WallStreet Journal
Financial Software Makes Move to Web
Monday October 22, 2007 10:29 pm ET
By Lee Gomes

The Web is slowly but relentlessly changing the way people use computers, including the use of everyday pieces of software. Personal-finance software, such as Quicken or Money, has long been a mainstay for home computers, but it's another example of something you can now do online.

At a Web developer's conference last month, attendees selected Mint.com as best new company at the event. Mint lets users track items such as their credit-card expenses online by using just a browser. The service is free; Mint takes in revenue when users act on its suggestions for ways to save money. , Mint's founder, talked about some of the differences between online and offline software.

What's the advantage of a program living online rather than on your desktop?

There are two big advantages. One of them is that you can leverage the power of the Web. You can pull in data sources from everywhere. The second is that you can continuously upgrade and improve your software. Desktop packages are usually put out once a year. And if they have bugs, they have bugs for an entire year. Or, the software may patch itself, but they don't put out new features, except on an annual basis. They are locked. You never get any new features in the interim. At Mint, we push out new features on a weekly basis -- minor features on a weekly basis, and major features once a month.

What's wrong with packaged software makers' upgrading their products regularly?

What they want to do for their business model is to get their customers to upgrade every year. Quicken and Microsoft Money sunset their products; they actually force you to upgrade every three or so years. To force an upgrade, you have to justify it somehow. So they end up in feature warfare, where they put in endless amounts of trivial or pointless features. But that diverts focus away from the core features. You see that in some Microsoft products. Word or Excel 95 or 97 were just fine. But in order to force the upgrade, they add 100 different features that no one ends up using.

Instead, you want to do your core features in an elegant, simple, user-friendly way. And I think the Web is more geared for that. You aren't pressured into trying to sell boxed software once a year.

Google is making word-processing and spreadsheet software that runs online; even Microsoft is moving in that direction. What do you think the future holds?

Three or five years from now all your core applications will be online...your finances, your word processing, your spreadsheets. The only kind of software you would ever want on a desktop is something that requires a lot of processing power and bandwidth, like video editing or gaming.

Personal-finance software had been around almost as long as personal computers have. What was it like designing a personal-finance program new and from the ground up?

It allowed us to think about what problems people have. Instead of being trapped in an old framework, like an electronic checkbook, we were able to allow people to get all the information about their finances in one place. And it allowed us to question some fundamental assumptions, such as, do you really even need to balance your checkbook any more? I don't think so. I think software can do it for you. And I don't think banks make the mistakes they would have 20 or 25 years ago. At least for people like me: the Internet generation. We are comfortable with doing things online.

Write to Lee Gomes at lee.gomes@wsj.com



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