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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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Intuit, makers of Quicken, QuickBooks, and TurboTax, are apparently discontinuing support of Quicken 2002. That’s nothing particularly unusual: Microsoft recently discontinued support of Windows NT 4. Users can’t realistically expect a company to support all versions of their software; it’s hard enough supporting a few versions and things get really hairy for shrinkwrap software because of all the possible environmental permutations that muck up technical support.

What’s different about Intuit’s policy is that they’re also disabling access to online banking through that version. That means that the program is basically useless for people whose bank offers online account access. Mind you, nothing on the bank’s side will change and, presumably, the software is just as capable of downloading data.

This isn’t surprising to me because Intuit’s business model seems to be tricking customers into thinking that they need to upgrade the software every year. I bought TurboTax years ago and didn’t use it after that year because I thought that it was outdated. I hated such built-in obsolescence and refused to buy it every year that Intuit junk mailed me about upgrading.

Intuit is more boneheaded than most software companies because they’re constantly implementing self-serving features without telling consumers and then removing them when everyone, rightly, complained. They tried to cancel development of Quicken for the Macintosh and then relented. They said they were going to stop development of QuickBooks for the Macintosh and then relented (though the version they put out might not have had any development behind it). They put in some authorization checks that phoned back to Intuit at installation and people got pissed so they got rid of it.

The major problem I have with this move is that I know the online banking side of the equation pretty well. I know that Quicken implements the Open Financial Exchange standard (OFX) that allows for interoperation with Microsoft Money and other personal financial management applications. This standard has basically been set in stone for the four plus years we’ve been working with it. That means that Intuit’s move is solely driven by the desire to shake some more money from the user base.

I’m all for making money, but I think that software upgrades should be driven by compelling features instead of removing features. A piece of software, once purchased, should work for as long as you keep opening it. The problem for Intuit is that there’s nothing compelling that they can add to any of their programs to make people want to upgrade. They’ve been dumping in a lot of features in the past in order to make their laundry list of features longer than Microsoft Money’s and so as to get better reviews from tech writers who make recommendations based on that.

Intuit is as close to slimeware as you can get while still being respectable. They hover around the borderline and are generally pretty careful about stretching over it. Unfortunately, they typically don’t float trial balloons—instead they act and then retreat if the hue and cry is sufficient. You think they’d learn or at least alter this basic strategy, but they seem married to it.