Show Me The Money

The Ever-Elusive Personal Finance Manager

I worked as a developer on the Microsoft Money team for a little over two releases (Money 99 – Money 2001).  During my time on Money, it made its transition in the eyes of the press from an inferior Quicken wannabe into what reviewers would agree is a superior product (the dramatic improvement wasn’t due to me, of course — I just happened to have graduated in 1998).  Despite this, I ultimately left the team because I was frustrated by the direction that Money was being led.  Instead of making Money into what we knew users wanted, we were busy trying to match Quicken and meet MSN goals.  This is the back story regarding what eventually led to my departure.

Time to take a break for a shameless disclaimer.  What follows are my own opinions and perceptions of what happened.  The facts I present may be completely wrong.  I may discover years later that I had a grapefruit-sized tumor in my brain during my years on Money.  And regardless of what I say below, the Money team was one of the most enjoyable, cohesive set of folks I’ve ever worked with.  And I still love the product, warts and all.

The majority of consumers who buy computers claim that personal finance management is one of the top three reasons they are purchasing a PC.  They’ve been claiming this for more than a decade.  But only somewhere around 2% of consumers end up using a personal finance manager (“PFM”), with Intuit Quicken and Microsoft Money dominating the market.  Both products have been around for — you guessed it — more than a decade.  This dramatic disconnect between consumer demand and actual market penetration is mind-boggling.

Take a guess at what percentage of consumers launch Money ever again, after running it only once.  You’ll need to remove a digit from whatever percentage you’re currently guessing.  It’s seriously that low.  Granted, most copies of Money are actually pre-installed by the OEM on consumer machines, so you’re not exactly dealing with a captive audience.  But we’re still looking at a huge discrepancy between expressed consumer desire and actual consumer behavior.  There’s a lot of money to be made if we solve this mystery!

From Money 99 to Money 2001, the product suffered from two major debilitations that ultimately ended up in disappointed customers:

  1. Competition with Quicken.  Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for competition in software.  The dynamics of competition with Quicken, however, created an environment that ultimately did not serve customers.
  2. Money’s subjection to MSN success metrics.  Money is part of the MSN organization.  During the heady dot-com days, when all reason was tossed to the wind, Money’s success was measured against the same metrics that other MSN properties (read: “websites“) used.

We’ll need to take these one at a time.


Competition with Quicken

Before all The HatersTM spam my inbox, let me go on the record saying that competition in software is almost always good for the consumer.  After all, who can forget the BBS days, back when ProCOMM and QModem were suddenly assaulted by Telemate, a multi-tasking DOS-based modem program written by — brace yourself — one Japanese guy.  No doubt in my mind that competition breeds innovation.  (Whatever happened to Telemate’s author, anyway?  Unbelievable what he achieved. With Telemate, you could download one game, unzip another, and play hangman all at the same time — I kid you not.)

Brief refresher on how the PFM market works:  consumers don’t buy PFMs for themselves.  They don’t.  Well, maybe three of them do.  But the bulk of the PFM market resembles two other markets:

  • Deer Hunter.  What?  Not familiar with the multi-platinum PC game title that has sold gazillions of copies after 5+ versions?  It’s a game where you shoot deer.  Seriously.  Stay downwind, keep quiet, the whole works.  Anyway, the point is that you don’t buy Deer Hunter for ~yourself~.  Heck no.  You buy it for your husband.  For your dad.  For some business client that just signed a billion-dollar deal with your firm.
  • Anti-virus.  Your parents’ Pentium 60 still has the same anti-virus program that originally came bundled with their PC.  And it’s probably got Money 97 on it.  Enough said.

The reality of the PFM market is that it’s completely driven by journalists’ reviews of the software.  Don’t know which PFM to buy dad?  Check the PC Magazine review.  Want to know which PFM to pre-install with your new line of consumer PCs?  Read the Wall Street Journal review.

Rewind back to 1998.  Quicken led the PFM market, and had pretty much been spanking Money with thousand dollar bills.  Intuit, Quicken’s parent company, called the shots.  The only chance Money had to survive was to win reviews.  Reviews were everything.  All hands were on deck to match Quicken feature for feature… there was a veritable cover-of-the-box bullet-point shootout at the PFM Corral.  Direct from the Money 2001 Deluxe box:

  • “Track employee stock options!”
  • “Shop for insurance through MSN MoneyCentral!”
  • “Gain insights into IPOs!”

You’d think Money users were all upper-middle class technocrats.

Fact of the matter is that we knew from years of usability studies that what users most wanted was a simple system that helped them do the most basic of things.  Track a monthly budget.  Get out of debt.  Figure out what’s left in the checking account.  Try as we might to improve these things, we couldn’t invest seriously in fixing these basic user experiences.  What if Quicken were to come out with support for calls and puts?  Indeed, that too came to pass, and reviewers latched on to the fact that the new Quicken supported call and put options.  What followed was a Reagan-esque Features Arms RaceTM.  It was all you could do to close your eyes, hang on, and add yet another feature.

There was simply neither interest nor leeway to improve the usability of the core features of Money.  For the business to survive, we had to match Quicken move for needless move, feature for futile feature.  It’s little surprise that users flocked to online bank websites in preference to using Money or Quicken.  What?  My current bank balance, without entering any transactions manually?  Single-click bill payment?  Simple budget categories?  Sign me up!


Money’s Subjection to MSN Success Metrics

Microsoft Money is considered part of the MSN family of products, and has been for many years.  It was thought that the consumer products division, of which Money was a part, should belong in MSN.  As a property of MSN, Money’s success or failure was judged by execs using the same metrics as MSN’s websites.

You might have missed that.  After all, this article’s kind of long.  So let me say that again.  Money’s success or failure was judged using the same metrics as MSN’s websites.

Metrics like minutes viewed per month.  Like ad revenue.  Like click-through.  Stickiness.  I am not making this up.

