What if Owning a Home was Like Owning Quicken Software?

I opened up my Quicken 2006 Software today to catch up on reconciling some bank statements, and downloading credit card charges and stock account info. I was greeted with this message:

After April 30, you will no longer be able to access the following through Quicken 2006:
– Downloads of your bank, credit card, credit union, or investment account transactions.
– Online bill pay activity, stock quotations, news headlines and technical support.

How you can stay connected:
To continue using online services, you need to upgrade to Quicken 2009….Click the “Buy Now” button and follow the online prompts.

In other words, the Quicken software I purchased and own has expired. I must either decide to make due with a crippled version with which I must now hand enter all my transactions, or succumb to the extortion known in the software industry as the “forced upgrade”.

What if our future homes work this way? In 20 years everything will be computerized in new homes. What if one day, on the third anniversary of purchasing your new home, you pull into the driveway, activate your garage door remote, and a sweet female voice comes on through your on-board auto/home information system informing you.

After April 30, you will no longer be able to access the following features and functionality of your home:
– Garage door remote operation.
– Automatic sprinkler system.
– Central air and Heat system.
– Commode in the guest bath.
– Hot water.

How you can continue using the features and functionality of your home:
To continue using your home comfort features, you need to upgrade to Home Convenience Package 2030.1.b. Press the $ button on your control panel and an operator will be happy to take your credit card information and reinstate the desired features of your home.

I can imagine the screaming in the house from upstairs: “Dad, there’s no hot water and the toilet won’t flush”. And Dad will turn to wife, “For crying out loud Marge, I thought you were going to call and upgrade to the Premium Plumbing 8.0 Hot and Happy service package!”.

Then of course, with that new package you’ll be forced to get rid of your 3 year old water heater and purchase a new, more efficient model, even though the old one still works just fine.

Seriously, I think we’re heading in that direction because the younger generation is being programmed to think that nothing is owned. Everything we have and use is slowly being converted to a pay-as-you-go system, software being a primary example. Think back to the 1970s and 1980s. What recurring monthly bills did we have? Very few actually. No cell phones, no internet service, no online or forced subscription software, no Onstar, XM Radio, text messaging, ATM fees. Cable TV was just getting started. You basically bought stuff you needed and you owned it outright.

Today, we use more stuff and own less of it. We pay for text messages, why not pay for flushing the commode or opening the garage door? It’s coming. Believe me.

Keep your eye on some of these newer “progressive” residential developments that will be coming online in the next 10 years. I think in the future “home ownership” may come to look more like renting or communal living unless consumers start saying no to some of this stuff. Especially if we let software systems start managing vital aspects of our homes, such as the appliances and mechanical operation.

Meanwhile, I’m off to research personal finance software. I may renew my Quicken subscription if left with no viable alternative, but if something better is out there, I’ll find it and switch. I’ve used Quicken since my 1988 DOS version. Wow. I’ve been a loyal Quicken user for over 20 years, and they are happy to leave me dead in the water with crippled software if I don’t agree to buy an upgrade I don’t want or need. I guess new users aren’t profitable enough so they need to stick it to us 20+ year customers.

9 thoughts on “What if Owning a Home was Like Owning Quicken Software?”

  1. hi, Steve:
    I believe the time you are talking about has come and gone. Home Ownership is so 20th Century! I had never thought about it, until it was presented to me by a former co-worker from Poland. We don’t own any thing.
    His line of thinking goes like this: When you purchase a piece of property, whether or not you choose to, you must pay Rent to the local government in the form of property taxes. If you buy a vacant lot, and never use 911 services, don’t send kids to school, or use any other government service, you still have to pay a “fair share”. And don’t get me started on HOA’s. I am starting to appreciate my friend Janet’s (an Austin Native) attitude: It’s her god-given right to keep a refrigerator in her front yard if she chooses. After paying into TWO HOA’s for almost seven years, I have come to the conclusion that they are impotent.
    Lastly, if there was ever a sign that Home Ownership was dead, I would merely point to the Supreme Court’s Kelo Decision on Eminent Domain in June 2005. It doesn’t matter if you’ve owned a property five days or five decades, any jerk with plans for an amusement park or strip mall, or any crooked politicians who want to build a dog park can have you and your family forcibly removed in the interest of “the benefit to the community.”
    Now, I don’t mean to come off like a right-wing nut-job, but the way I learned history, all of the States (at least 48 of them) were founded by people looking for a plot of land to carve out and call their own. And nothing is more un-American that having your property taken away. Luckily – they can take my current property, as long as they take the HOA with them.
    And you already touched on this: you may have purchased the software, but you only purchased the license to use it, as long as Intuit wants you too… It’s like Windows: Has any one ever read the EULA for MS Windows? I haven’t. But I read once that MS reserves the right to renege on every copy of Windows or Office ever sold.
    Ownership? What’s that?
    Have a nice Holiday-
    Michael @ The Stage Coach

