Technology & You
HERE'S BALM FOR THE T&E BLUES
As an avid user of Quicken for Windows, the popular personal finance software program from Intuit, I have a pretty good fix on where my hard-earned loot disappears each month. By segregating my expenses into categories, I've discovered, to my chagrin, just how much I've squandered on eating out and compact disks. But keeping track of the cash I lay out on business trips is more challenging. Try as I may to stuff receipts in my wallet, I still seem to come up short at expense-report filing time. One solution would be to lug around a notebook computer with Quicken on it. Devoted as I am to the software, however, it's not practical to boot up a laptop just to record the fare each time I step out of a taxi.
Now, Intuit has unleashed a kind of Quicken Lite, aimed at folks on the run who carry around personal digital assistants. The scaled-down version, called Pocket Quicken, isn't yet sold as a separate product. Instead, it's built into the new 200LX palmtop computer from Hewlett-Packard, as well as the handheld Tandy/Casio Zoomer PDAs and the AST Gridpad 2390. The portable Quicken will also be on the Motorola Envoy personal wireless communicator, once that device turns up in stores, possibly this fall.
Like its grown-up sibling, Pocket Quicken lets users set up basic checking, credit card, and cash accounts to track expenses by category (food, gas, rent). To enter a transaction, HP users type in the payee, dollar amount, and other fields that appear in the on-screen "check." As with regular Quicken, once you have begun typing a few characters, the program recognizes previously-entered names and fills in other data in the appropriate fields. Shortcut keys also automate the process. Users who press "T" when they're in one field, for example, can display the current date.
Pocket Quicken lets road warriors isolate what they spend by trip, client, project, or class. A salesperson who takes a customer for dinner in San Francisco might categorize the amount spent as "dining" and "Bay Area." With an optional $119 cable and software package for the HP 200LX and a $30 add-on for Zoomer, people can share data with desktop Quicken.
But Pocket Quicken is not nearly as versatile as regular Quicken. Users can't track investments or set up budgets. Also missing: some of the reports that the complete product spits out (net worth, tax summaries) and all of its splendid graphs. Moreover, anyone spoiled by full-size keyboards will find entering data into the HP 200LX, which runs an MS-DOS version of Pocket Quicken, to be a bit of a nuisance: Only Tom Thumb could touch-type on the thing.
With the Envoy, on the other hand, users tap the screen with a pen to make things happen. Pocket Quicken appears as a virtual billfold: Tap on the dollar bill that's sticking out of the wallet to activate a cash transaction; touch the Visa image to record credit-card transactions. You enter spending amounts by tapping an onscreen keyboard. While I found the Envoy more pleasing to use than the 200LX, the device won't fit into a pocket.
Businesspeople who eschew PDAs might want to stick with a copy of Quicken on their laptops--you can always record expenses when you retire to the hotel each evening. A fine alternative, QuickXpense for Windows, is coming in October from Portable Software. The $99 program lets users specify the type of expense account form they want. In fact, many expense forms from large corporations have already been loaded into the program. If your company's form isn't one of them, you can send a blank copy to Portable Software and the folks there will put it on a disk for you. As with Quicken, travelers make entries into a checkbook-style register. Among other features, QuickXpense can calculate mileage costs when you drive a car, convert foreign currency, and itemize each expense type--telephone, room service--found on your hotel bill. QuickXpense will even alert you when it's time to file an expense report. It's undoubtedly better to be hounded by the computer than by your boss. E.B.EDITED BY EDWARD C. BAIG