by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Last week's announcement that Intuit was ceasing development of Quicken for Macintosh due to declining sales fostered a slew of negative reactions (see "Intuit Drops Quicken for Macintosh" in TidBITS-426). Comments from Steve Jobs at Apple's annual shareholders meeting last week offered encouragement that Intuit may reconsider, but it remains to be seen how the situation will play out.
Who's to Blame? Discussion on the new TidBITS Talk list proved interesting, with blame for the move being laid not just on Intuit, but also on Apple. A number of people felt that Intuit failed to provide compelling upgrades, commenting that Quicken's new features were too fluffy, and that features in the Windows version never materialized for Mac users. Also, some people felt that earlier versions of Quicken did everything they wanted, so there was no reason to upgrade.
Initially, I hadn't given sufficient credence to the argument that the fault for Intuit's move lay in part with Apple. But, a portion of Intuit's dominance came thanks to Apple, which bundled versions of Quicken with many Performa models, and a search through TidBITS revealed that Claris was bundling Quicken with ClarisWorks as early as 1992. Given Quicken's market dominance, bundling Quicken with other products eroded the population of new users and people who upgrade previous copies, ensuring that each new release had a smaller potential audience than the last.
Steve Lunseth, CEO of Aatrix software, makers of Quicken competitor CheckWriter Pro, noted that Apple's bundling deals with Intuit caused other personal finance programs to disappear, since it's hard to compete with free software available with every Performa. In short, if the loss of Quicken for the Mac is considered a problem for Apple, Apple must accept some blame for creating its own fate.
Alternatives -- In large part as a result of Apple's bundling of Quicken, Aatrix stopped selling CheckWriter Pro, and MECA Software put Managing Your Money into similar mothballs. In fact, the only remaining personal finance program is MacMoney from the aptly named Survivor Software. Mike Farmer, CEO of Survivor Software, commented, "We may not have the budget to run ads, but we have supported our product and made enhancements over the years." Mike also noted that MacMoney reads QIF files, so Quicken users can move most data over if they want to switch.
I asked Steve Lunseth if he'd consider reviving CheckWriter Pro, given the situation with Intuit and Quicken. He immediately told me that CheckWriter Pro works fine under Mac OS 8 and rattled off an impressive sounding feature set. Then he paused and said if Intuit leaves Quicken 98 for the Macintosh in its current state and if Apple will support other developers and help foster competition, he'll put CheckWriter Pro back on the market.
Although the only information I received from an email exchange with MECA Software was that Managing Your Money is no longer a retail product, I wouldn't be surprised if it too could recover, given sufficient incentive.
It's Up to Apple -- We're starting to see some pieces coming together here, and it's not an entirely rosy picture. In Henry Norr's report on MacInTouch about Apple's annual shareholder meeting, Steve Jobs is quoted as saying that Apple should shoulder much of the blame for "failing to get in Intuit's face." But, as discussed above, Apple's lack of evangelism for Intuit isn't the entire story.
Steve Lunseth said that he'd revive CheckWriter Pro if Apple would help support other developers. Unfortunately, as Geoff Duncan noted in "Furor Over Developer Programs & QuickTime Licensing" in TidBITS-425, Apple doesn't seem interested in smaller developers right now. In Henry's report on Apple's annual meeting, he notes that Jobs defended the new Apple developer programs, claiming that Apple must devote more resources to the top 100 Macintosh developers.
Although it's true that Apple needs the top 100 developers to survive and thrive, I fear this may be another case of Apple ignoring lines of influence in the industry. Small developers often make up the talent pool absorbed by large companies, and smaller developers are often a source of new ideas, particularly in emerging markets.
Lines of influence can be important, and short-term financial gains may come at a huge long-term loss. Look at HyperCard. It was free for several years, and in that time, it enabled thousands of individuals to create small, useful solutions to specific problems. The fact that those solutions required HyperCard, which in turn required a Macintosh, meant the Mac was guaranteed its position in certain organizations as long as a HyperCard solution remained necessary. By trying to make HyperCard into a commercial multimedia authoring tool, Apple eliminated thousands of small developers who then never had a chance to create software that would ensconce the Macintosh in new places.
I know no more than anyone else about Apple's and Intuit's plans for future Macintosh development; however, I sincerely hope they don't continue to shut out other developers. We would all be the poorer for it.