REVIEWS

Budget Deficit

If you haven't yet discarded your PC or Mac because you're waiting for a NeXT-STEP personal-finance program, you're going to face a dilemma. Fiscal Dimension, $249 from AXSYS, is here, but you'll sacrifice features and convenience if you want to use this software to manage your money. And you might not like its interface quirks.

Fiscal Dimension puts a NeXT-STEP face on the chores of keeping a checkbook and tracking expenses. It enforces the discipline of double-entry bookkeeping, which reduces the chance for error but increases the work. Most Mac and PC programs, though, do a better job of casting accounting chores in the guise of familiar metaphors like checkbooks. Fiscal Dimension uses a panel that looks like a check for entering transactions, but other than that, there are very few cues to orient the new user.

Experienced bookkeepers will be more comfortable with Fiscal Dimension. Allow about a day to get started you'll need to set up a chart of accounts and input any past transactions you want to record (Fiscal Dimension cannot import files). The program offers little explanation about how to organize your accounts, apart from a set of sample books, which are sorely needed to supplement sparse on-line manual.

Fiscal Dimension allows sophisticated control over budget categories, including allocating expenses to subaccounts; you might, for ex-ample, track expenses by project as well as tax category. Reporting is less sophisticated. Standard accounting forms such as Trial Balance are available, but these reports are intend-ed to be printed only and cannot be manipulated on-screen. Nor is there any way to adjust the format of the reports they print in eight-point type, whether you want that or not. And they output to NeXT printers only program flaws prevent Fiscal Dimension from printing to non-NeXT PostScript printers.

In addition, the interface is quirky. We discovered that an automatic-entry feature worked well until we edited a transaction. The automatic-entry feature disappeared during editing, leaving us with extra keystrokes as our only option. Furthermore, Fiscal Dimension doesn't adhere to NeXTSTEP interface conventions: New windows completely hid existing windows, and a split-view window that showed a list of accounts and transactions in each account could not be resized until we'd filled both its halves. Finally, we dearly wished for a home window, such as a checkbook register, that would provide a point of reference when we opened a new set of books.

To Fiscal Dimension's credit, the application handles a complex set of accounts and subaccounts well. Users report that AXSYS pro-vides excellent technical support and quick fixes for reported bugs. Future versions of the application will assist small businesses with support for requirements like aging of accounts receivable and invoicing, but for users who expect the features of personal-finance applications on Macs or PCs (such as tax estimating, financial planning, investment management, graphs, or even automation of recurring entries), Fiscal Dimension may prove a disappointment. Fiscal Dimension fills a need, but its lack of attention to interface design and a limited feature set is a current liability.

by Daniel Miles Kehoe


Fiscal Dimension 1.0

2 Cubes

Although billed as NeXTSTEP's only per-sonal-finance application, Fiscal Dimension has more in common with ledger books than with checkbooks. Given a little effort, it will fit the bill, but a quirky interface remains a liability.

$249

AXSYS, P.O. Box 1184, Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004-1184.

215/667-6822, 215/667-2654 fax; e-mail: info@axsys.com.