Show Sidebar Log in

Gnucash – an accountant writes

Malcolm, a friendly chartered accountant who helps with our books, recently emailed our treasurer his opinions on Gnucash, the personal and small-business financial-accounting software that runs on GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS X and that other unspoken OS from Redmond. His words are reproduced below:

Couldn’t resist the lure of FREE* software, so downloaded it and imported a Quicken file into it. It worked pretty well, not 100%, but with a bit of practice it shouldn’t be too hard to work out why some transactions drop out. It certainly looked good and was easy to use.

If you were starting from a blank page, mapping errors wouldn’t be a problem of course, but it might take several trials to finally make sure that all data get mapped from an Intuit file to a Gnu file. More practically, you could import the chart of accounts, but lose all the history and just start with the prior period’s closing balances carried forward.

It isn’t as good as Quicken was, and in particular you can’t pick a payee and run a report of all payments made to XYZ… Instead you have to run a report of all payments made to all payees sorted a-z and then scroll down to XYZ. Standard reports are very few, but the custom report designer is pretty flexible, and lets you choose any start and end date, as Quicken does. It’s pretty much on a par with QuickBooks SimpleStart, which is also free in the US, although there is still a modest charge for it in the UK. If you don’t need VAT or the £ symbol, you can use the $ version though. Good psychology as when users find they need more crunching power, they upgrade to the full product more often than not, on the devil you know basis.

The way Gnu copes with VAT seems quite laborious though, requiring quite a lot of master file maintenance to set up an extra level in the chart of accounts, so that income and expenditure are first separated into VAT/non-VAT and then each of those sectors has to be broken down into the normal profit and loss categories, interest, council tax and wages, etc in one, and sales, goods, stationery, etc. in the other. You then have to build custom reports to select and aggregate the VAT-designated items into one report. Aaaaaargh!

Gnucash seems much more of a replacement for Quicken/MS Money personal finance software than for QuickBooks at this stage, although enthusiastic users could create QB-style standard charts of accounts and VAT templates and compile them into code for the General Good perhaps. However, three or four days of non-volunteer data processing and conversion time costs a lot more than another copy of QuickBooks. It would suit a lot of small traders though. The use of QIF (Quicken interchange format I think) as standard probably means that if anyone has the patience to keep their books on it, it could be exported into real QuickBooks for easier handling, again subject to an accurate mapping template between the two charts of accounts. Definitely worth keeping an eye on, but not quite there yet.

Best Regards,


* = That’s also free as in freedom Malcolm, as well as free as in beer 😉


  1. Bristol Wireless News » Blog Archive » BW accounts now running on Gnucash - May 11, 2010

    […] It’s been a while (almost 2 years to the day. Ed.) since we last looked at Gnucash, the personal and small-business software that’s available for free under the GPL for Linux, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows (news passim). […]