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Microsoft mints Money 99

The software giant says it will roll out its Money 99 Financial Suite this month, featuring personalized financial planning tools.

Microsoft said today that it will roll out its Money 99 Financial Suite this month, featuring personalized financial planning tools and further connectivity with investment institutions that host online services.

The company will post a trial version of Money 99 to its Web page starting August 27. Money 99 features a redesigned Financial Home Page, which provides a customizable launching pad for the product, including a snapshot of personal finances and current financial news. The financial management software also features links to financial institutions with online services allowing users to download statements, transfer funds, and pay bills.

The final version of the suite is expected to ship in the fall.

Though the new product features tighter integration with the Web and redesigned front door, analysts said it's going to take more than a new look and additional capabilities to close the gap between its chief competitor and leader in the personal finance management market, Intuit, the developer of finance management software Quicken.

"It all has less to do with product and more to do with the market," said Nicole Vanderbilt, an analyst with Jupitor Communications. "Intuit has a loyal market out there that has little to do with feature sets."

She said Microsoft will have to continue teaming up with banks and other financial service providers to make the product more attractive beyond the feature sets and redesigned front door.

With Money 99, Microsoft is starting to figure that out.

While developing its latest personal finance management package, Microsoft teamed up with American Express Financial Advisors to add new investment planning features into the product.

"We wanted to find out how to incorporate their expertise into our software," said Julie O'Brien, product manager of Microsoft Money.

Money 99 lets users create a "lifetime planner," to set longtime financial goals such as retirement, college, or home ownership. The planner is linked to the user's daily finances, automatically updating when the user makes a change, keeping the plans current. The planner is a direct result of its partnership with American Express.

The Decision Center feature provides information and tools to help users make choices about such things as insurance and home buying, and includes more than 250 articles, 4 worksheets, 17 planning calculators, and Money 99 Market Place, which includes links to Web sites with special promotions for Money users.

"We wanted to provide tools for people to understand all of the vast financial data out there, use the information to make plans, and act on those plans," O'Brien said.

The Money help features have been enhanced since the last version, allowing users to ask questions in their own words and get answers and assistance from "answer wizards," using Microsoft's Natural Language Query technology. By opening the help feature, users get a list of the most common help topics by area, and also have access to written, video, and audio assistance.

The new suite is regularly priced at $64.95, but there is a $25 rebate for licensed users valid through November 30, 1999, the company said.