Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Summer Project 2009, Part 0: Do I Really Need to Do This?

The first question one should ask when confronted with a potential software project is: has someone already done this for me? Under normal circumstances, finding or buying a software solution is always going to be less expensive than developing one. I've got motivation to do this development as a learning exercise, but it never hurts to look at what others have done in the same domain. It's a small part of what business types call market research. To that end, here's a quick survey of the "competitors" for my new money tracking app.

Commercial standalone applications
Examples: Quicken, Microsoft Money
The industry leading solutions, if they can't do what you need you are probably running a small business, and they have a product to help you with that too. I've already explained that these are the basis of what I want, but without all the features I don't use, and maybe some changes for the things I do use. Keeping current with these apps requires repeated monetary expenditure, just as with all commercial software.

Open source standalone apps
Examples: Buddi, GnuCash
Loosly, "Open Source" refers to a type of software license that allows the user to modify the software for their own use. Often these programs are also available free of charge as well. Buddi comes very close to the vision of what I want, but both it and the less user friendly GnuCash use double entry accounting. For my purposes, double entry adds unnecessary complexity to what should be a simple concept.

Web apps
Examples: Mint, Wesabe
Web apps are the coming future that is already here. They can leverage powerful community knowledge and allow access from any machine that can talk to the Internet. And yet... Perhaps I'm a bit of a Luddite, but I don't put my financial information on the web. (Even though I know it's essentially already out there.) Also, I don't trust any web site to still be around in ten years. (Not even my bank, which seems a more reasonable position than it did a few years ago.) One of the best features of maintaining my own records is that I have all the history to look at.

DIY alternatives
Examples: Excel, OO Calc, etc.
Do it yourself bookkeeping using a spreadsheet program is a legitimate solution, but the overhead required to do data analysis can get rough. I don't really have the spreadsheet chops to take advantage of this option. Besides, it puts me right back into being dependent on a program that may change at any time. The largest advantage of this option is the ready and full access to your data.

Honestly, any of these could work, and all have advantages over something I make myself. But stopping now would hardly be educational.

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