, where double-clicking an account name from the list will launch a new window containing the register, or a multi-pane approach using the icons to the left of the main window. In either case, data is added to the register in the usual fashion.
We liked JGnash's simplicity. By default there are just three accounts: one is the account itself, the second takes care of income and the third expenses. When adding data, you add a payee to the system and you can use the Memo space to categorise the transaction. If you want to create extensive reports, a real category-based approach may be more suitable, but if you want an option that's simple to use and update, this is a better idea.
JGnash is able to output a selection of reports with a few tidy-looking chart options and can also output bespoke cheques to your printer.
We liked this application, especially its responsible approach to security and backup policy. The import options are limited, but if you're building an accounts system on the QIF format, it's perfectly usable. The lack of output options beyond the native format could be problematic if you outgrow the software, so think carefully.
Verdict: Import problems mar an otherwise simple but effective application.
First published in Linux Format, Issue 114
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