  2. Steve – As the owner of what KXAN dubbed to be “Austin’s Most High Tech Home”, I’m not too worried about coming home and facing a forced upgrade. I do already have every light and appliance automated, but their is a mentality in the automation industry to never require upgrades, but to instead incentivize them through sexy new features… My advice to you – crack open the wallet and buy the new software. It’s cheap and you are certainly getting value out of it. The Quicken guys just don’t want to keep spending their $$ on keeping your old version compatible with changing banking software. I don’t blame them.

  3. It would be a better world if people focused on the underlying quality of their software, i.e. does it work and will it keep working, but most are unfortunately swayed by the “new and shiny!” aspect of computers.

    As Phill’s post suggests, they will be equally swayed in buying home automation products. Rather than buying devices with a extensible architecture and reasonable license, they will buy the shiniest gizmos available, or “sexy new features” as he describes them.

    As long as people keep getting “incentivized” by clever advertising and sneaky technologies, such as the forced upgrade, there will be no economic benefit to cede any control to you, the end user.

    So, yes, this is the future of your software and your home. Enjoy.

  4. Steve, what you don’t see is the behind-the-scenes work it takes to maintain those features that Intuit is disconnecting in your old version of Quicken. With the exception of the technical support access via Quicken, Intuit does not actually own any of the information feeds that drive those features. The picture of how that particular sausage is made is not pretty. There are lip-service standards, with numerous deviations in the individual implementations, to retrieve even transaction data, an activity the layperson thinks would be simple. In theory, yes it should be simple. In practice, with constantly-shifting security threats, new data fields, new ways of interpreting formatting standards, internationalization, etc., it gets substantially more complex than it would at first seem.

    If Intuit owned those information feeds, I could understand your frustration. However, they only have access to those feeds from the respective feed providers via restrictive partnership agreements, and in order to save on their expenses, those providers will frequently upgrade their feed formats but not support old feed formats after a period of time, usually 2-6 years depending upon the industry niche and provider.

    From Inuit’s point of view, to support your version of Quicken when the back-end data feed has changed its format, they would have to develop, test and maintain their own internal system to map from the data feed’s new format to its old format, then pass it to your version of Quicken. However, you’ve already paid for Quicken and are not going to pay them again for this additional effort. So the expedient choice is to force the upgrade so your copy of Quicken understands the new formats.

    That’s a vastly simplified form of their business reasoning. For example, in your specific case the data format might not have changed for your bank, but it would have changed for Aunt Sally’s bank. There are all sorts of interesting support costs associated with trying to communicate to users “If you are on Quicken 200x and using bank Y, you’re okay, but not if you also need to use credit card Z”, that make it much more cost-effective to take a lowest-common denominator approach (“these set of banks are upgrading their feed formats, therefore everyone upgrades”).

    While it might seem like a forced upgrade for gratuitous reasons, much of the economics of supporting legacy software are daunting once you peel away the covers, and that drives what seems from the outside to be draconian upgrade policies. Finally, a lot of people outside the software business don’t know it is a very capital-intensive and income-volatile operation for many segments of the industry. The romantic image of the sparse capital startup hitting massive profits doesn’t characterize the majority of the mature segments of the industry. So what seems to be easy-flowing profits for companies like Intuit from these upgrades are offset by quarters of intensive R&D and marketing costs it takes to compete in mature segments.

  5. I have the opposite problem!
    I went to my credit union’s site and they say that they did not upgrade their system to Web connect Quicken so you have to go back to the qif software in 200? I hand copiied the files from the website but I am now looking for an old version of quicken. I found them, people want 20 to 80 bucks for them on CD.
    Banks, I am getting like my granddad from the 30’s. Who needs um!!
    How about cash and a bunch of mason jars!


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