Great concept, terrible execution


Or, Why I hate Microsoft, in 1140 words

There is something very disappointing, even infuriating, about seeing a really great idea executed badly.

First, a bit of background. I've used Microsoft Money to manage my financial affairs for years. Before that I used Quicken, but decided to switch to Money for what must have been good reasons at the time. Over time I became disenchanted with Money, mostly because it performed so poorly with my very large data file (around 25MB). Yesterday I decided to upgrade to the new Money 2005, hopeful that the performance issues had been addressed. And thus begins the tale.

I purchased the downloadable version of Money 2005 Deluxe and was surprised when the setup file I downloaded was only 8MB in size. I ran the setup program which wanted to uninstall my old Money program before installing the new one. Fine. A very few minutes later, a splash screen announced that Money 2005 was installed and ready to go and that all my old data files had been converted. Wow!

Everything was there on my opening screen: my accounts, my lists of investments, reminders about upcoming bills, everything. Then I started to click around. Oops! "Microsoft Money is downloading updates in background. You will be notified when the download is complete, and after restarting Money it will be fully functional."

installation instructions
Installation instructions.

Now this is actually a very cool concept: Install just the core functionality so the program can be downloaded, setup, and launched very quickly, and then get the other pieces (for such things as reports and advanced features many of which will never be used by most people) behind the scenes. Most modern programs are so huge that downloading them with anything except a broadband connection is impossible (Microsoft warned that it would take "4.5 hours on 56K modem"). At the same time, downloading is a terrific solution: it cuts down time to get the product (benefiting the user) and saves manufacturing and packaging and delivery costs (benefiting the vendor).

Problem no. 1. The program said it was downloading, that the download was 1% complete, but there was no evident internet activity (an icon in my system tray shows me when data is being transferred). At bedtime, several hours later, it said the same thing.

This morning I had not been notified, but when I clicked a new page, it said the update was 100% complete. I restarted Money.

Problem no. 2. The opening splash screen (and About Help) informed me that I had a trial edition that would expire in January! Say what?

I called the number on my receipt "for questions about installation, setup, or connectivity, call Technical Support."

Anita (in India)
May I have your first and last name and your telephone number starting with the area code
Oh, so sorry, this is not the number that can help you with that. Let me transfer your call to the correct number.
My call was transferred to the replacement parts desk
May I have your first and last name and your telephone number starting with the area code
Oh, so sorry, this is not the number that can help you with that. Let me give you the correct number and then I will transfer your call. Fine.
Jason (again in India)
May I have your first and last name and your telephone number starting with the area code
Oh, so sorry, this is not the numnber that can help you with that. Let me give you the correct number and then I will transfer your call.
Not so fast. This is my third call and the second transfer. Transfer my call to someone in the US.
I will give you the number.
Nadia (again in India)
No, I will not give you my first and last name and telephone number. I have done that four times already and now I am completely pissed off.
Do you have a case number?
No, I don't have a case number because I haven't been able to reach anybody who will accept responsibility for helping me with this problem.
Very well, let me try to solve the problem for you. [description of problem] Oh, so sorry, I'm not able to help you with that. I can give you the number of the Money Back Guarantee desk.
Money back guarantee desk
Do you want to get your money back?
No, I want to have my problem solved.
[dead air - person hung up]

Despairing of ever reaching a live support person who could even understand why I was irritated at having paid for a full, "Deluxe" version but received a trial version, I decided I would reinstall the software. (This is how you solve 90% of software problems.)

Problem no. 3. Dialogue box: "I'm sorry, the version you are trying to install is older than the version you already have." Fine. I uninstall the brand new version.

Problem no. 4. Dialogue box: "Money 2005 cannot be installed because Money is trying to install updates. Restart your computer and try again."

OK. I restarted my computer. I started to re-install Money 2005.

Problem no. 5. Because I had removed the old version of Money, the installation program asked me where I wanted to keep my data file. When I browsed to the existing data directory, it warned that it would replace my existing data file! No! No! No! The only way out was to let it install with a different data directory and then switch later.

Problem no. 6. Again with the updates in background. This time it took very little time and I did get notification that the updates were complete. But now the instructions said I had to restart Windows and then restart Money.

OK. Did that. Program now loads as full, licensed version. It might have done so before all the hassle if the damned instructions had said to restart Windows before restarting Money. Of course, I'll never know for sure.

get rebate

Now, about that rebate. To get my promised $20 rebate, I am forced to print off a rebate form, fill it out and return it with my proofs of purchase. That's right, "proofs."

To get my rebate I must submit two proofs of purchase:

  • A copy of my "purchase confirmation email"
  • A copy of my "MSN Billing Account Statement" showing "which download version of Microsoft Money 2005 you have acquired."

This is such total bullshit! Both the confirmation email and the billing account statement show the version acquired. At least one of them is redundant, both if you consider that I purchased the software from Microsoft's own website, and they know perfectly well what I purchased.

No, this is all about setting up a bunch of silly requirements to discourage people from asking for the rebate and to serve as grounds for denying the rebate if you screw one of them up.

There are a lot of advantages that flow from Microsoft's domination of the PC desktop ("monopoly" would be a more accurate word), but it also let's them get away with business practices that would be intolerable if there were any competitive products out there.