The Quicken decision

I had been put on notice: Unless I upgraded, support for my Quicken 2006 program -- and my ability to download my bank statements directly into my Quicken accounts -- would terminate on April 30th.

I wasn't the only holdout. The market for the software has been flat. Users haven't been upgrading. Sales in the sector have declined sharply over the past year. Microsoft pulled out, leaving Intuit with a monopoly market share of 95%.

And here I am. All of these big market events circulating around my one little decision not to upgrade.

No downloads 4 U

I'd gone three years without paying Intuit a cent. Now Intuit wanted me pony up, and it was less than subtle in getting that message across. To make absolutely sure I got that message Quicken threw up this warning dialog over and over again as I attempted to download banking transactions from each of my financial institutions.

Quicken Discontinuation of Service Notice

This warning flashed every time I launched Quicken, every time I attempted to download a bank statement and after each download completed. No sooner would I close one box than another would pop up. It became a major annoyance and was interfering with my use of the product.

While the dialog box does have a "Remind me later" checkbox that Intuit says should have made those irritating reminders go away, that didn't work for some reason on my machine.

The real deal

Was Intuit really going to block me from accessing my bank account statements online? I just couldn't believe it. Just to be sure there wasn't some misunderstanding, I contacted Quicken customer service. "I can understand your concern," came the e-mail reply. "However, would like to inform you that after 30th of April you will be able to access your bank account through Quicken program. You can download transactions from/to bank in the same way as you are doing now, even after April 30th. The only thing is that you will not get technical support for product you are using right now."

That was a reassuring, if less than grammatically perfect answer. Why would Intuit flash this clearly stated warning if they didn't intend to follow through on this threat? I called the corporate offices. As it turns out, they did intend to shut me off, along with every other Quicken 2006 user who doesn't upgrade.

A spokesperson responded with this statement:

"Discontinuation of online services includes online bill pay; downloading financial data from your bank, credit union, credit card, brokerage or mutual fund accounts; downloading stock quotes, news headlines and other financial information into Quicken; uploading portfolio information from Quicken to Quicken.com; any watch lists that users have created. Quicken 2006 users will no longer be able to upload their data..."

While I wouldn't be able to download transactional data directly into my Quicken accounts, I could go back to downloading bank data the old fashioned way: By downloading a update file from the bank in Quicken .QIF format, importing the file into Quicken and pruning away any duplicate transactions (Quicken tries to identify the ones it suspects are duplicates for you). But that's a lot of extra work on my end. Why should I have to do that?

I have no problem with Intuit dropping support for Quicken 2006 at this point in time. I am now three versions behind the current Quicken 2009, after all. But I couldn't help feeling as though Intuit was crippling the version I own just so that it could pump me for that upgrade. This policy makes it appear as though Intuit, having failed to lure the installed base to its new version with compelling features, has decided to force the upgrade issue by taking away core functionality in Quicken 2006 and older versions. Yes, I get to keep using the basic electronic checkbook functionality. But if Intuit is going to make it harder for me to reconcile electronically with online bank statements, why bother?

Stop whining and pay up

I know what some readers are thinking. What a whiner. It's only $39 to upgrade Quicken Deluxe, which is not a lot to ask over three years to keep the product going. Get a life. And truly, I was tempted to just bite my lip, shell out the 39 bucks and move on.

But I didn't like being pushed off the upgrade cliff -- and I especially didn't like having my program partially disabled. I bought the software. It's not a software as a service contract. How could Intuit or any other software vendor dare to reach into a version of software installed on a personal computer that I own, and surrepticiously install "updates" on it that block a fundamental feature that I purchased in good faith, in order to hold it hostage until I pay the upgrade ransom?

They didn't. That's not the way it works. In fact, when you download your banking statements into Quicken, the transaction isn't just between your computer and your bank; Intuit acts as the middleman. You may own the software license, but the process of downloading statements from the financial institutions is essentially a service orchestrated through Intuit's servers. An Intuit spokesperson laid it out for me:

"We maintain the financial institution IDs, route the request to the right financial institution, maintain the financial institution profile, support information and support contact data for the financial institution."

The capitulation

I still had choices. Readers suggested Mint, Wesabe, and the open source GnuCash as alternatives.

In the end I couldn't stand the thought of going on without Quicken. So I caved. I bought the upgrade.

But which version did I need? Quicken Online was out for a variety of reasons. I used to buy Quicken Basic for $29.99 until Quicken renamed it Quicken Starter Edition and restricted licensing to new users only (it won't import your historical data). That forced upgraders like me to pay $59 for Quicken Deluxe. So I figured I was in for at least that. But when I clicked on the upgrade button in the alert dialog, Intuit attempted to up sell me once again. I was taken to a page that gave me the choice of Quicken Premier ($69) or Home and Business. No Deluxe.

Quicken_Upgrade_Screen.png

But on the Quicken home page I found the Quicken Deluxe upgrade offer for the marvelously low upgrade price of $39.

Decision made? Not quite. In the Quicken Version Feature Comparison something had changed. The ability to monitor my investments was not part of Deluxe. For that I would need Premier. Upgrade price: $69. I should have dug into this a bit more, but I was tired at this point. So I capitulated, pulled out my credit card and downloaded the Premier version.

Epilogue

Only later did I realize that I had spent $30 too much. Quicken Deluxe would have downloaded all of my investment account data just fine. It just wouldn't let me "monitor" performance using Quicken's tools. Those tools are OK, but I could have lived without them.

Certainly Quicken 2009 has an updated look -- one that boxes in and reduces the size of the checkbook register on screen -- and many new features. For the most part I have had little interest in using those features. At the end of the day Quicken is still, to me, a glorified electronic checkbook program.

But there is a silver lining to all of this. There is one thing Quicken 2009 did right, one place where Intuit has added real value by saving me time. In Quicken 2006 I had to manually select every banking and investment account to download transaction updates. In fact, with my banking accounts this was a multi-step process. Quicken took me to the bank's login screen where I had to log in using my user name, password, and a security question an click through four more steps before the data came down. I had to repeat that process six times, once for each account. Now all of my accounts update and the data imports with one button click.

Nice. I can't wait to tell my wife that I'm still a Quicken junkie and that she'll be hearing the "ka-ching" of Quicken register transactions for another fifteen years.

Quicken: The Saga

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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