With Quicken 2010, Intuit strives to make its flagship money management application easier to navigate and simpler to set up, thanks to spruced-up visuals and a refreshed start-up wizard. Although already a solid balance-keeper and financial assistant in previous versions, Quicken 2010 adds a few new features to visualize your monthly budget and assets.

The Quicken 2010 product family includes Quicken Starter Edition ($29.99) for tracking budgets and upcoming bills; Quicken Deluxe ($59.99), which includes tools to help you save up for a large purchase; Quicken Premier ($89.99), which helps track investments; Quicken Home and Business ($99.99); and Quicken Rental Property Management ($149.99). We evaluated Quicken Deluxe 2010.

Installation
At almost 70MB, Quicken Deluxe 2010 takes several minutes to install. Installation was painless up to the point when the software junked up our desktop with four icons: the Quicken icon, plus another three unwanted shortcuts advertising a Quicken credit card and other additional services.

Features
Quicken’s core features continue doing what they’ve done for years: chiefly, importing your financial information to help you automatically and manually track your spending and savings. Not just a simple ledger for balancing your bank book, Quicken’s additional tools also help alert you to upcoming bills and to your overall budget.

The Quicken 2010 product line gets a prettied-up interface that provides an at-a-glance summary of your finances.
In the 2010 edition, Intuit has applied some cosmetic changes that streamline and simplify the software. One change is a sleeker setup wizard to guide you through the process of importing your financial information, adding bill reminders, and setting up budgets. This wizard is moot if you’re a returning user importing years of data from past Quicken versions, but new users will have an easier time getting started with this version than in years past.

A cleaner-looking home screen greets new and returning users, summarizing your financial standing in a glance. Pared-down navigation options also make it easier to find what you need. The most active new feature in Quicken 2010 takes a stab at automatically categorizing your transactions, like assigning Safeway to the Groceries category and your doctor’s visits to the Medical category, with a little help from you if there’s any doubt. In implementing this feature, Quicken plays catch-up to savvier online management apps, like Mint.com–which Intuit has since snapped up and plans to integrate–and its ilk. A new infographic in Quicken also helps you avoid late fees by displaying both how much cash is left in your coffers and which upcoming bills you should brace for.

Apart from the bill reminder and the autocategorization, it’s Quicken’s top layer, and select tools, that see the benefit of Quicken’s design changes. Scratch the surface, however, and many of the app’s second-tier tools–text-heavy calculators, planners, and lists with tiny font–feel as if they haven’t been updated for years. The old-school layout may not bother legacy users or those who aren’t put off by blocks of texts and charts, but others who have come to expect graphic representation of their data and clean design–say, the likes of former competitor Mint.com–may be inclined to shut the window and move on rather than wade through text.

As with past versions, Quicken Deluxe 2010 pulls in financial data from your banks and savings accounts. There are tools to create graphs and reports to itemize spending and banking, and to plot transactions on a calendar. There’s also a debt reduction planner and a tax-planning wizard. Quicken could use a few more online social Net links, too, such as an option to sync reminders to an online calendar.

Intuit isn’t blind to consumers’ changing expectations in management software, online or offline. Quicken 2010′s refurbished look does help, and conservatives who feel more comfortable keeping monetary details stored locally on their PCs rather than encrypted in the cloud lose nothing by downloading a free trial. For strictly online users with only personal finances (not investments, property, or small businesses), Intuit offers a free, online version that’s similar to Mint.com. Quicken Online has budgeting, tracking, and reminders, encryption, an iPhone component, and the added capability to prep the data for tax time, assuming you also use one of Intuit’s TurboTax products.

If you’ve used Quicken before, you can import data from previous years. The same goes for anyone switching over from Microsoft Money. With Microsoft Money killed off (additional details), Quicken is the best desktop alternative.
Some tools, like the bill reminder, are still a tad clunky.
 
Service and support
Quicken support is unchanged from previous years. E-mail support is free, and Intuit promises to respond within a day. Chat help is also free and is available 24-7. Phone assistance is $24.95 per call. However, some support calls are free, such as if you’re having problems installing the program or converting data from earlier Quicken versions.

Overall
Quicken Deluxe 2010 remains a useful, if not exciting, management app equipped with rich balancing and budgeting tools. As for the future of Quicken, Intuit’s recent acquisition of flashy online finance manager Mint.com could spell the merging of Mint’s online budgeting and reminder features. Mint’s exciting visual style could also draw younger users to future versions of Quicken, assuming Intuit goes that route, making future versions of the classic, but dated, money manager truly fresh.

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