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A Closer Look

'Sunset Policy' Stymies Loyal Quicken Users

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 6, 2005; Page F07

Users of the popular Quicken financial management program are facing a yearly ritual this April that many dread and none enjoy -- a ritual that does not involve any 1040 forms.

It's Intuit Inc.'s forced retirement of the online components of slightly dated versions of Quicken, which has long dominated the personal finance management-software market.


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This year, the 2001 and 2002 versions of Quicken got the ax, as Intuit informed affected customers via postal mail, e-mail and pop-up messages in the program. On April 19, those programs will no longer be able to download financial data (such as stock quotes or bank statements), make online bill payments or be eligible for technical support.

Intuit calls this phase-out of older software its "sunset policy," and nothing rankles some Intuit customers quite like it. This "sunsetting" means they will either have to start typing in all their financial data, from credit card bills to 401(k) statements, by hand, instead of simply downloading it into Quicken -- or pay to upgrade to a new and unfamiliar version of the program.

"They haven't offered any compelling reason for me to upgrade, so now they are just trying nasty stuff to try and make me upgrade," said Dan Doernberg, a Charlottesville resident who has used Quicken and other Intuit products for 12 years. "They're effectively breaking the old software; it's not that they just aren't supporting it anymore."

Chris Repetto, senior public relations manager at Intuit, said the company doesn't have the resources to support the old software. It costs money to provide account-data downloads and to maintain the appropriate databases, he said, money that would get siphoned off from products the company is developing.

Repetto said most customers upgrade every other year anyway. And, as he put it, "Ford doesn't make parts for the Model-T anymore." The company has not issued a sunset date for newer versions, but if it sticks to its pattern, Quicken 2003 has about a year to live.

A lack of easy alternatives may explain why Intuit's policy doesn't seem to be chasing away buyers. Microsoft Money, the product's main competitor, comes with only two years of online services included with purchase. Quicken 2005 occupies the No. 8 slot on NPD Group's most recent list of top-selling software.

Some users have asked why the company can't move to a subscription model instead of pulling the plug at seemingly arbitrary intervals. They've also asked why customers who like the old software can't just pay a fee to keep the data feeds coming. Repetto said the company had considered but rejected such alternative models, saying most customers would be uncomfortable with them.

Some of Intuit's customers remain staunch defenders of the company's right to nudge its customers along to newer versions. Jim Henry, a Quicken user in Tucson, wrote in an e-mail that Intuit's policy is "reasonable and to be expected."

On the other end of the spectrum, Alan Bloom, a Quicken user in Boulder, Colo., finally dropped the program a few weeks ago -- the sunset policy capped a long run of Quicken frustrations, including a buggy installation of Quicken 2005 and his subsequent inability to get Intuit's tech support on the phone. He now uses Microsoft's Money 2005 -- and so far, so good.

"I basically traded a tiger for a lion, but it's my small way of protesting," he said. "Intuit won't get my last $49.95."

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