Archive for the ‘finance’ Category

Gnucash on Mac OS X

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

I’ve already posted here and here about challenges with getting GnuCash to work on Mac OS X. Previously as described in the posts above, I’ve compiled GnuCash myself from source code. Back in 2007 I did this via Fink, but back in the summer of 2009 used MacPorts as a basis.

I’ve been thinking about installing Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (and already have the family pack DVD), but the thought of rebuilding GnuCash was seriously putting me off.

I’ve now discovered that there is a ready compiled Mac OS X version of GnuCash. It’s available at SourceForge — Gnucash. I’ve installed it and it appears to work fine — in fact it is precisely the same version that I compiled myself back in the summer. The stable version works on 10.4 (Tiger), 10.5 (Leopard) and 10.6 (Snow Leopard). There is also a build of the unstable 2.3.7 version for Leopard and Snow Leopard. Thanks to the team responsible.

More Gnucash struggles

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

I was going to write a post on why I like Gnucash and how it seems incredibly robust, but I’m not entirely sure that I can convincingly write such a post now. In addition to the previously reported problems, I noticed today that I had an enormous imbalance. It looks like a large proportion of the transactions recorded in 2001 have lost their links to their income and expense accounts (categories in the parlance of many other personal finance programs). There are only 16 problem entries since then, some of which I remember causing difficulties when they were entered. I assume that the update and file format enhancements have exposed these problems.

I think I’m not going to attempt to repair all of the 2001 entries and just “close the books” on that year. Arguably I should have done this a long time ago, but until recently one needed to do that by hand in gnucash whereas I believe there is functionality to support that now. The remaining transactions I think can be repaired fairly easily.

From the fact that there are very few more recent problematic transactions, I believe that the gnucash stability has probably improved significantly over the last few years, but I’m certainly not as robust a defender of it as I was a few weeks ago. However, the whole issue of consistency is one of the major criteria that I shall be using in my comparison of personal finance applications.

Gnucash on Mac OS X

Monday, August 10th, 2009

On linux I’ve been a long-time user of the Gnucash program. As a personal and small business accounting program I’ve found it excellent (not that I’ve used it for a small business, but it seems to have many of the features that would be needed). As a personal accounting programme it certainly manages bank accounts, investments and portfolios, multiple currencies and uses double entry book-keeping throughout. While not trivial to start using, it certainly isn’t particularly difficult and I’ve found it extremely reliable.

When I started using Mac computers, I still had a small linux box that amongst other things was used (typically remotely) for using gnucash. In early 2007 when I started commuting between countries for work, I bought a MacBook and decided I needed to take gnucash with me. After a fair mount of difficulty but thanks to some pretty useful comments on the internet, I was able to use Fink to compile gnucash and run it on my MacBook and I’ve been using that version until this last week. It wasn’t perfect — I was never able to get the scripts to get online quotes to work (although they worked fine on my linux machine). By now it was a build that was over two years old (a version 2.0 of Gnucash).

Even in linux circles, gnucash has a reputation as something of a “dependency hell”. It just needs so much other stuff to compile that it isn’t funny, and some of which it is difficult to understand why it is a dependency. However, on most linux systems, users can take advantage of the package manager on their system to pull in all the relevant binary packages and have the working version that was compiled by their distribution. I have used SuSE for a number of years, although switched to openSUSE a few years ago. On my linux box I’d been running openSUSE 10.3 which had a version of gnucash in the 2.2 series.

I’ve been running one set of accounts on my MacBook with the fink compiled gnucash 2.0 for the last 30 months, while running a second set of accounts on my linux machine. The linux machine recently had problems which meant I needed to manage the gnucash account on that machine on my MacBook. Unfortunately there had been changes to the data format between 2.0 and 2.2 which meant that gnucash 2.0 couldn’t open gnucash 2.2 files. (Gnucash does store its data in a compressed XML file which at least means if all else fails one can get into it.)

For some time I’d been following various internet pages with instructions about compiling gnucash with Quartz on Mac OS X rather than using X11, and had spent some time following the instructions about using GTK-OSX which effectively provides an implementation of GTK2 via the Quartz graphics on Mac OS X. For me, following these instruction has always failed pretty close to the point where I was ready to compile gnucash. I’d started with enthusiasm in early 2009 but had given up.

Having noticed that it was now possible to build gnucash almost automatically on OS X using MacPorts, that seemed the easiest route.

My experience was not exactly plain sailing. For some reason one of the dependencies brought in via MacPorts is goffice which wouldn’t compile although I was fortunate to find a patch at 
http://lists.macosforge.org/pipermail/macports-users/attachments/20090520/03dbddc6/attachment.obj. The slightly annoying thing about this is that this appears to have been a a problem that has been extant for at least a couple of months. With a program with so many dependencies, it is just so easy for something to get broken.

This enabled me to complete the compilation. On attempting to run, I got various messages about not being able to read configuration files which pointed to problems with a component called “dbus”. Again, my problem was solved by various (somewhat confusing) sources. Essentially you don’t follow the instructions that are produced when dbus is built, but do something slightly different. I’ve put it on the discussion page on the gnucash MacOSX/MacPortsDetail site. Again this seems to be a fairly long established problem with ports to Mac OS X.

After all this, which had taken a few days, I was able to successfully launch gnucash 2.2.9 built on my machine on 4th August 2009. Great! However, another problem loomed. It would open both my gnucash files and worked with the gnucash 2.2 file from my linux machine. However although it would open the gnucash 2.0 file that I’d been using for two and a half years on my MacBook, every time I came to save it there would be a crash and the resulting file would be unopenable. At this point I feared having to work forever with my old fink-compiled version for my finances and my new compiled version for my partner’s finances.

The next step in the installment was a mad day when I decided to use a windows PC with an external drive and install the latest version of openSuSE on the external drive. My plan was that, although not convenient, I should be able to run gnucash on that using the openSuse distribution. I’ve done this previously and expected it to work — possibly with a few hitches. The installation was fine although I had to help it with the rebooting (probably because of the external drive) and it took only about an hour. I was able to install gnucash on it and amazingly it had no problems reading my old gnucash 2.0 file writing it out and reading it again. Furthermore when shifting the file back to my MacBook, it also could read and write it — although still complaining about problems with not knowing some currencies. There were some other hiccups with the linux installation that I might get around to writing up.

I am now trying to do two things:
1) check that this gnucash is working reliably on the MacBook (which is not quite true) and 2) look at alternative MacOS X programs that I could migrate to.

I’ve discovered in the last day or two that the gnucash “find” facility isn’t working. It brings up the dialog box but one can’t type in a string to find.

After the struggles of the last fortnight I just don’t want to go through another building process although I notice there is another alternative build on the MacOSX/Quartz — GnuCash page but I’ve really lost the enthusiasm to try.

I have started looking at some alternative programs and have purchased iBank, but I’m now not at all convinced that it is the right choice.

I am going to try to put together a comparison of personal financial software for the Mac and would welcome any comments or ideas.