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Not So Quick(en)

A case of possible file corruption with Intuit’s Quicken nevertheless leaves us with a happy ending.

I have been using Intuit’s Quicken program for more than 18 years to track my spending, chart investments, and keep tabs on my somewhat haphazard financial life. During those years, I’ve run into my fair share of Quicken bugs, and I’ve adopted a series of measures for protecting myself. For example, I make a backup every three days, I keep backups for three years, and I start a new Quicken file every year on January 1. Despite these measures, because I use Quicken to track every single purchase I make for myself, my wife, or my children, my Quicken files quickly grow to thousands of transactions. Intuit tells me my files are significantly larger than most users’.

Anyway, things went south on December 28 when I was adding a new checking account to my Quicken file. A few clicks into this setup, the program displayed an error message–Error Code 7097–and crashed.

This is a frightening error message–it’s always frightening when your financial records may be corrupted–but I wasn’t worried because I have all those backups. Yet much to my surprise, when I tried to open my backup files, they generated the same internal error! p=”” />

I thought that my copy of Quicken might be broken, so I started the program while holding down the control key to prevent Quicken from opening my old, corrupt file. I then created a new Quicken file, put some transactions in it, and tried to validate it using the program’s built-in file-recovery tools. No problems there. So then I tried to validate my primary file. Bad news: it wouldn’t validate. It also wouldn’t “super validate,” a secret validation command that Quicken can run if you run the “validate” command while holding down the shift and control keys.

Never one to panic about such a thing, I set up a new computer running Windows 2000 with the Parallels virtual machine system running on a Macintosh. I then downloaded a pristine copy of Quicken 2007 for Home and Business, copied over my primary file, and tried to open it. Nope, that didn’t work. Strangely enough, the new install wouldn’t read any of my backups either. I kept getting that pesky internal error.

A Web search for the error code was not useful: a few other users had run into this error code, it wasn’t documented, and when they called up Intuit, they didn’t get any help. A bit more searching through Intuit’s website revealed that the company sells a “data recovery service” to recover information from corrupt Quicken files.

Intuit does offer support on Quicken, so I blocked out three hours this morning for an extended call with its tech-support center located in New Deli. I got a very polite service representative who was clearly hamstrung by the tools that Intuit had given him: his documentation didn’t explain what Error Code 7097 was, either. All he could tell me to do was uninstall Quicken from my computer, download a new copy, install it in a new directory, and try to open the file. It was clear that he was following a script.

I didn’t think that this would work, but I decided to give it a try just the same. As it turns out, I was using Quicken 2007 R2, and when I tried to do the reinstall, the program told me that R3 was now available. I installed R3 and opened my old file, and it all worked! Happy, I said good-bye to the nice fellow in New Deli …

And then Quicken R3 crashed.

I ran Quicken R3 again and it worked for a while, but then it crashed. I tried validating the file, and errors were found and fixed. The new file worked for a while, but then it crashed again.

So here’s what I’ve done: I’ve managed to get R3 to run long enough to export all of my transactions to a QIF file. I’ve imported those into a new file, and–hopefully–I’ll be able to recover enough information to file my 2006 taxes. In the meantime, I’m moving to Quicken for Macintosh.

Years ago I had a friend who worked at Intuit on both the Windows and Macintosh programs. He told me that the Windows code base was a mess–in particular, he said, there were problems with the internal database that Quicken for Windows used. My friend told me that the Mac team had thrown away most of the code and started over, but that the Windows people never had the chance to go back and fix it because they were always struggling to get out the next annual release.

My friend quit his job at Intuit back in 1995. Since then, the Windows program has gone through ten annual releases. Each release has added features and complexity. But fundamental problems in Quicken for Windows have remained. For example, the Windows version unnecessarily redraws lines in the check register multiple times when a user is moving from transaction to transaction–something that’s obvious when you run the program using Microsoft Remote Desktop. Even more annoying, the program slows down my computer even when it’s running in the background.

For years I’ve wanted to switch from Quicken for Windows back to Quicken for the Macintosh, but I’ve stayed on Windows because the Windows Home and Business version offered invoicing and because my bank only offers direct download on the Windows platform, and not on the Macintosh. (Why not on Mac? My bank told me that it’s because Intuit charges tens of thousands of dollars a year to enable the feature, and only a few people were requesting it.) These problems have finally pushed me back. I’ll figure out some other way to do my invoicing, and I’ll download my bank transactions using Web Connect instead of OFX.

Frankly, it’s outrageous that Quicken on Windows generates undocumented error codes that not even Intuit’s own tech-support people understand. It’s personally annoying to me that features I want–like invoicing and OFX download from my bank–are only available on Windows. It’s a sad comment on the software industry that Intuit’s programmers are so focused on adding new features that they can’t go back and fix the underlying quality of the company’s mainstay product.

There are alternatives to Quicken, of course. The last time I tried Microsoft Money it crashed on me, and it only runs on Windows. But the Open Source movement has created GnuCash, KMyMoney, and jGnash; there’s also Moneydance, which costs $29.99 and runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux. The problem with any of these systems is that I won’t get support from my bank or brokerage house if I ever have problems downloading online transactions. Nevertheless, perhaps it’s time to switch more than just my platform.

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