I sat through meetings where we were asked to research ways in which to increase the amount of time that users spent in MoneyIncrease the amount of time!  Users always ask for the exact opposite.  Users want a Navy Seal relationship with Money — get in quietly, do the job quickly, leave no comrade behind, maybe smoke a little afterwards.  We got busy making Money into a needy girlfriend.  “Let’s make it so fun and engaging people won’t want to leave!”  Users would rather be scheduled for a root canal than to spend another minute trying to balance a checkbook.

A goal was set to increase ad revenue by 600%.  At this point in time, during the heady dot-com days, Money was already filled with banner ads.  It even installed several icons on the desktop hawking E*Trade and other bygones.  How were we supposed to increase the revenue another sixfold?  Someone suggested showing the banner ads even faster — essentially increasing the “frame rate,” if you will.  Click-through infected the product similarly.  Push MSN websites!  Get ’em to click through!  We get referrals!

It was 1999.  Twenty-year-olds were millionaires.  Anything was possible.  Money was judged as a portal, so a portal it became.  Thing is, no one wanted a sticky, ad-serving, time-consuming personal finance application.


Silver Lining

Fear not!  The story has a happy ending!  After all, Money still holds a special spot in my techie heart.  I wouldn’t leave it hanging.

Money is no longer laser-focused on beating Quicken.  We realized that the PFM pie is much bigger than just getting upper middle class folks to read reviews and buy Money for their favorite uncle.  There’s now much more focus on getting simple things done.  Integration with MoneyCentral is going well.  The web forces you to simplify.  And in personal finance software, simple = good.

Funny enough, the other reason the arms race with Quicken is no longer as interesting is that both sides have lost some motivation.  Starting with Money 2002, Money has “won“ more reviews than Quicken.  It’s often thought to be the superior product by key reviewers.  Turns out Quicken’s not that interested in beating Money either.  Intuit’s business is founded on taxes and accounting.  Just look at the 10-Ks — TurboTax and QuickBooks dwarf any revenues that Quicken brings in.  It’s not at all a stretch to say that Quicken’s raison d’etre is to drive TurboTax sales.

And what of treating Money like a web portal?  Fortunately, the bubble burst and all sins were forgiven.  Money is no longer evaluated on things like minutes of use per month.  Sanity has returned and all is well.

Comments (115)

  1. matthew says:

    As a Money user, I got Money 2003. I don’t have especially complex financial affairs, but nonetheless I manually enter all transactions from my online banking (they refuse to support any downloadable statements, apparently for security reasons).

    It seems like a nice program but:

    the ‘sign in to Microsoft Money with a passport’ seems to be the exact same marketing bullshit that gave birth to the 1999 banner ads you talk about. It provides NO VALUE to me. None. But all the same I am told that I am really losing out when I sign up if I don’t .NET-enable my account I believe it….. Of course it turns out that any features that might actually useful for me such as to view and add transactions to my accounts from overseas don’t exist. The only thing it apparently does is allow me to view my investment portfolio online…..

    But I don’t have an investment portfolio, so there is no value in this. Once I realized this, can I turn off the stupid .NET sign it? Can I hell…..

    Apart from that, how many people actually work on Money 2003? I tried the 2004 demo, and there are zero new features (that I would use for my limited account management scenario) or UI improvements.


    So I guess Microsoft sees Money as finished, much like Internet Explorer? No more improvements?

  2. Joku says:

    When Longhorn comes, I expect I can access the banks from an avalon app and view the history graphs etc stock information that banks provides using the app, not by downloading some images. All technically possible now, but not in a manner that would be accessable from your-favorite-app and work with every bank which provides internet access to their data. Sucks.

  3. Joku says:

    The bank of course has a proprietary card reader for purchase, which works with proprietary program. How lame is that.

  4. Pat Rice says:

    Joel Spolsky once said that a yearly release cycle (e.g., a new version every August, like Money) leaves you about three months for actual development.

    Given the minimal differences between successive releases of Money, I’m inclined to believe him.

    The biggest problem with Money is *performance*. Money is too darn slow. I suspect this is due to the hacked-up non-standard database engine it uses.

    People have been complaining for years about Money’s miserable performance, but Microsoft never seems to do anything about it.

  5. All that said is true. I do enter transactions mostly manually since automatic download rarely matches correctly and adds tons of payees which I don’t need. For example, after using automatic download for a while I now have probably 20 different gas stations. Do I care? No. I enter everything manually as GAS. I don’t care if is Shell or Texaco or whatever. It seems like nobody tests manual entry anyway. I have been using Money since 1998. It is 2004 now and it still has same bugs. Here is my favorite: in investment transaction choose Buy and enter number of shares. Now switch to another app (typically a Web browser which is displaying your brokerage account history), remember share price, go back to Money and enter it. Click in total – Money won’t calculate total amount after you switched focus to another app. Another pet peeve: I don’t want to track investments by company name. Ticker symbol is enough. And yet Money always begins with company name when it sees new name. "Please tell me what MSFT is" – is it that difficult to quickly search stock ticker database and guess that user is entering a fund or a stock?

    Quicken is no better. I am still looking for a good PFM.

  6. Money 2004 is an improvement over Money 2002, hopefully 2006 will continue the trend. I wish they were able to stay more current, though. My bank changed names well over a year ago and the new name is not listed in Money 2004, nor is the correct web site, so the online banking thing is broken completely.

    No online banking = no use to me.

    I am one of those "buy for yourself, install, use 2 or 3 times [to verify that yes, it is still teh brok3n] then never use again" people.

  7. Scott says:

    Who would I talk to about the Money product now? My wife and I use it, but the budgeting tool, specifically the debt reduction plan, is pretty useless as it assumes you are going to pay off one debt at a time instead of paying a little bit on each debt each month. There is no way to convince it otherwise.

