Sunday, January 07, 2024

Quicken for DOS cannot be recreated: Why we can't have good personal finance software any more.

Almost 40 years ago we used Quicken version 2 or 3 for DOS 3.1 on a Panasonic 8086 with 640K of memory and a CPU too feeble for a modern toaster. 

Every month a 3.5" (not 5.25") diskette came in the mail with our bank and credit card transactions. We loaded that into Quicken. We entered cash transactions manually. It worked pretty well, though Quicken was plagued with database corruption bugs until the 90s. When Microsoft Money appeared one could migrate transactions and history from one to the other.

There's no modern equivalent. Today's vendors sell our data to third parties and then market products to us. Vendors have a hard lock-in. This kind of service decay is now known as "enshittification". Today in a mastodon thread I listed what drove that enshittification*:

  1. The banks feared disintermediation and commodification so they stopped cooperating and/or raised transaction costs. 
  2. Selling services to customers and selling customer data were both seemingly painless ways to increase margins for a publicly traded company
  3. Costs and user experience both favor user data in the cloud — which aligns with selling user data and services.
  4. Customer data lock strategies became irresistible and with cloud migration they were easy to implement.
Of these the first is the big one. If customers could get their data then small vendors could produce niche subscription products. But the banks aren't going to cooperate. They know better now.

I don't know if we'll ever see good products again. Perhaps if Apple or Microsoft went into banking they'd provide an API for developers to use. Of course we'd all have to use Apple's Bank for everything but, speaking for my family, they already own us.

*With two 't's per Doctorow.

No comments: