I apologize for the title of this post, it should be “another reason to hate proprietary software”, but I’m hoping to save some other poor soul a week of trouble.

The answer is: make sure that the first line of the address field is exactly the same as the payee name, and presto.

Now the whole story:
Over a week ago, I decided that rather than research all the details of the requirements for the new “Image Ready” cheque format, and spend hours fiddling with a custom report, I’d save the development time and drop some money on a commercial package.

Being a big open source advocate, I first explored the alternatives. GnuCash was pretty impressive, but there were two drawbacks: no image ready cheque printing, and the Windows version is still far too unstable for daily use. [One of these days I’ll be able to leave the Windows world forever, but as great as open source is, they’re not there just yet.]

So I coughed up $100 for Quicken XG 2007. Sure, it’s no double-entry bookkeeping system like GnuCash is, but really, I just want to be able to print cheques with it and send everything else off to a human with decent software.

I must say though that for personal use, Quicken is pretty impressive. It ties into your bank (if you let it), pulls transactions in automatically, and has lots of nifty features.

So on to printing that cheque. Everything was pretty intuitive (no pun intended) and I got a test cheque to print in just a few minutes. Just one small problem: a big blank space where the payee is supposed to be. Now the thing with image ready cheques is that there’s a whole mess of restrictions on where things go, what size they should be, and what font they should use. The cheques themselves don’t even have the familiar guidelines for writing things down, just space. So it’s not a matter of saying “oh well” and writing the data in.

I spent a few hours messing around with the program, making sure all the available updates are in, trying to get it to cooperate, but nothing. Time for some support. This is where it gets irritating:

  1. Google search. Absolutely nothing remotely relevant.
  2. Support site FAQ. Useless.
  3. E-mail support. They’ll try to get back to you within two days. Two DAYS?? What is this, 1980? How long for Fax support??
  4. Phone support. Get your credit card out, it’s $15 bucks a call.

I really like that last one. I just dropped a hundred bucks on a paper box and a CD, and you want 15% more so I can tell you how your program doesn’t work? Expletives deleted!

So it’s back to e-mail. Three days later, not counting the weekend, I get a bunch of canned suggestions along the lines of the very helpful “make sure the payee field is filled in”. Clearly the support person failed to read my query, since I have written that I have done everything they suggested. I send the support person a PDF of the offending output — there’s nothing like cold, hard proof. Three days later, I get “call tech support, you will not be charged for the call” no kidding.

I call tech support, wade through the usual number of opening menus, bear with a thankfully short period of bad music on hold, made truly painful by being piped over a low bandwidth VOIP connection from somewhere in India. [If you happen to be running an offshore call centre, please listen to this: VOIP is NOT high fidelity. Pick music with lots of bass, please.]

My helpful support agent gets on the line. I give him the tracking number. His link to the e-mail support system is down, so he has no record of the problem. These “start over” issues are probably one of the most frustrating things anyone can experience when seeking support, but thankfully this is an easy problem to explain. I explain. I get put on hold. Seconds later, he comes back with the solution I gave at the top of this post. Total time, just under 14 minutes, including the time I took to do the three question IVR survey at the end.

Now the solution to this problem is pretty trivial. It points to a fairly minor bug. I suspect that my live support agent searched an in-house database, read the answer, and then gave it to me. And that… that’s what really ticks me off. I should have had this answer on my own in less than ten minutes with a quick Google search. Hopefully this post will save others a WEEK of messing around.

Someone should “open source” support for proprietary products. I bet user communities could do a better job than the companies themselves, nine times out of ten.

One last thing. I figured that since I’m obviously not the only person with this issue, that I’d let the original e-mail support people know what the fix was, since they clearly don’t have full access to their own support base. I got an answer back in about five minutes (what, no two days?). But it just said “call tech support, you won’t be charged for the call.” An automatic response. They’ve closed the ticket, and not even a customer can tell them what’s going on.

Too bad. Open source rules.