  8. Philip Su (author) says:

    Scott — you asked about Money product support. You might want to give the Money community a shot… users from around the world discuss Money and help one another on the forum, and Microsoft Money folks also hang out there. More information about the newsgroup at

  9. G’day Philip, great post, thanks for the insight into some of what goes on inside the big house. My single experience with Money? Getting Money 98 or something pre-installed on a PC, but not running it till a lot later (8 months?) and being told I couldn’t run that version any longer as the year had changed!

  10. Philip Su Shows Me The Money

  11. Dylan Greene says:

    Hey man, it’s been a while! Your writeup on Money is, well, right on the money.

    I installed Money after seeing that you worked on it (great Making Of video for the TabletPC book, btw). What a pain in the ass… I’m back to using a stupid little Excel spreadsheet that does the job perfectly. I should sell it as "Money 2006" to beat MS to the punch.

  12. Pat Rice wrote:

    > Joel Spolsky once said that a yearly release

    > cycle (e.g., a new version every August,

    > like Money) leaves you about three months

    > for actual development.

    Pat, I think I disagree.

    When I worked at Sierra, we shipped a new version of our product (Generations Family Tree) every 3 to 6 months or so. Every version had new features, bug fixes, new content, etc.

    I think the bigger problem that Money has right now is that there isn’t much left to add to the product in terms of features.

  13. says:

    Philipsu’s article titled on his blog The World is as best as I remember it is a good read. Philipsu is a recruiter at Microsoft, and graduated from (Hoooaaaa) University of Maryland. A bit of an ego-booster now, may…

  14. Show me the money is an interesting tale of Microsoft Money from a guy who now manages software development in Tablet PC group at Microsoft. Money’s success or failure was judged using the same metrics as MSN’s websites. Metrics like…

  15. Best features they could add to Money for most people (extrapolating from my own experience, of course) would be:

    1) Cut 80% of the features.

    2) Speed it up by a factor of five.

    Coincidentally, doing the first would probably lead fairly naturally to the second ;P.

  16. dan says:

    i’d rather stab myself in the eye than have to sign into M$ PA$$PORT anything!

  17. Bill says:

    yeah, I’m one of the "antivirus" users – bought quicken in the ’80s and just used it. When I went Mac a year ago I finally broke down and bought the new version. Lots of good features, but… who cares.

    My disclaimer – I’m in IS mgmt at a major bank. Funny, eh?

  18. Mike says:

    My purchase of MS Money 2001, back in 2000, was one of the biggest wastes of money I’ve ever made! It was terrible. I gave up on it after 2 weeks. I haven’t used a PFM since as it was my first and only experience.

  19. Ironic.

    Terminal programs are a good example of why Money is going nowhere.

    I mean, who cares about termninal programs? Windows comes with this thing called "Hyperterminal" that has more options than I can imagine, all based on dialing modems to command line bulleting board systems. It may be the best command line BBS terminal program ever, I wouldn’t know. It even does telnet, I hear, but I haven’t bothered to look. I use the command line telnet in a cmd.exe window. It does what I need when I need it, and it works.

    Hey, Microsoft, add a command line ssh and I’d be in hog heaven. Just port OpenSSH to cmd.exe, and I wouldn’t need to use the hyperterminal-style windows ssh clients ever again, *and* I could use scp from batch files. Wouldn’t that be sweet?

    Never happen. No banner adds, no clickthoughs.

  20. danceschool says:

    :Before all The Haters spam my inbox, let me go on the

    :record saying that competition in software is almost

    :always good for the consumer.

    Neither your employer nor the USPTO seem to agree with you on that one 🙁

  21. Durn Linux user says:

    Darn, money doesn’t run on Linux. I guess pleasing the customer doesn’t really mean much unless they are already a customer.

    Microsoft ought to stop the stealth anti-linux campaign (really about as stealth as a b52) and start make products that run on Linux. Linux ain’t gonna go away ya know.

  22. xxx says:

    <div style="font-size:50px">test</div>

  23. AJB says:

    The Ever-Ellusive Personal Finance Manager?

    Apparently, not as elusive as the Personal Spellchecker.

  24. Gnu user says:


    Simple, easy, free, and regularly updated.

  25. Mo Money, inc says:

    Seems to be a common theme; Keep it Simple, make it online friendly.

    I like the Internet; I wish Microsoft would use that Marketing force to get out there to sell Money to the finiancial institutions (every local credit union and bank) and be the "Enabler" for web banking. Just think of a world where Microsoft ‘sells’ the web interface to local financial shops with the Money connectors built in. Stop trying to drag them to Money Central. Keep it Simple, "Enable" them to easily export the data connector.

    My Discover Card has the best interface of any of my accounts. MS Money seemlessly downloads the transactions and displays them for approval. Why can’t Microsoft help everyone else to do the same.

    This article is right on the mark when it recognizes that Intuit is not concerned with PFM market. Their revenue stream is based on their other vehicles.

    Microsoft has dropped the ball, Money 2004 is barely an improvement over Money 2002. Two Years have passed, they could’ve spent the time working on Financial insitution integration. The product is excellent, but they haven’t signed up any new banks in my area, nor investment houses.

    I suspect 2005 will be a reissue of the 2004 product with new bitmapped logos.

    Maybe it’s time for Microsoft to move Money to their Office Product tree, then it will get some funding and marketing.

    It’s a great product, but going 2-3 years without development has left me questioning "is there something better out there?" Most banks are adding internal websites for billpay and online banking. Lets get that Microsoft’s Marketing department in-touch with them and start getting MS branded interfaces out there.

    Microsoft needs to be their friend and enabler to win.

  26. Zach says:

    Just curious, how did you measure how long Money was used? Did you have it report back statistics or something?

  27. Job says:

    What the people say, is that they don’t want to stay in front to the computer and enter values to know where the money flow. People just want to live and spend their money, control is just a procedure to see their account in the banks.

    Yes, theres Small Office, that use these kind of software to control their business.

