Back in September, 2005, the
Grumpy Editor's Guide to Personal Finance Managers
concluded that the
development energy and momentum seemed to belong to the KMyMoney project.
GnuCash, instead, seemed dispirited with little activity on its mailing
list and little visible progress toward its long-awaited 2.0 release.
Some distributors, hoping to be done with GTK1, were making noises about
dropping GnuCash altogether. At that time, KMyMoney looked like the
application with the brightest future.
Since then, there has been a significant surge in activity on the GnuCash
side while KMyMoney, to an outside observer, appears to have slowed down.
Clear goals for the GnuCash 2.0 release have been set, a series of pre-2.0
test releases has come out, and 2.0 final is currently planned for
June 11. GnuCash, it seems, is back. Your editor, whose desperate
attempts to balance the family budget are made on a system running the
Fedora development tree, got a rather unplanned opportunity to try out
GnuCash 1.9 (the pre-2.0 test release) when the Fedora hackers quietly
slipped it in as a replacement for the stable version. A few months of
financial firefighting later, it's time for a quick review.
Those who are expecting a lot of flashy new features from GnuCash 2.0
may be disappointed. The big change in this release is not the
heavily-requested animated pie chart feature. Instead, GnuCash has made
the (rather delayed) jump to the GTK2 toolkit. This change was a major bit
of work for the GnuCash developers, who had to drop some discontinued
libraries altogether and reimplement various features (graphical reports,
for example) in a completely different environment. So what 2.0 brings is
not a whole lot of new features, but a new platform which is ready for the
creation of tomorrow's new features.
One thing seasoned GnuCash users will notice early on is the tabbed
interface on the main window. In the stable 1.x releases, opening an
account results in the creation of a new register window; in 2.0, a new tab
is created instead. This behavior is arguably more consistent - even in
1.x, reports showed up in that version's form of tabs rather than in their
own window; now everything works that way. But, for users who are used to
being able to have more than one register on the screen simultaneously, the
new behavior can be a little annoying. Fortunately, there is an option to
move a tab into a new window, so users who like their screen cluttered
should still be happy.
Other than the new tabs, the GnuCash user experience is little changed from
the 1.x release. Things generally work and look as they did before. From
your editor's experience, it all appears to be quite stable (though your
editor has not spent any real time playing with the business features).
Except for a couple of minor keyboard focus issues, the transition appears
to have been completed successfully. For those interested in testing the
development releases, it's worth noting that the file format does not
appear to have changed, making it possible to make changes with a
development release, then go back to 1.8.x without trouble. It is worth
noting that the PostgreSQL backend is not yet working properly, but that is
consistent with the earlier GnuCash releases as well.
Of course, no major release can be completely without new features. The
GnuCash developers have found time to implement the use of UTF-8 for better
handling of non-western characters
and the ability to import the "MT940" files available from some banks. But the
most interesting (for users) developments in the 2.x series are likely to
show up in 2.1 and later releases. Now that the painful transition to a
contemporary toolkit has been made, the developers will have the time to do
fun stuff again, and the project should be more accessible for new
developers as well.
The free software community has been surprisingly slow to push the state of
the art in the personal finance area. One would think this particular itch
would afflict a great many developers - even the hungriest of starving
hackers has some financial management to do, and we can't all push
the work off onto our Windows-using spouses. Be that as it may, the
situation is slowly changing. Between KMyMoney and the new, refurbished
GnuCash, the community now has two high-quality platforms suitable for the
creation of tomorrow's personal financial software. Your editor is looking
forward to seeing where things go from here.
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