At a Glance
After years of evolution, Intuit's Quicken provides all the finance-management features most people will ever need. With Quicken, you can track checking-account and credit-card transactions, pay bills, manage your investment portfolio, and even plan for taxes and retirement. You can also download your bank and investment statements directly into Quicken and pay bills with electronic checks.
This program already does so much that the pace of development has slowed, and Quicken 2003 sports only a small number of new features, such as interface improvements and some capabilities for advanced investors. With few exceptions, these enhancements add convenience rather than necessary functions, so the frugal Quicken user should evaluate Quicken 2003 carefully before paying to upgrade.
This Year's Model
One of the most useful new features in Quicken 2003 is scheduled automatic updating of information about investments and accounts you've set up for online access (including online banking). You can set Quicken to download data from such accounts at specified days and times (see "Information on Cue"). So if you're organized enough to work with your finances at the same time each week, Quicken can have all the information you need ready for you before you sit down at your Mac. Intuit has also consolidated several functions--such as One Step Update, PIN Vault, and your online-transaction history--into one convenient Online Account Updates window.
Support for Mac OS X is improved in Quicken 2003, and the program looks much more like a native Aqua application, with more-attractive icons and controls, though there's room for improvement. For example, although you can now assign Tax Links, which let you associate Quicken transaction categories with specific lines on a federal tax form, the scrollable window for selecting the tax lines is only six lines high and can't be resized; scrolling through the hundreds of choices is unnecessarily difficult.
Quicken 2003 brings several improvements in the area of complex investment transactions. Quicken can now handle short selling and margin interest, and (perhaps in a reaction to a turbulent market) it can now merge two securities to account for corporate acquisitions. Best of all, Quicken can now track and manage cash in investment-portfolio accounts, so if you have a money-market checking account linked to your investment portfolio, you no longer have to manage the accounts in separate registers.
As in the past, Quicken for Mac's features lag behind those of its Windows stablemates, even though the programs have the same price. There's still no Home and Business version for the Mac, and the Mac version connects to far fewer companies for online-brokerage downloads (more than 70 for the Windows version versus only five for the Mac). However, online-banking support is much better than online-brokerage support: Quicken for Mac works with more than 1,200 financial institutions.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Quicken is fairly priced for new users and remains a very good product, but new versions have too few compelling new features to justify yearly upgrades. For most Quicken users, upgrading every other year is a better strategy--the improvements in this year's model won't be worth $40 (price with rebate) if you have last year's. But if you're using Quicken 2001 or an earlier version, Quicken 2003 for Mac provides enough solid improvement to make an upgrade a good investment.