  28. thebrix says:

    "[A] simple system that helped them do the most basic of things" exists on a simple platform … handhelds. PalmOS (and doubtless PocketPC) has a number of excellent bank account and chequebook management packages – I’ve used PocketMoney ( for several years – and the sort of feature creep described isn’t possible because of the severe hardware and software constraints (little memory, tiny screen, one window open at once, cannot assume Internet connectivity …).

    Perhaps some types of application are just "wrong" for a desktop computer, and this is one of them?

  29. Otto_Technica says:

    I was one of the unfortunates (aka: outsourcers) who provided technical support for MS Money while there was still MS techncial support in the US.

    What we found is that Money users who called us usually admitted that Money was an inferior product to Quicken. Many remained with MS Money because Intuit’s technical support was almost non-existant.

    Nearly all of our support calls stemmed from one of three areas:

    1. The product required too much time to accomplish simple tasks and was so restrictive with its hand-holding that it was confusing to use (read as: user error)

    2. The data file corrupted over time until it was unusable. By the time a user realized there was a problem, the data was lost.

    3. Passport somehow disconnected the user from their password (servers failed, passwords were lost, users changed accounts, etc.)

  30. Jules says:

    Peter da Silva:

    The programs you’re looking for are PLINK and PSCP (part of the PuTTY suite, at ).

  31. I’ve not yet found a personal finance app that meets my needs. Either their too basic (I need support for things like more than one bank account), too complex (I don’t need to worry about things like your call and put options above), or too interested in trying to cross-sell.

    I find that MS Access meets my requirements perfectly, and many other people use Excel for this task.

  32. Nick H says:

    I’m really not into M$ bashing, but I must say – there is NO way I will trust M$ with my finances. There is little doubt that they place feature bloat ahead of security – with Quicken, security is pretty much a cornerstone of their products, since that’s about all they do. Just my two cents – cool article in any case.

  33. Frustrated says:

    That’s all well and good but could someone at Micrsoft tell me why my wife’s computer, which runs Windows XP Professional, keeps locking up after 2-3 hours of use? I’ve spent over US$100 on new hardware thinking their’s some incompatibility or bad driver but to no avail. She’s called tech support three times and they just can’t seem to solve it. My sanity is at risk here, folks.

  34. Eelis says:

    Woah, you seriously needs to go easy on the <b>bold</b> tags. The article is hardly readable like this. Looks like the written equivalent of how TellSell presenters talk, extremely distracting.. Are you sure you’re not an (ex-)marketing guy?

  35. Chris says:

    Back in 1998, I worked for CheckFree (the company that provides the Online Banking for both Quicken AND Money).

    Microsoft couldn’t create their own online banking interface, they wanted to use ours. Of course, they wanted their service better and faster than Quicken. Since that would create a conflict within our company, we did things exactly equal.

    I have been using Quicken ever since. It perfectly keeps track of all my accounts, mortgages, 401k, and IRA accounts all online.

  36. mjh says:

    I’m a linux user. I’m a huge advocate of free/open source software. I’m also a Microsoft Money user. Because I like it’s feature set. I’m currently using Money 2004 Deluxe, which was upgraded from 2003 Basic, which was upgraded from 2002 deluxe, which was upgraded from 2001 deluxe.

    I use just about every feature that deluxe offers. It does a good job of meeting my needs.

  37. ccandreva says:

    The author hit the nail on the head – most people want to just ballance their checkbook.

    This is why I am, in all seriousness, still useing Quicken 6 for DOS, under the DOS emulator for Linux no less. It’s quick and it works.

  38. Chaz Gauder says:

    I use Microsoft Money for my Psion organiser – a really old 3MX version that has none of the glitzy features of newer handhelds but just *WORKS*.

    Money is fantastic on this device because it is always available. Transactions go in within minutes of them occuring. Checking my bank statement just means making sure that the balances are the same.

  39. Chris Curtis says:

    I use GNU Cash, and bypass all the BS. It does everything I need it too, and I’m never forced to upgrade. It’s never crashed, and provides all the features I have ever needed.

    Nuff said!

  40. codefool says:

    I used Money exclusively since 1997. Money 98 that is. I stopped upgrading (rather, paying the upgrade fee) once I saw all the garbage that was being heaped onto it. There just wasn’t anything being added to the product that I saw as brining value to my experience. I still think that Money 98 is far too heaped in complexity that it needs to be – and certainly less so than Money 99 etc. Someday I’ll get that PFM project out of mothballs and get it done the way I want it done.

  41. Michael Saulters says:

    You know what I hated about Money back in the heyday you’re talking about? The fact that they had the gall to charge so much for the product that was sucking up your time putting unrelated icons on your desktop and generating clickthru revenue for them.

  42. Rez says:

    Thanks for a great article, it really shows where development can go wrong.

    It also points up exactly WHY I’m still (like someone else who posted here) using old Quicken for DOS. (And yes, I’ve tried a couple versions of Money and Quicken for Windows. I went back to Quicken for DOS.)

  43. Anonymous Coward says:

    You want to know when MS Money really worked well, multi-tasked several things at once and was the -best- PFM you could buy?

    Version 3

    Everything after version 3 went downhill as far as user interface and -usability- went. Some successive versions were actually -no better- than v3, they were just wrapped in a pretty web-like interface, which no longer allowed you to do two things at once.

    Later on, features got added, as mentioned in this article, but they were still in the -new- clunky interface. Blech! I couldn’t stand it.

    I refuse to use Quicken, it’s too big, it’s resource hungry, it crahes, and it just wants me to do too darn much. So what do I still use?

    MS Money v3

    Funny? It still works, I can balance my checkbook, make budgets, track loans, create graphs, import/export info, etc. It has a simple interface, and I can do more than one thing at once.

    Disclaimer: In all fairness, I’ve not tried anything past Money 2002, so my opinion is necessary biased.

  44. Mike K. says:

    I’ve got Money 2004 (Canadian edition).

