Exit Quicken, pursued by a Lion

July 8, 2011, 4:25 PM UTC

Having let the Mac version languish, Intuit prepares for the death of its flagship product

Click to enlarge. Source: Intuit

My first three entries in Quicken, dated Sept. 8, 1997, were a $17.31 payment to Bell Atlantic (remember them?) marked “Philip’s modem” (remember those?) and $15 for my annual subscription to the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link in Sausalito, Calif., which for many years was my only conduit onto the Internet.

I’ve been a loyal user of Intuit’s (INTU) flagship personal finance program ever since. Yet for some reason the company still hasn’t sent me the Dear Valued Customer notice they started issuing last week, the one that begins: “Please read if you are considering switching your Mac© operating system.”

I am planning to switch to OS X 10.7 (a.k.a. Lion) when it is released later this month — today’s rumors say by Thursday July 14 — and for me, and tens of thousands of other Quicken for Mac users, that’s a problem.

You see, although the first version of Quicken was written on an Apple II, Intuit’s interest in Apple (AAPL) waned after Microsoft (MSFT) Windows 3.0 arrived and Quicken for Windows became a runaway hit.

Intuit grew into $3.8 billion company with a $15 billion market cap and a product line that runs the gamut from accounting to tax prep. Meanwhile, its Quicken for Mac updates became increasingly buggy and after Quicken 2007,  ceased entirely.

As Quicken’s Q&A explains, the most recent versions of its Mac software were written for Apple’s old Power PC architecture. They limped along on Intel-based Macs using Apple’s Rosetta technology. But with Lion, Apple is abandoning Rosetta and, by extension, any legacy software that hasn’t been kept up to date. Like Quicken.

What’s a Quicken user to do?

I put the question to John Siracusa, who first alerted me to the problem in a Hypercritical podcast. His plan for now — “not exactly a long-term solution,” he admits — is to leave an old MacBook running Snow Leopard and call it a Quicken machine.

Topher Kessler, who addressed the issue recently on CNET.com, points out that in addition to Intuit’s Mint (a free cloud-based service) and Quicken Essentials (a stripped down version of Quicken missing a couple key features) there are several alternative products — among them iBank, Moneydance, and SEE Finance — that can read Quicken files.

Or, he says, you can switch to Windows.

I’ve used Windows, thank you very much. I’ve also used Mint, which stores my financial transactions on Intuit’s servers rather than on my hard drive, which is where I want them.

So on Wednesday, attracted by a half-off sale that brought the usual $49.99 price down to $24.99, I bought Quicken Essentials.

Two days later, it’s so far so good. The program managed the transfer of my old Quicken files without a hitch (which is more than I can say for iBank) and with a bit of hand-holding restored access to my credit card and bank accounts (even at Bank of America, which makes these things harder than it has to). [UPDATE: I’ve managed to get even Bank of America working on iBank 4.]

But Quicken Essentials is missing two features I’d come to depend on: It can’t track stock transactions and it can’t pay bills. The latter is nearly a deal breaker. I’d become so used to friction-free bill paying on Quicken that I’m not sure what I’m going to do without it. Any suggestions?