“How can I manage more than one Accounts file with CheckBook or CheckBook Pro?”
We get that in our inbox from time to time.
What these users are looking for is a system that relies on documents they can open from the Finder, just like with Pages or Numbers, so they can choose the document with the set of Accounts they’d like to work on. It’s the Mac-like way of managing complicated data.
When we created CheckBook we had it hide its data file deep inside the user’s home Library folder because most users wouldn’t need more than one, anyway. We were aiming pretty low, after all, at the user who didn’t need more than a very basic check register. For that kind of user it’s simpler to store the data out of sight, then, so it can never be accidentally modified by another app – or removed(!). This is identical to the way Apple does it for apps like Address Book, by the way. So we never adopted a document-based approach to handling the Accounts file, because the user would never interact with the file except to backup or restore it. There was a major plus for us, too – we got to skip the “extra” that goes into telling the Mac how to deal with a particular type of document. Win-win.
Over the years, as users here and there asked us for the ability to manage multiple files, we’ve realized what we’ve got is a win for most of our users, a win for us, but not a win for a growing segment of users. We wanted the app to be flexible enough for everyone – but still needed it to be a no-brainer for the majority. As Macs became affordable more users wanted the ability to share their Accounts with family on different Macs. Online storage matured, and users wanted to store the Accounts file where services like DropBox could see them. And then, Mac OS X Lion came and hid the Library folder.
We were already working pretty hard on CheckBook 2.5 (and we’re back at it!), figuring out all the little details of synchronizing Account data between Macs. We knew we could make things a lot easier for the users who wanted to think outside the box if we just switched over to a document-based approach. The problem was, we didn’t have a lot of time to think about chucking the whole system – and definitely no time to actually do it. CheckBook’s a bit like a spoiled brat – we didn’t raise it to put its toys away at night. In other words, it doesn’t know how to think of its data as a document, so the code leaves little messes all over the place. CheckBook is a fairly complicated little kid. Teaching it how to clean up after itself wouldn’t be an overnighter. So, we came up with a pretty simple plan to make things easier without taking a week: Let the user decide where to store their Accounts file and leave it at that. So we added that to CheckBook 2.2 and gained a system where the user could…
- Store the Accounts file anywhere
- Share the Accounts file by placing it in a shared location (one copy of CheckBook at a time, though – more than that and you’ll see data loss)
- Store the Accounts file where DropBox and other services can see it
- Have multiple Accounts files
And that last little bit answers the original question. Sure, you can you have multiple Accounts files. It’s just not obvious.
When you change the Accounts file location the file at the current location is left where it is. Better than that, the current data is saved to the current location, just before the location is changed. So now you can change the location between two folders containing separate Accounts files and manage two different sets of data. It’s an extra click or two to go into Preferences->Advanced vs. double-clicking an icon in the Finder, but it works fine.
Going forward, we’ll completely adopt the document-based approach. When that comes, the first time you launch CheckBook it will ask where to keep the Accounts file and create a real document file there. If the user wants, they can then create any number of new documents and store them wherever they like. Launch CheckBook and it will always try to open the last Accounts file you used. We’ve had this in mind for a very long time but, like I said, much has to change first. But that’s our course, folks. We’ll get there!