    I love how the box advertises that the program has been "localized" to Canadian needs … then I tried to add an investment – and was confronted by things like 401k plans.

    401K is a US-only plan. We have something similar in Canada called RRSPs … but hey, how hard would it be to change a couple strings?

    *sigh*. It still beats using Quicken though.

  45. Sj says:

    I use Quicken regularly, in full of it’s features and options. It integrates with my bank, online update works almost flawlessly – 99% of the time properly categorizes even unknown payees. I haven’t used MS Money, I know some people that do , and say it’s good. I think everyone can pick their own poison.

    The one thing I’m missing in Quicken (and as far as I’m told it’s not in MS Money) is financial planning. Quicken allows to do budgeting, but it’s a pain to keep track of that since it requires to get into the budget report, compare and hardly contains amounts that I’d have to pay in soon future that I know about (gas, electricity, rent, so on…).

    I totally disagree that there is nothing to be done in PFMs to make them better. I’d like to see a PFM that works as a relaxed accounting program – no invoicing and similar things, but multiple "accounts" linked to one physical cash/savings account, with easily established projections on money needed in each, visible to the user without digging around in reports, so people can actually save money upfront for the predictable although not so frequent payments. Quicken, as it is, doesn’t give enough feedback to be convenient to use that way.

  46. Skelter says:

    When will either of these programs allow multiple users to use them over a network?


  47. Some Guy in Texas says:

    Seems to me that it’s fairly obvious; people want an <b><i>excuse</i></b> to get better hardware…

    Remember the dawn of the home computer? Visicalc? Visicalc was used as a productivity <b><i>excuse</i></b> to buy Apples. Of course, market penetration was close to 100% because it was the only program of its kind for a couple of years, but claimed-desire vs actual-installation was certainly a low percentage. And actual-installation vs actual-use was even lower…

    So there ya go – go make lots of money.

  48. nobody says:

    The future of the PFM is in web app aggregators like It screen-scraps web-sites on the server so it’s always up-to-date and setup is easy. The service comes for *free* in *both* my Fidelity ("Full-View") and CitiBank investment accounts from wich I can see everything in one web page with no software to install. There are even way more data import institutions than both Quicken and Money offer combined. However, it needs to mature a bit because I can’t archive my data or run reports on it like I can with Quicken.

  49. lpbbear says:

    I loved your article. I switched to Linux several years back exactly because of what you describe in your article, Microsoft’s addiction to useless marketing crap in their products rather than simply providing decent software that can interoperate with the entire rest of the software industry. (standards in other words) I used to use Quicken way back when I used Windows but found the newer versions becoming too bloated with glitz and wowzer graphics. I took a look at Money and saw it was going the same direction but it added even more crap. I now use MoneyDance, a nice, cross platform, easy to use PFM created by….one guy! (

    After reading your article I have renewed hope that there might actually exist within the depths of the Microsoft machine people who actually have a clue. Now if they could only wrest control away from morons like Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer and join Microsoft into the cooperative Linux community rather than the current consumer destructive "One Must Rule" attitude.

    With all the different ways to create available these days to port applications, companies like Intuit and Microsoft are idiots for ignoring Linux. You think they will wake up before its too late?

  50. Peter Yang says:

    Dude! PHIL SU! Who would’ve thought that one day I’d be reading a Slashdotted site written by you? Anyway I’m just saying hi for Angelo and myself – excellent article, btw. How’s Edwin doing?

  51. Blue Badge-er in Silicon Valley says:

    The comment about security being the cornerstone is absolutely outrageous – clearly the person has never met anyone from Intuit 🙁

    Speaking of which, many devs have left intuit, want to leave intuit, for the same reasons listed in this blog entry.

    Welcome to the world of consumer software 🙁

  52. Anonymous says:

  53. Peter says:

    Money programs are useless and in fact cumbersome when you have the most basic spreadsheet skills: just create columns for weeks or months, and lines for various income/expense items and you’re set. *That is simple* and NOBODY needs complex bullshit.

    Dump the PFM’s.

  54. Heath says:

    I’ve been using Money since 1997 and in the year of the dragon everything went downhill. Apparently, however, archiving has been flawed since Money’s debut. Of course, I didn’t check for users’ comments about archiving because I expected it to work – not to be off by several cents to several hundred dollars for as something simple as subtraction. How silly of me not to consider the possibility that Money has serious flaws – even with simple operations.

    If Money plans to survive, they need to fix these features. While everyone above is complaining about Money not be simple, they miss the all-important fact that you can use it simply. Don’t need the 401K tracking? Don’t use it. Don’t care about employee stock options? Don’t configure it.

    I just want the simple things to work, and I hope that development starts to lead development again instead of marketing. If marketing wants to dictate what happens, perhaps they should learn how to program and write it themselves; everyone else these days is "learning" to *write* code.

  55. Back in…whenever it was that Microsoft Money 1.0 was desperately trying to beat Quicken for Windows to the market, I actually bought a copy. My reasoning: if I were more accurate in balancing my checkbook I would save the price of the program just by not going overdrawn one time. The program was buggy, slow, and a mess. I took it back — this is so long ago that I was actually able to *get a refund* for the product. The store recommended Quicken instead. I still use Quicken, and have never again tried Money, though one of my friends uses it and likes it. The other thing I wanted Quicken for was to automate sending out the 10-12 invoices a month I have to write.

    I don’t actually think, as a user, that Intuit’s attitude is much different from Microsoft’s.

    What I hate about Quicken:

    1) Intuit’s registration requirement, so that if for some reason you don’t register a new installation it locks up and won’t even show you your data.

    2) Intuit’s memory hole. Take a look at the UK Web site. It pretends that no version before XG ever existed.

    3) General deterioration of ease of use over time. Once upon a time, it was easy to write invoices in Quicken. Now, it’s a pain full of small details that do not work logically and all have to be remembered and checked each time. Many other things have gone the same way.

    The truth is, the PFM I want doesn’t exist.


