About a month ago, I received the following email from the “Quicken Team”:
According to our records, you may be using an older version of Quicken®. If so, some important changes are coming that will affect the way you use your Quicken software.
Online Services are being discontinued for Quicken 2001 and 2002 users.
As of April 19, 2005, in accordance with the Quicken sunset policy, Online Services and live technical support will no longer be available for Quicken 2001 and 2002 users. These services include 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; and access to the investing features on Quicken.com, including portfolio tracking, any watch lists you have created, One-Click Scorecard, Stock Evaluator, and Mutual Fund Evaluator.
I had been using Quicken 2002 for the Mac since — well, 2002. The software was working fine for me, allowing me to pay my bills, track my investments, and balance my checkbook. Sure there were a few little issues with the program, but it did what I needed, so I had always tossed their annual software update offers in the trash.
But now — well, now I was being told I didn’t have a choice. Now, in order to use the features I paid for, I’d have to upgrade to the new version of the software. I turns out, I only used one feature on their list of discontinued features: downloading stock quotes. But this was a mighty convenient feature, allowing me to instantly learn how much my kids’ college fund gained on a good day in the market. After griping and swearing a few times, I finally bowed to the inevitable and ordered the new software. Maybe there’d be some new feature I really needed. Maybe they’d fix some of the niggling issues about Quicken that had always bugged me. Maybe when I got the new software I’d write a review and post it online.
About a week ago, my CD arrived (That’s right, it took three weeks. Not very “quick,” Quicken Team!). For “only” $49.95, I now had the latest and greatest version of Quicken. What new features would make managing my home finances even easier? Right away, I could see things were going to be different. Most importantly, of course, Quicken had a new Icon!!!!!
I had always thought the old icon looked fine, but now that I saw the new one, well, how could I not be impressed? It looked like something out of Pixar’s The Incredibles!!!
Then I started the program, only to find yet another Important New Feature: more new icons. These icons were bigger than the old ones, but more importantly, they were completely different. So now I’d have to learn a whole new set of icons for, say, balancing my checkbook or printing checks. Where was that “print checks” icon, anyway? It wasn’t on the toolbar, the way it was in Quicken 2002. No problem, just navigate through a baffling set of menus for 30 minutes or so to add it to my tool bar. Wow! That’s really a completely different icon. I wonder how I’ll remember it. Well, I’m sure I can just hover my mouse over the icon and a convenient text box will pop up and tell me what it means. After all, that was a feature in Quicken 2002, so surely they wouldn’t have removed a convenient feature in Quicken 2005, right? Actually, they would. So not only did my icons take up more space on my screen and look unfamiliar, they were also less functional than in my “old” software. Fortunately, there’s a workaround. I can lose even more screen real estate and display the icon’s meaning permanently below it.
Speaking of screen real estate, I started to wonder if the Quicken 2005 “team” had fixed one of the most annoying “features” of Quicken 2002. Anytime I started up the program, Quicken used to always resize all the windows I’d carefully arranged the last time I used the program. For example, the “portfolio” window would be shrunk so that I could only see half my portfolio. I tried restarting the program to see if things had changed. They hadn’t. Apparently they broke the bank designing all those fancy icons, and couldn’t be bothered to fix Quicken’s functionality.
Another thing that had always irked me was printing checks. Quicken checks come in sheets of three, so if you print an odd number, you’ll be left with a sheet of 1 or 2 checks. Every time you print checks, Quicken has to ask you how many checks are left on the sheet. Wouldn’t it be nice if Quicken could remember how many checks you have left? After all, it remembers that I earned $7.43 in checking interest on February 12, 1997. (Whoah! Was the interest rate really that high back then? I made $0.51 last month, and with more money in the account.) I tried printing some checks and saw that no one at Intuit had intuited my idea: printing checks was the same old, same old (but with NEW icons).
The Quicken people are always trying to sell new services, like paying ten bucks a month for their “bill pay” service so you can save $3.50 on postage, or signing up for their credit card, or a loan, or insurance. It’s almost as if the product wasn’t designed for me to track my money, but for them to siphon it away. It’s almost enough to make me throw the program and my years of financial data into the trash.
Almost, but not quite. Could I really go back to balancing my checkbook by hand? And how would I monitor my investments? $49 every three years isn’t too much to pay to keep track of my money. I’d prefer it if their “improved” software was actually improved, but I’m a creature of habit. I’ve been using Quicken since 1994. Quicken sucked back then, and it still sucks now. And yet I can’t live without it. Isn’t capitalism great?