Right away, you should know something about me. I am a die-hard Quicken user. I’ve been using Quicken on the Mac since 1994, which happens to be the point in time where I decided that controlling my personal finances was fundamentally important. In fact, one of my most popular blog posts is about how to hack in and fix a rather arcane (but common) issue with Quicken 2007.
So it pains me to write this blog post, because the situation with Quicken for the Mac has become extremely dire. Intuit has really backed themselves into a corner, and not surprisingly, Apple has no interest in bailing them out. However, since I love the Mac, and I love Quicken, I’m desperately looking for a way out of this problem.
Problem: Mac OS X Lion (10.7) is imminent
Yesterday, I got this email from Intuit:
It links to this blog post on the Intuit site. The options are not pretty:
- You can switch to Quicken Essentials for Mac. It’s a great new application written from the ground up. In their words, “this option is ideal if you do not track investment transactions and history, use online bill pay or rely on specific reports that might not be present in Quicken Essentials for Mac.” Um, sorry, who in their right mind doesn’t want to track “investment transactions”? Turns out, at tax time, knowing the details of what you bought, at what price, and when are kind of important. At least, the IRS thinks so. And they can put you in jail and take everything you own. So I’m going with them on this one. No dice.
- You can switch to Mint. I love Mint, and I’ve been using it for years. But once again, “This option is ideal if maintaining your transaction history is not important to you.” Yeesh. For me, Mint is something I use in addition to Quicken. Unfortunately, Mint is basically blind to anything it can’t integrate with online. Which includes my 401k, for example.
- You can switch to Quicken for Windows. Seriously? 1999 called and they want their advice back. Switch to Windows? Intuit would get a better response here if they just sent Mac users a picture of a huge middle finger. By the way, to add insult to injury: “You can easily convert your Quicken Mac data with the exception of Investment transaction history. You will need to either re-download your investment transactions or manually enter them.”
This is an epic disaster. I’m not sure how many people are actually affected. But the Trojan War involved tens of thousands of troops, so I’m going with Homer’s definition of “Epic”.
What’s the Problem?
There are really three issues at play here:
- Strike 1. Around 2000, Intuit made the mistake of abandoning the Mac. Hey, they thought it was the prudent thing to do then. After all, Apple was dying. (The bar talk between Adobe & Intuit on this mistake must be really fun a few drinks into the evening.) Whoops. This led Intuit to massively under-invest in their Mac codebase, yielding a monstrosity that apparently no one in their right mind wants to touch. From everything I hear, Quicken 2007 for the Mac might as well be written in Fortran and require punch cards to compile. Untouchable. Untouchable, unfortunately, means unfixable.
- Strike 2. Sometime in the past few years, someone decided that Quicken Essentials for the Mac didn’t need to track investment transactions properly. I’ve spent more than a decade in software product management, so I have compassion for how hard that decision must have been. But in the end, it was a very expensive decision, and even if it was necessary, it should have mandated a fast follow with that capability. It’s a bizarre miss given that tracking investment transactions is a basic tax requirement. (See note on the IRS above)
- Strike 3. Apple announces the move from PowerPC chips to Intel chips in June 2005. Yes, that’s *six* years ago. Fast forward to June 2011, and Apple announces that their latest operating system, Mac OS X Lion, will not support the backwards compatibility software to allow PowerPC applications to run on Intel Macs.
This is Intuit’s Fault.
With all due respect to my good friends at Intuit, this problem is really Intuit’s fault. Intuit had six years to make this migration, and to be honest, Apple is rarely the type of company to support long transitions like this. You are talking about the company that killed floppy drives almost immediately in favor of USB in 2000, with no warning. They dropped support for Mac OS Classic in just a few years. It’s not like Apple was going back to PowerPC.
If you examine the three strikes, you see that Intuit made a couple of tactical & strategic mistakes here. But in the end, they called several plays wrong, and now they are vulnerable.
Intuit would argue that Apple could still ship Rosetta on Mac OS X Lion. Or maybe they could license Rosetta to Intuit to bundle with Quicken 2007.
Apple’s not going to do it. They want to simplify the operating system (brutally). They want to push software developers to new code, new user experience, and best-in-class applications. They do not want to create zombie applications that necessitate bug-for-bug fixes over the long term. Microsoft did too much of this with Windows over the past two decades, and it definitely held them back at an operating system level.
A Proposed Solution: VMware to the rescue
I believe there is a possible solution. Apple has announced that Mac OS X Lion will include a change to the terms of service to allow for virtualization. If this is true, this reflects a fundamental shift in Apple’s attitude toward this technology.
- Custom “headless” install of Mac OS X 10.6.8, stripped to just support the launch of Quicken 2007.
- Quicken 2007 R4 installed / configured to run at launch
- Distribution as VMware image
OK, this solution isn’t perfect, but it is plausible. Many system utilities are distributed with stripped, headless versions of Mac OS X. In fact, Apple’s install disks for Mac OS X have been built this way. A VMware image allows Intuit to configure & test a standard release package, and ensure it works. They can distribute new images as necessary.
The cost of VMware Fusion for the Mac is non trivial, but actually roughly the same price as a new version of Quicken. I’m guessing that Intuit & VMware might be able to work out a deal here, especially since Intuit would be promoting VMware to a large number of Mac users, and even subsidizing it’s adoption.
Will Apple Allow It?
This is always the $64,000 question, but theoretically, this feels like really not much of a give on Apple’s part. They are changing the virtualization terms for Mac OS X Lion, so why not change them for Snow Leopard to0.
Can We Fix It?
I’m a daily VMware Fusion user, which is how I use both Windows & Mac operating systems on my MacBook Pro. If Intuit can’t work this out, I just might try to hack this solution myself.
In the end, I’m a loyal Intuit customer. I buy TurboTax every year, and I use Quicken every week. So I’m hoping we can all find a path here.
Feel free to comment if you have ideas.