  56. bloodnok says:

    what i like is a pfm that is unsupported once enough releases have happened. i’m running money2001. that’s only three years ago. it’s unsupported software. if it screws up – money2000 did big time, corrupting my data to the point where i’ve never really resolved some of its errors – i’m totally hosed.

    of course, money200? is now moot as i’ve switched to osx and that’s not supported. so now my choice is quicken or basically nothing at all.

    re-entering all my data is a pain. so maybe i’ll become one of those users who moans but doesn’t use a pfm?

    loved the main story, by the way!

  57. Mike K:

    Don’t Canadians who work in the US on TN1 visas occasionally find getting a 401K useful?

  58. Moglus says:

    I think that is the main reason why software patents are crap.

  59. Togakure says:

    For those of you who’re complaining about your data being corrupted – what about keeping a plain-text file of all your transactions for the last x number of years? I mean, my bank provides plain-text files of my account transactions in several financial program formats so if that’s the data getting screwed, I’d have no problem reinstalling – just wipe, reinstall, reimport…

    Of course, the bugger is in putting all the little bits of data back in their proper boxes, isn’t it *grin*

  60. Togakure says:

    To clear up mu usual confusing first post, I’ll clear up what I meant when I said putting stuff back in the right ‘boxes’:

    The data imports correctly. Then there’s the problem of filing all the gas station entries under ‘gas’, etc etc.

    *sigh* When will I learn to get someone else to check my posts before I post them the first time? :/ 🙂

  61. Bob says:

    Here in germany many use StarMoney. It’s simple and works well with the local online banking.

  62. Brian says:

    Trying the 2004 demo afte rbeing a 2002 user, I have an acct wih Bank of America, it still wont auto detect that bank in the download, making mepick it from the list. Its matching skills are marginal as well,seeming to primarilyfocus on amount. Purchases whose amounts match withdrawals get miscategorized.

  63. Whatever says:

    Let me see if I can paraphrase at least part of the article:

    "While competition is good, and all that crap, it’s just unfair that Microsoft had to compete with Quicken. It made us actually work, to attempt to innovate and we don’t like that very much."

    I’m far from some rabid Linux or OSS nut case, but the line that competition didn’t serve consumers in this case is just way too arrogant.

  64. BoydWaters says:

    I used MS Money from 1995 (beta test!) until 1999 or there-abouts.

    I stopped using Money because the rise of the dot-com came with the rise of the Major Security snafus. I switched to Linux and used my bank’s online bill payment via Mozilla.

    I really, really liked MS Money as a PFM. For me it was a killer app for keeping Windows around as long as I did.

    But NO WAY will I use a Windows-based system for online banking anything these days! It is simply too dangerous. Alas.

  65. J says:

    I use AOL Bill Pay and it is far superiour to any other money management programs. Single click payment, account aggregation…….everything one could need + it’s host based and 10 million times more secure than any of the Wdoze client based products……I can also access it via my *nix box too since it’s web-based……… 😉

    and it’s FREE!!

  66. I want a PFM that makes me money


  67. FooBar says:

    I bought Quicken in 1998 and loved, and faithfully upgraded every year… until 2003. That’s when I noticed I was shelling out $20-$30 for features I didn’t use, nor want, since version 2000.

    I switched to Linux 6 months ago, but dual boot to use Quicken. WINE ( doesn’t seem to support Quicken 2002 (claims Quicken 2000); so I haven’t taken the time to dig at this.

    Anyone reccomend a PFM for Linux? I’ll check out GNUCash as mentioned above. Others?

  68. Stuart says:

    Philip – excellent perspective on money managing software.

    I am one of the three consumers you speak of who actually bought a PFM for myself. Quicken 1.0 for Windows. 1993. Yes, I read a good review of it somewhere and was tired of manually balancing our checkbook. It was $7.00 at an Egghead store (after rebate). For that price, it has been a very good investment.

    Quicken gave me a free upgrade to Quicken 98 because of the Y2K problem. If not for the date issue, I would be happy still working w/ version 1.0.


  69. Alwyn says:


    You could probably run some version of quicken under crossover-office from

    There’s a 30 day demo under which you can try it out.

  70. Brian Abbott says:

    interesting… However, as you kept mentioning the differant web-related metrics that Money was put up against, I cant help but wonder, how was Microsoft obtaining that Data?? It’s a little easier to use those metrics for a website as you have access to the server and are therefore able to tell which components of the application where used or "viewed" the most. But, for a standalone application, the only way to do that that I know of is to record the information on the host machine and ship it back to the vendor when the computer happens to be online…. Wouldnt that violate a few privacy issues?


    Brian Abbott (

  71. John Bodnar says:

    I actually switched to Money 2001 from <wait for it…> Computer Associates Simply Money 2.0 at the beginning of 2003.

    From what I could tell, Money 2001 seemed to feel about right for what I wanted to do. Sure, I don’t use most of the features, but on my machines it has seemed fast and mostly simple to use. The graphing and reports features could be better, but I’ll live.

    I did try Money 2002, but it just seemed fat and bloated at the time. My Money 2001 came from a guy on eBay for $1 + $3.95 S&H. I think it cost him more to ship it than even the $4.95 combined I paid him!

    Now if the GnuCash people would just get off their butts and do a Windows port, they’d have disaffected Quicken and Money users flocking to them. I can always hope, after all, the GIMP is now Windows now.

  72. Jim Fenner says:

    Interesting article!

    I would happily use Quicken 4 (irca 1996) except it didn’t support 4-digit years. Every so-called ‘upgrade’ of Quicken has made the user experience worse. However, unlike Microsoft Money 2004, which I tried for several weeks, Quicken at least

    – doesn’t make idiotic guesses

    – allows you to alter the sign of a split entry

    – doesn’t outright corrupt your data (and yes I backup, that’s not the point. Did MS ever test this program?)

    – as someone wrote, Money isn’t as good for basic data entry as a spreadsheet, or better, a home grown Access app.

