Every year, Intuit releases a new version of Quicken. Most years, I interview some honcho at Intuit who's running the personal finance division and we talk about where the category is going. The meetings got a lot more interesting a few years ago, when Mint threw a monkey wrench into the personal finance software market, which led to Intuit acquiring Mint and bringing in its CEO, Aaron Patzer, to re-light the Quicken product line. (You can download Quicken Premier, Quicken Home Business, and Quicken Deluxe from CNET Download.com.)
Patzer came in with grand visions and ideas to make Quicken a more modern and relevant app. He planned to integrate Quicken with Mint and rewrite the app from scratch to make it possible for Intuit developers to update it more frequently. And by update it, he meant really improve it, not just add peripheral new features and re-skin the app every year, as they've been doing for about the last 10.
Patzer, though, is no longer running the Quicken group at Intuit. Instead, Aaron Forth, another Mint executive who came along with the acquisition, is at the wheel. He has similar talking points as Patzer, but his time at Intuit has made him more realistic (or perhaps resigned) about the future of Quicken, the latest version of which, Quicken 2012, came out today.
"The platform of the future is Mint," Forth told me. Not reassuring words to an old Quicken user like me, nor perhaps to the large but dwindling proportion of the population that relies on the old app to manage their personal finances. Forth says the Mint Web app will get the main features it needs to be a credible alternative to Quicken: bill payment and more serious investment tracking. He doesn't say when, though.
Meanwhile, Quicken 2012 gets a re-skin and some good but hardly ground-breaking updates. It now uses Mint's categorization engine, so it can auto-file expenses more accurately, and it connects directly to 18,000 financial institutions, up from about 6,000.
Quicken 2012 also has new recession-friendly features. It will help you manage repayment plans for paying off multiple credit cards, for example.
It's got a refreshed UI and an option for bigger fonts, Forth tells me. Apparently Quicken's user base is getting so old that Intuit needed to make it into a large-print app. I'm not kidding. And, frankly, as one of the old guys who's been using Quicken since 1988, and who has, since then, acquired trifocals, I appreciate it.
Really big updates are coming, Forth says, in "the next version of Quicken."
I'll wait and without holding my breath even for a second. I recommend that other users wait as well, except for those who are still using Quicken 2008 or previous.
That's because Intuit is continuing its policy of "sunsetting" Quicken versions after three years. It only supports the current and previous three versions of the app with online features. Older versions continue to function, but they can't download financial data (transactions, stock prices, etc.) from online services.
Like Patzer was, Forth is no fan of the sunsetting policy, but he says it doesn't work for Intuit to support all the old versions of the app. He says that an annual subscription to Quicken software might be the way to keep users up to date and make sure no one suffers from an inadvertent sunset on their active software. Patzer talked about Quicken going to a subscription model, too; Intuit seems to be no closer to implementing it.
In the meantime, the recession is doing wonders for Mint's growth, if not Quicken's. "As the market falls, Mint registrations rise," Forth told me. "People worry about having money." And Mint, unlike Quicken, is a free way to track it.
Stay tuned for more news soon about what's happening to Quicken on the Mac, and more developments in the Mint product line.