My 2013 Plans (my favourite tech conference, and one of the best in Australia/NZ) is on again next year, in Canberra from the 28th of January to the 2nd of February. I’m excited! I love being so immersed in enthusiastic talks on every sphere of open-source technology, from the deepest bowels of the Linux kernel to the talks on legal and social issues. The week is also a great opportunity to catch up with some of my Internet friends, most of whom I don’t see between LCA events.

I’ll be travelling to Canberra on Sunday the 27th of January, on Virgin Australia flights DJ1533 (HBA -> SYD) and DJ654 (SYD -> CBR). One more airport than strictly necessary, but I like that – I’m a fan of airports, aeroplanes, and public transportation in general. During the week I’ll be staying in the John XXIII student accomodation; mainly because it’s closer to the breakfast venue than the other location. I’ll be travelling back to Hobart on Sunday the 4th on DJ1205 (a direct flight, because I suspect I’ll be quite tired by then – LCA has a habit of finding energy and destroying it in a haze of excited geeky exhaustion).

You may have noticed this leaves Saturday the 3rd with no plans at all. I’ve never been to Canberra before, so I thought I would stay around on the Saturday and Sunday to explore Canberra a bit. I might go to the War Memorial, Old Parliament House, the National Museum, and maybe the Black Mountain Tower (logistics depending, I won’t have a car). It should be a fun trip!

Xero Accounting

In July this year I embarked on a business venture with a few friends (something I’ll talk about more in a later blog post). All businesses need good accounting software – it’s how you know if you’re actually making money (and how you keep the tax office happy). I’ve used Quicken/QuickBooks and MYOB (both the desktop Accounting and FirstAccounts, as well as the online LiveAccounts) and they all leave a few things to be desired. The desktop versions of MYOB, and the versions of Quicken software that I’ve tried all have a very 1995 feel to them… and no surprise too, I don’t think the software has had a major overhaul since then. LiveAccounts worked ok for me, but it just wasn’t polished enough.

Enter Xero, a New Zealand-based company that specialises in online accounting software. I have to say, I’m impressed. We’ve been using their business product since July, and it’s great. The interface is really easy to use, I had no trouble with it at all and I’m certainly not experienced in business accounting. It hides all the details you usually don’t want, but makes them available when you do (as opposed to MYOB, which just throws every single detail ever at you and expects you to cope). The bank feeds are super reliable, updating with the latest data every night and presenting it ready to reconcile (and if a transaction doesn’t already exist, creating it is trivial). To top it all off, the Android app is incredibly polished, with a lot of thought (an example: logging in with email and password takes forever on a phone keyboard, but you don’t want to be logged in all the time, so it prompts you to create and use a 4-digit PIN).

Recently they announced automatic bank feed support for their personal product, which I had tried previously but given up on because it takes too much effort to manually transfer the data over. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks, and while I’m impressed with the product generally, there are a few things that I find disappointing:

  • Bank feeds aren’t as reliable as in the business product. For some reason they don’t use the same functionality. This (instead of talking to the bank through an API) appears to log in to you Internet banking portal using your username and password (points off for that) and downloads the information by manually parsing the HTML. Which only seems to work about 50% of the time, and is usually three days behind what Internet banking shows you when you visit in your browser. The bank feeds work great in the business product, why not leverage on that for the personal product?
  • It’s not double-entry. This annoys me. For 90% of people single entry is ok, but it doesn’t give you the detail that double-entry does. When I transfer money from one account to another, it doesn’t appear as a transfer; it appears as a withdrawal from one and a deposit in the other. Minor, but annoying.
  • When entering values of assets and liabilities to calculate net worth, it doesn’t show you history of those items, so it’s difficult to track the value of a single item over time.

Basically, I’d love Xero Personal to be like a browser version of Quicken Personal Plus, but I think that may be a dream too far.