Nonintuitive Actions from Quicken's Maker

We journalists tend to accuse Microsoft of arrogance when the company takes actions such as threatening to decertify MCSEs unless they take tests on the newest versions of Microsoft software, retiring commonly used OSs, or rearranging licensing schemes to increase revenue, but Redmond often sees the light and recants such unpopular decisions. Now another large software company, Intuit, has pulled a maneuver more egregious than anything Microsoft has done by telling millions of its Quicken users to upgrade to Quicken 2004 by May 18 if they want to keep paying their bills online.

I use Quicken 2000 to manage my checking account. For a while, I used the program to track my investments, but it's too inflexible for my needs. (Perhaps I should have taken its portfolio clumsiness as a harbinger of what was to come for online-checking support.) I do like Quicken 2000's online bill-paying feature; I can set up a check as usual, but instead of printing the check, I tell Quicken to print the check and mail it to whomever I specify. I was troubled, then, when I opened Quicken a few weeks ago and was greeted by a notice that said I had until May 18 to upgrade to Quicken 2004 or lose the ability to pay my bills online.

The notice contained a link to more information and the opportunity to buy a software upgrade online at a reduced price. I decided to spend the $40 to buy the upgrade. The transaction was almost complete when Intuit's online shopping server failed with the message: "We're sorry. An unexpected error has occurred while processing this page. Please contact the server's administrator if this problem persists."

I would have contacted the administrator had the page included a link to report the error, but it didn't. Nor was there a phone number to contact the folks who run the online store so that I could buy the upgrade over the phone. (Hmmm, you don't often see arrogance AND incompetence at a company at the same time.) Three more attempts to buy the upgrade yielded the same failure; I sure hope the company fixes the problem before May 18--I'd really like to pay my electric bill.

This move is a silly way for Intuit to generate revenue. I love new software and usually can't wait to get my hands on the latest version of Windows or Microsoft Word, Palm Desktop, or any other popular software to discover the new doodads. Heck, I'm even impatient about Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2); I really want the new Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) pop-up blocker that comes with it. But I'm more conservative about software that manages my money, and I don't think I'm unusual on that point, given how rocky some upgrades can be. An official at Intuit basically admitted that the company was taking this action to make money; so why not simply charge online-bill-paying customers an annual fee and throw in a free upgrade every few years?

The real point isn't whether Intuit has inconvenienced me or hundreds of other customers, it's the way the company is going about it. Can you imagine the hullabaloo if Microsoft tried this tactic? You fire up your copy of Windows 2000 Professional in the morning and get a notice that your desktop OS will lose its ability to communicate over the Internet on May 18. Click here to find out how to buy an upgrade online. This example might sound far-fetched, but if Intuit can get away with its latest move, what will stop other software companies from doing things equally as odious?

Apparently, other people think the way I do. A recent article in the "Washington Post" reported that some irritated users have filed a class-action suit against Intuit over the company's latest move. For once, I hope those lawyers win.

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