Why there's no grown-up Quicken for OS X Lion

New head of Quicken at Intuit talks about company's neglect of loyal Mac customers.

If you have a grown-up financial life, with money in investment vehicles, Intuit has an up-to-date version of Quicken to help you keep track of it all--on Windows. If you're on a Mac, though, you might think Intuit has abandoned you. There's Quicken 2007 for the Mac, but nothing serious after that. And if you upgraded to OS X Lion, Quicken 2007 will no longer work on your Mac. It's the most infamous of the applications that have been left behind by the latest version of the Mac operating system, which no longer runs apps written for the PowerPC architecture, as Quicken 2007 was. What's worse, if you upgrade to Lion, you won't be able to extricate your data from Quicken at all, as no other app can read its proprietary format.

How did Intuit end up screwing over loyal Mac Quicken users so thoroughly? We can take swipes at Apple for prematurely ceasing support of the Rosetta technology that supported PowerPC apps, but Intuit, along with every other Mac developer, saw the end looming for old PPC apps. The light at the end of the tunnel was a 10-million watt Klieg light on a big, loud train. It appears that Intuit simply chose to neglect a portion of its customer base.

It's not quite that simple, of course, and there is finally new leadership at the company that is at least acknowledging the situation. Whether or not Intuit will ever do right by Mac users, though, is still an open question.

Quicken Essentials is Quicken for children. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Starting over
Intuit did know that relying on Rosetta was not a long-term strategy. And there were issues in the creaky old Mac Quicken code base anyway. So Intuit wrote a new version of Quicken, using the modern Apple frameworks, Objective-C and Cocoa. Intuit's new (six weeks on the job) general manager of personal finance, Aaron Forth, told me last week that the app was supposed to ship with Quicken 2007 feature parity and then replace the older product, but Intuit couldn't get it all done in time for release. Instead, the re-write of Quicken became a separate product line, unambitiously named Quicken Essentials, which lacked support for investments and for online bill payment. "Intuit saw this coming," Forth said of Apple's withdrawal of PowerPC support, "and that's why we started to build Quicken Essentials. For reasons I'm not clear about--I came to Intuit recently, with the Mint acquisition--it didn't reach feature parity." (Mint's original CEO, Aaron Patzer, took over the personal finance division at Inuit after the acquisition, but he's now "VP of product innovation.")

For Mac users who need Quicken 2007-level features, Forth says, "I'll be the first to tell you the options are not great." He enumerates three main options: 1) Don't upgrade your Mac to Lion, 2) "Upgrade" to Quicken Essentials, and 3) Try Mint.com. Neither Quicken Essentials nor Mint.com offer bill-pay options or robust investment tracking. Forth adds, "The legacy of Quicken on the Mac isn't particularly proud." Even with Quicken Essentials, which was supposed to take up the Mac torch for Intuit, he says, "the commitment has gone slower that it should have."

So will Intuit breathe new life into Quicken Essentials, and bring full financial features back to Mac users? "We're looking really hard at it," Forth says, not committing to a future and then taking another swipe at his predecessors. "Decisions that have been made in the past about...Mac desktop OSes have been rooted in the past." Meanwhile, the Mac is winning a bigger share of the future. "There's a huge market here," Forth says. I get the impression that Forth fully understands the importance for users, and potential profitability for Intuit, to bringing out a grown-up financial app on OS X. But that he's also realistic about Intuit's capability to do so, which after talking to him I'd say is not that good.

iBank looks good on the Mac and can handle investment transactions. IGG Software

Time to change
Intuit, at least, did warn its Quicken 2007 users, via e-mail campaign, that upgrading to Lion would strand their data. When I talked with Forth, the day after Lion launched, Intuit customer support lines were not overwhelmed with customers who didn't get the message. Still, Forth is considering offering a program--perhaps simply an ad-hoc one--in which users who find themselves with stranded data can send their Quicken file to Intuit, which will convert it to a standard financial format, QIF, and ship it back to them.

But what, then, can they do with it?

Quicken 2007 is not the only financial application for OS X. And at least one software vendor, tiny IGG Software, is trying, gently, to capitalize on Intuit's misstep. It's reminding the world that its app, iBank, will read the QIF data files that Quicken exports and that it offers nearly complete support for complex investment transactions. Most people will see all their transactions with 100 percent fidelity.

Since, "it's clear that Intuit is all about Mint.com now," according to IGG's founder Ian Gillespie, he's pushing iBank as offering "the best native experience" for Mac users and reminding people that storing all financial data or passwords in one place, as Mint.com does, is a potential risk. On his software, "the user owns the data," he says. On Mint, "One bad hack and there's a lot more exposed." (Intuit's Patzer has repeatedly said that Mint is secure, and to be fair it has not been hacked to date, as far as we know.)

As a business proposition, the $60 iBank app appears to be very successful. With the vacuum Intuit left in the Mac market, IGG has one of the top-grossing apps in the OS X app store. Sales jumped substantially when Intuit announced that Quicken 2007 would not work on Lion, and the app's position in the App Store is effectively advertising the concept of personal financial software to a new audience, too.

Like Forth, Gillespie is considering offering a service that can rescue stranded Quicken 2007 files from users who prematurely upgraded to Lion.

The company is a fraction of the size of Intuit. It has 16 people, Gillepsie says. At Intuit, there are "a hundred or so people killing themselves" on personal finance apps, Aaron Forth told me.

I tried iBank briefly by importing Quicken for Windows data into the app. I found that it read nearly all of my records accurately. And it is an attractive and straightforward product. For Quicken 2007 users left out in the cold, or for any Mac users who want more from a financial product than they can now get from Mint or Quicken Essentials, it's worth a serious look. Tip: Get the app on a time-limited demo from the company site; on the App Store you have to pay first.

Previously:
• Quicken 2007 may run in OS X Lion sooner or later
• Is Quicken at the end of the road?
• Quicken for the Mac: Finally!
• Reporters' Roundtable Podcast: Aaron Patzer

See also: MoneyDance, See Finance.

 

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