A world without Quicken

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For as nearly as far back as I can remember—and in this particular case, I can remember as far back as 2001—the dog days of August have always included the release of the latest version of Quicken. That’s not happening this time around, at least not on the Mac side. Intuit updated the Windows version of its personal finance manager a couple of weeks ago. That, plus the fact that a Mac update was MIA plus some online reports that a sales rep was telling folks that Quicken 2007 would be the last Mac version of the app fueled rumors that Quicken’s days on the Mac were numbered.

They’re not, apparently, at least not according to Intuit, which you would think would have the inside dope on the matter. Quicken’s Mac delay, Intuit says, is linked to OS X 10.5’s delay, meaning that the next Mac version won’t appear until after Leopard’s October 2007 release. And besides a desktop version, Intuit is also working on an online edition of Quicken, which should arrive in 2008. Intuit says the online edition will be “platform agnostic,” allowing users to track their finances “via any Web browser.”

So that’s something to look forward to—both the desktop version of Quicken and its Web-based counterpart. It’s always encouraging to hear a major developer reaffirm its commitment to the Mac platform. And, as the rise of Google’s online applications indicates, it’s always interesting to explore online alternatives to desktop-bound stalwarts. I hope to see more from Intuit on both fronts.

But some of the forum back-and-forth over this Quicken business got me thinking: Would it be that earth-shattering a development if Intuit were to scale back its Mac presence? That is, if it were to slow down the pace of its software updates or to shift more of its development resources to an online version—would that be a cause for legitimate worry among Mac users?

I suppose, in a sense, it might be. If a developer reaffirming its Mac commitment is encouraging, as I said it was earlier, then a developer curtailing Mac support would seem to be the opposite. But there are other factors at play here.

First off, recent revisions to Quicken have added some features, though nothing that could be considered truly revolutionary. The 2007 edition of the software added a QuickEntry Dashboard widget while the 2006 version added a Smart Payee feature, .Mac backup, and greater scheduling flexibility. Nice enhancements, sure, but nothing that necessarily commands an upgrade. In fact, Macworld ’s reviews of the last four versions of Quicken—2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004 —all included some variation of this buying advice offered by Chris Barylick in his review of Quicken Mac 2007: “If a previous version of Quicken is working well for you, then the additional bells and whistles may not be necessary.” Second, Quicken might still be the pre-eminent personal finance app on the Mac, but it’s not the only game in town. Our September 2007 issue includes a profile of eight Quicken alternatives. Based on reader feedback, the article could have included a ninth alternative— Moneydance, which just came out with a new version. Having that many choices is usually the sign of a healthy market. This is not the Mac platform of a decade ago, where yanking a product might cause the rest of the market to topple like a poorly constructed Jenga tower—the Mac universe is strong enough these days to withstand such ebbs and flows, and that goes for Quicken as much as any product.

Of course, if we take Intuit at its word, we needn’t worry about the impact of such a departure. In fact, if the delay in releasing a 2008 edition of Quicken gives the company time to work on a substantive upgrade of the application or a truly platform-agnostic personal finance tool (or, even better, both) then it’s ultimately a positive for everyone concerned—for Intuit and for Mac users.

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