Wednesday, August 6, 2008


From a friend of mine: "So you hate Quicken so much that you created a blog for it...and yet you continue to use it?!" This certainly deserves an answer.

Tom: I was an early adopter of Quicken software, starting with my Apple Powerbook 160 in 1994. Charles: I was using Quicken back on an original Mac II; I'm not sure when I started, but I have transactions in my current Quicken file that go back to 1988. Quicken at the time was simple and easy to use, and showed off many of the features that would make it synonymous with money management:
  • Intuitive user interface. The main window looks just like a checkbook register. It's Example A of "how to make it easy for people to use your software". By making the main window look just like what we were used to using in paper and pencil, it empowered users. You've seen this before. You can do this.
  • Autocompletion. You might think of autocompletion of text fields with previously entered information a neat Ajax trick. Quicken had it in the mid-90's, and it further lowered the barrier to entry. It's the complement of the good checkbook register UI design. You want to use Quicken because it looks just like your checkbook, and since it autocompletes (and does the math!), it's easier to use than your checkbook.
  • Nice touches. Pre-Quicken, I was not very disciplined at balancing my checkbook. I was single, making decent money, so balancing my checkbook wasn't high on my priority list. The first time I reconciled my checkbook in Quicken and it gave me that "Congratulations" screen, I was hooked. I still get a little thrill every time I get that screen.
So what happened? I think the folks at Intuit were faced with a problem -- once you get people using your product, how do you keep your revenue stream? If my money management program works just fine, why should I buy the next version? It's a problem faced my many software companies, and the standard solution is to release new versions with an ever-increasing "feature" set. And while some of the new features were well done and made the program more powerful (online stock quotes!), Mac Quicken seemed to lose its way:
  • Stability. There was a period of time when Quicken Mac 2006 would crash on startup on my Mac 3-4 times in a row before it would actually stay open. While that has been resolved, Quicken 2006 will still crash. If there's one piece of software that I'd like to know is going to be stable and bug-free, it's my money application.
  • Bugs. There are features (e.g. budgeting) where there are arithmetic errors. There are reports that never include the right data no matter how many options I choose in Customize.
  • A mutant user interface. I've dealt with a number applications that were created on one platform and ported hastily to another platform, and I've dealt with applications that were developed with a cross-platform user interface tookit. Such applications are always a bit odd but usually tolerable. Quicken Mac 2006 is neither a Mac application nor a Windows application.
  • Ill-conceived features. The birth of online banking was an oppportunity for Intuit. Having an ability to download transactions further reduced the barrier to usage. The promise of not needing to even enter your purchases was very attractive, but ultimately it was poorly implemented. In early releases Intuit seemly hard-coded bank information into the application, so that if your bank changed the specifics of how to access your account (which happened frequently as banks merged), you wouldn't be able to access your information.
  • Lagging releases. Intuit issued a press release in August 2007 saying that Quicken 2008 for the Mac was coming, and they were at the Macworld Expo in January 2008 touting a new version. It's now August 2008, and there's no Quicken in sight. The only page on the Intuit web site that refers to Quicken 2008 for the Mac is the page that lets you sign up for the beta version and "product updates" (no thanks). The Mac version of Quicken is commonly seen as the stepchild of the Windows version, an afterthought at best.
How can Intuit get right? We'd like to see a few things in the next Quicken:
  • Be a Mac application. For all of their faults, one thing that Microsoft does well is making Mac versions of their software that work like Mac applications, and not just ports of the Windows version. Embrace the Mac UI conventions. On the other hand, don't get carried away with the flashy eye candy of Leopard at the expense of nuts-and-bolts functionality.
  • Test, test, test! This should include not just bugs that crash the application, but usability testing as well.
  • Better budgeting tools. The problem with all of the reports and graphs that Quicken does is that it's a forensic tool -- it can tell you what happened to your money, but by then it's already gone. Quicken should fully embrace the "envelope method" of budgeting championed by everyone from Dave Ramsey to The Motley Fool, and make it easy to have virtual envelopes in one account. If Intuit could make virtual envelopes work easily and well, then the marketing materials write themselves. "Quicken virtual envelopes. Have money plans, not money arguments."
As soon as we see a decent version of Quicken for the Mac, we will gladly take down this blog. We would be more than happy to help in any way we possibly can to improve a new version of Quicken. Although neither one of us is a full-time software QA/QC person, we have both developed software, and we understand how difficult it is to develop it. So, we're willing to help, but in the meantime, we're just gonna complain.

Intuit, the ball is in your court.


Rich said...

Unfortunately, the theme of this blog rings very true to me. Someday they'll get their act together, right? I'm currently running the Windows version of Quicken via Parallels since I had such bad luck with the "native" version.

Greg said...

My main complaint with Mac Quicken has to do with the budgeting feature. It turns out that this feature is entirely useless to me because I need to budget from the 25th of each month. I have seen that many people have the same issue, but Intuit is simply not responsive. Keeping my own separate Excel spreadsheet is the only solution, which is a pain. I wouldn't think that a solution to this issue would be rocket science, but apparently I'm wrong.

chumgrinder said...

Here's another thing Intuit could do: actually fix the problems you report to them in the next version, instead of ignoring you and implementing new feature treacle that is worthless to the vast majority of users.