Saturday, December 24, 2011

Quicken: A case of software arrogance

There are some parallels to be drawn between Intuit and its Quicken software and the media industry. Both have tended to do things because they can, not because they really understand the needs of their consumers.

 Intuit's Quicken 2012 is a good example. One truly wonders how much usability testing it was put through before release.

If you've used Quicken for years, as I have, its combination of spreadsheet views,when necessary, and database aggregation made it a very powerful tool. But now the developers - or marketers - at Quicken apparently have decided they know best. What has resulted is a piece of bloatware (required 1GB of memory to run) loaded with non-optional graphical interfaces that sometimes are less easy to understand than a simple spreadsheet in colors and that severely restrict the options and functionality.

The best example is the "new" budget. It's a circus of colored bars arrows, drop-down boxes, etc., but with less functionality than the original spreadsheet version. For instance:
  • You can't do a specific budget out for more than 12 months from the current month. So if I want to sit down today and do all of a 2012 budget, guess what? I can't do December 2012. December is usually a month of some pretty big inflows and outflows, gifts and travel on one side, and things like capital gains on the other. Yet I have to wait until January to put those in the form? So you've just decreased my efficiency.
  • Once a month has passed, you are locked out from making any changes. So let's say I decided to make a big purchase at the end of a month and pay for it with a sizable withdrawal from savings. If I wait a day or two to enter it, the month's end might have passed, and I'm locked out.
  • Maybe I make an advance payment on a loan. I have to wait a week or two (even online) to get the statement showing the adjusted principle and interest. If I've passed month's end, I'm locked out.
And on and on. Even generating the budget favors more using averages than specifics.

What's it matter? After all, you still get a general sense of spending, right? Yes, but sometimes - fairly often judging by the complaints on Intuit's third-party complaint forum - a more detailed look is not only appreciated but needed. Being able to generate a year-to-date budget report that is as close to up-to-the-minute as possible can be quite important at times.

In trying to create  "Quicken for Dummies," Intuit has severely limited its product - and the irony is that in in doing this, the bloatware is actually less useful than a slimmer, more elegant version.

That's a lot like the media business was, if you think about it: We'll tell you what features you'll get - and you'll like it. Customer feedback is kind of shunted off to the side.

When options became available, people quickly fled.

For now, there aren't that many options. Microsoft is not developing "Money " anymore, though there is a free, lite version. And Intuit owns "The Mint." But Intiut might take a lesson from the media. In this digital age, nothing is forever, especially when you try to force things down customers' throats.

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At 12/26/11, 9:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree completely. The Quicken budget used to be very useful. Now it's just a pain and we have lost functionality. We can no longer use negative numbers. If you go over budget, it says that that you don't have money left. Well -$50.00 and -$50,000.00 seem a little different to me. Also the labels on the advanced budget are wrong. It's a rolling 12, not an annual budget anymore.

At 12/26/11, 10:42 AM, Blogger SiouxGeonz said...

Interesting that you subsequently posted that numeracy was a miniscule problem. Methinks it's the problem here, as well -- the steering of the populace away from actually working with numbers...

At 12/27/11, 3:49 PM, Blogger Doug said...

That "minuscule" in that headline was intended to be tongue in cheek.

Ask my editing students, who have to deal with numeracy for about 10 out of 14 weeks, how "minuscule" I think the ability to deal intelligently with numbers is. {grin}

I agree with your assessment of the overall problem. What I've discovered with quicken, however, is that it's a bloody interface design problem. Too complicated to go into here, but if you can read this linkwithout logging into Quicken's "Get Satisfaction" forum, I explain further.


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