    – It has a couple of smart features, but they do NOT make up for its uncustomisability, its pig-headed insistence on doing it for you and doing it wrong, and its habit of corrupting data.

    – it is an imbecile product and should be listed as a hostile virus.

    My theory goes against the grain of the article, good as it is.

    My theory is that MS wanted a PFM in its home software lineup, wasn’t allowed to buy Intuit, FURTHER some secret protocols or private agreement also bind MS to not produce a product that is in any way usable or competitive with Quicken.

    Enter MS Money.

  73. Dave Hayden says:

    I’ve been using quicken since release 2 (that’s right, release *2*). I’m not sure when I started but it must have been 1993 or earlier. I upgraded once from R2 to R6. Release 6 meets all my needs and I’m certain that if I upgrade again (to Quicken or Money) , It will take up 10x as much space run 10x slower and have 10x as many bugs.

  74. Mike says:

    I used to work for MS-ITG 1998-99, and I can say that I did see alot of the things stated in this article. Though I was part of the Windows 2000 Server team, I sat in division meetings and heard the reports from other groups that basically said the same thing as this article indicates; stickiness and click-throughs were the rage.

    I guess one thing nobody seems to be jumping on is how the statistics for user installations versus use is determined. How do you think MS gets those stats, do you think those packets headed out contain only the data related to what you’re requesting? Hmm….I see packets headed out of my machine at times I haven’t touched a key….when I use certain programs….one does have to wonder, eh?

  75. WhateverAndEver says:

    You’re missing the point. Competition *normally* breeds innovation which is great – everbody wants that to be the case. However, in the Quicken vs. Money case, Money had to (at least sometimes) defer innovation or even defer making the product work great on the basics, but instead they would implement some arguably less-useful Quicken stuff.

  76. ek bharateeya says:

    dude, could you help me a tad? i need to understand how exactly a fee transaction needs to be created so it can be uploaded into ms money in the ofx format? i am unable to find a good example in the documentation i picked up at




  77. Sore Eyes says:

    Philip Su, a Microsoft developer who works in the Tablet PC team and used to be part of the team working on MS Money has posted a story about how Money’s developers lost the plot about five years ago: basically, Money came to be regarded more as portal to Microsoft’s online finance services than as a tool for the user to manage their finances. The most interesting point he makes is about the tiny percentage of users who actually continue to use their Personal Finance Management software after the first couple of attempts.[…]The majority of consumers who buy computers claim…

  78. KeneO ^_^ says:

    I hear the people talking about these silly sounding bugs (silly because it seems like something that can be easily fixed with "good programming practices" which some companies may not be well known for) and I’m just shaking my head when I think how easily this could be fixed if the developer knew about it. Subbmit a bug report people… programmers arn’t fortune tellers ;P Until DNA-Based OS are a reality, people will be doing most of the low-level programming, and if no one is told of the error, it will be hard to make perfect programs… the same idea follows with feature-heaviness. The reason open source works so well is because most users are very involved in the evolution of the software but it doesn’t have to be open source for such involvment to happen.

    Hail M$ **goose-stepping**

  79. Rym Hubbard says:

    :"Brief refresher on how the PFM market works: consumers don’t buy PFMs for themselves. They don’t. Well, maybe three of them do."

    I suppose I am one of the three who back in the late mid 90’s purchased a used copy of Quicken 9_? I also had a pre-bundled copy of MONEY 9_?, a gift copy of Kiplinger’s Finance, and at the time well-reviewed shareware program. By 1997, I settled on QUICKEN and have never look back. (MONEY made easy hard and was slow; Kiplinger’s was unnecessarily complicated.) I purchased two upgrades. Since then, INTUIT has sent free upgrade disks (TWICE) as an INTUIT online banking customer. They did not force their customers to PURCHASE an upgrade when they made incompatible changes in file structure, instituted new banking protocols or revised the product for Y2k.

    I cannot image Micro$oft considering given away free software to its installed customer base so they could continue to use their MONEY software for online bill payment processing and banking. However, as you noted, INTUIT’s "cash cows" are its tax and accounting products.

    When I think of the number of versions I have upgraded for all my other major and minor software over the last 15 years, it is surprising I have had NO desire to upgrade my PFM. I have my QUICKEN2001 routine down to a science where I only have to spend about 15 minutes a couple times month to add misc payments to recurring payments, "push the SEND button for bill payment processing" and do a rough reconciliation with my bank accounts. Every once and while, QUICKEN alerts me that I am going "over budget" and updates my budget. Can’t get easier than this.

    I did enjoy your insight on the PFM development process.

  80. Money User says:

    What really flipped me about the article was the comment about the good ol’ BBS days and Telemate! YES! That was an AWESOME program. I had used ProCOMM and QModem as well but Telemate just kicked ass. Thanks for bringing back some pleasent memories.

    I can tell you in previous beta’s of Money that the new version of the product was already developed and beta testers were used just to bug the application with feature feedback going to a "wish list." That list was never looked at because the next year the same thing would happend again. So MSFT had its own agenda that’s for sure and the consumer was not a part of that agenda. I don’t know if there is a new version for next year but I wonder if the behavior is the same.

  81. Robert Scoble on washing your dirty corprorate laundry in public – or the importance of telling a story. The story he is referring to is this one. A Microsoft employee talks about his experiences on the Microsoft Money Team….

  82. andrew says:

    Great little post, Philip. We used Money 2001 and loved it – the inductive user interface work that was done on that product was nothing short of breathtaking and really influenced consumer products for the better (in my opinion).

