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Intuit building Quicken Online

The leading makers of personal finance software step into the cloud.

Intuit is planning to release a Web-based edition of its leading personal finance application this winter, possibly early in 2008. Quicken Online marks a key transition for a company that has made its bones selling new versions of its boxed software each year.

A sneak peek at what will be Quicken Online.
A sneak peek at what will be Quicken Online. Intuit

I've wondered for a while when a big software brand would offer online financial software with some measure of security and a respectable amount of features beyond basic bank account check-ins. The few that I tested late last year were woefully inadequate. Few people seem willing to trust their personal finances with an unknown brand, for what would happen if that startup went belly up?

A few years ago, folks at Intuit told me they saw virtually no demand for online tools. Last week, the company said it's taken so long to cook up Quicken Online due to the lack of consumer trust. While it may be common for those within the technobubbles of Silicon Valley and San Francisco to opt for paperless billing, many millions more see managing their money via the Internet as about as safe as dropping a wallet in a mall.

Plus, it must be hard for a company to perfect a private service that cooperates with third-party institutions. It's a no-brainer that there will be SSL encryption, the same security measures used by online banks. But how many bank accounts, and what types, will Quicken Online access, for instance? What about tie-ins to TurboTax, eBay or Google's services?

Beyond basic account balancing, charts, reports and potential bill payment services, Intuit won't specify other potential features. For now, the JAVA/JSF interface appears to mimic the desktop counterpart, highlighting current Money In, Money Out, and savings or debt by drawing from savings, checking, credit card, and investment accounts. It will automatically categorize expenses and income by source. The main page asks, "Am I living within my means?" Ahem.

With personal debt levels at an all-time high and the mortgage meltdown shaking up markets worldwide, Intuit is repackaging Quicken Basic as the $29 Starter Edition, for newbies to digital finance. I'll welcome any tool that shaves off those little, yet sure-to-snowball bank fees, but only testing will tell how well this application performs. Many CNET readers post passionately to our forums about Quicken's frequent crashes and other woes.

The other four boxed iterations of Quicken 2008, available August 27, are labeled better than in the past to target their markets: the $59 Quicken Deluxe to help with savings, $89 Premier with investment assistance, and the $99 Home & Business. Some new features include a desktop gadget for Windows Vista, PayPal integration, and new ways to display money in and out.

Meanwhile, Quicken Online has been undergoing closed testing, with beta testing set to open on September 10 to some limited thousands of early birds who join the wait list.

Intuit Quicken already offers online backup for between $9.99 per year for 100MB, $49.99 for 1GB, or $149.99 for 10GB. Microsoft Money also offers data backup and has traditionally offered more free access to your data on the Web than Intuit, although requiring a Passport (now Windows Live) account to do so.