    We just upgraded to Money 2004 and have to say, I wish I could go back. Not that the features don’t look nice, they do – but the only reason I upgraded was because of a C++ error that continually appeared when running it on XP and Win 2003. And just WHEN is someone going to make the debt reduction tool actually useful? <g>

  83. groc says:

    Thanks for the great insight into the inner workings. I, however, absolutely am not agreed with the happy ending where "Sanity has returned and all is well". By my observation, each of the recent several versions is still concentrated on the MSN-related junk – new skin; more ads. The size of file increases 1.5 times. The speed decreases. "Offline" problems known for many versions, like budget for instance, that consistently generate a steady stream of questions and frustration in money support newsgroup, are never addressed.

  84. Phillip Su, a developer who worked on Microsoft’s Money product (1999 and 2001 releases), posted an interesting retrospective on Money’s history and the various company priorities that came into play during its product development. The most fascinating detail: Early on,…

  85. Phillip Su posts an interesting view of the way Microsoft worked with their Money product during the few years he worked on the program. Quite interesting to see what was going on inside as power users of the product were trying to figure out what on earth you guys were thinking!

  86. Ty says:

    Can any of you Microsoft or ex-Microsoft gurus tell me why Money’s calendar only shows scheduled transactions?

    I used Quicken from it’s inception to around 2001, right around the time reviewers where saying Money ecliped Quicken. I did see many improvements in Money, and for the last 3 years, I gave it the nod.

    But, 3 years ago, Quicken’s calendar showed the dates of ANY tranaction from ANY account. It didn’t look cluttered. It was crystal clear. I could glance at my calendar and see if my bank deducted their service charges. Better yet, I could look at last month’s calendar and see WHAT DAY my bank was going to deduct those charges.

    It seems some guru at Microsoft believes ONLY transactions that are scheduled should show up on the calendar, so items you either forgot to add, or that you tend to make regularly, like Sunday Brunch at your favorite restaurant, trips to the local gas station where you grab an extra $20 cash back, etc, DO NOT SHOW UP IN YOUR CALENDAR.

    Every year, when a new version of Money comes out, the first thing I check for is that feature. I have been a Money fan for some time, and it is clear that MS wants you to use MSN, which I like, but I really want a simple graphical user interface that tells me what happened and what to expect, even if I forgot to tell the program what to expect, and the calendar function seems to be the perfect vehichle to do so.

    While you explain why you chose NOT to compete in the calendar area, please also explain why you strike through a transaction in the calendar to indicate anything other than that the transaction has cleared or been reconsiled. What is up with that? I venture to say strikethrough in the calendar would be misunderstood by the vast majority of people that see it for the first time. I believe Microsoft is using strikethough to indicate the scheduled transaction has been entered into a register, as in a checking account register, and NOT that the item has cleared.

    Invision this: I look at my calendar and I see dozens, (if I were Oprah, hundreds) of transactions, but the ones that do not have a line through them are the ones that have not cleared my bank yet. If I don’t see a sufficient balance in the account to clear those items, I need to transfer or deposit more funds into that account, or in the very least, I can explain why my balance is different from the balance the bank reports.

    Isn’t that the very basic goal of a PFM?

    Seriously, please do explain. Is it because it infringes on some Quicken patent?

  87. groc says:

    To Ty:

    I’m not microsoft, but I’ll offer my point of view on that.

    You said:

    > I really want a simple graphical user interface that tells me what happened and what to expect, even if I forgot to tell the program what to expect

    The program doesn’t know what to expect if you did not tell it. Money is able to spot a recurring transaction and indicate it with a special icon. You review it and either add to the bills, or ignore. If you add it, then it will be in your calendar. I think this is exactly the right approach. If Money tried to predict things without confirmation, it would be a terrible mess. All you have to do in order to have things in your calendar, is 3-4 clicks to confirm the recurring transaction.

    > explain why you strike through a transaction in the calendar to indicate anything other than that the transaction has cleared or been reconsiled.

    Normally, things work like this:

    The calendar is a tool to remind you about things you have yet to do.

    There’s a bill in your calendar.

    Money reminds you when it’s the time to send the check. That’s what you see in the calendar.

    You write the check and send it. At the same time, you enter transaction in the register.

    Transaction then disappears from the calendar because there’s nothing to remind you about, hence no reason to bug you with it.

    Receiving and clearing your check is not your responsibility – especially if you are using online payment, where the bank is responsible for the delivery.

    As for the sifficient funds in your account – Money does show the projected balance of every account on the cash flow, on the home page, and, if specifieid, in the bottom of every register page. If someone has more than one account, which one’s balance would you expect in Calendar?

  88. Steve says:

    Nice history on Money. Thanks for the insights. I am also one of those folks who try Quicken or Money every 24 months or so hoping the products will hit a certain threshold. To me I only need 4 clean features,

    1) A tight download feature (that handled passwords) and sync’d my data for any bank, credit card, and financial institution into 7 fields, (institution, purchase date, clear date (optional), check/Transaction ID, amount, vendor, and sync date)

    2) All of this maintained in a single table with a unique recordID for each line item.

    3) VBA support to automate synchronization with Excel and Access (or better yet, supported as a plug-in to MS Access)

    and 4) … well I guess I only really needed three. Once I get the data, I could then build out everything else I would need in Excel and Access in a way the suited my unique requirements.

    The most frustrating thing for me with quicken and Money is that you can’t work around there short-comings. Is there another community link you could point to, the first one you offered dead-ends.

  89. Aaron says:

    This is interesting thread – especially given the recent problem with Passport connected money files being rendered inaccessible by M$ because of an ongoing server problem that has lasted 3 DAYS (go to the community forum – the users are getting VERY ANGRY). I am suprised this problem has not hit the press!

  90. dru says:

    Making Money apart of the MSN team makes sense in that it is for the average joe instead of a business user, but I would love to see it integrate into Office and Outlook especially. I wish that it was simpler and that I could add a few transactions without opening it up, or by doing it through the web. There is a lot that could be done with this app but all of the PFMs suck. Talk about a chance for huge market penetration. Maybe I will just write one for myself and put it on GDN.

  91. [An article a year ain’t bad, I suppose.&amp;nbsp; After being Slashdotted on Show Me the Money and having…