Microsoft is abandoning its personal finance software, Microsoft Money, after over 16 years of development and marketing. But why abandon perfectly good software when it could be released to the community as an Open Source project?
This week, Microsoft announced its intention to cease development and marketing of Microsoft Money, a personal finance application which includes electronic bill and check payment. It seems that after years and years of trying to win this market away from long-standing competitor Intuit, who sells their popular Quicken and Quickbooks, its finally the end of the road for Microsoft Money. Customers are being informed that due to web-based online services by various banking institutions, Microsoft Money has outlived its usefulness.
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Well, that may be the excuse that Microsoft is using, but I still think Microsoft Money shouldn't go the way of abandonware. Microsoft does have an option for keeping the product alive, but they'd have to exercise an option that they'd never used before: release the product into Open Source.Open Source? Who? What? Microsoft? Are you kidding?
Yeah, I'm dead serious. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense, and it could be a way for Microsoft to test the waters with a developer community that they've never really had the ideal opportunity to interact with before.
Whatever excuse Microsoft is making about web-based banking services taking the place of dedicated applications like Money, the bottom line is that their competitor, Intuit, still charges money for Quicken and manages to make a decent business for software very similar to Microsoft Money. If Money were to be maintained as a community project, the software would provide a huge service for lots of people who need an affordable personal finance program but don't want to pay Intuit $60-$100 each year for updates and maintenance. And QuickBooks? I used to remember having to shell out at least $200 every time they released a new version. Sure, Intuit now has online services for free as well as paid versions, but I'm not sure everyone out there wants to trust their business financial data to a third party company.
In the past, I've suggested that Microsoft Open Source a number of their software products, such as the legacy NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 code, as well as other peices of their portfolio such as Services For UNIX. The biggest argument against any of that was that doing such would potentially cannibalize the revenue streams of the products that replaced them -- IE Windows XP, Windows 2003, et cetera.
But Microsoft Money is about to become abandonware. So any arguments that Open Sourcing Microsoft Money due to some potential to cannibalize the revenue stream of another product are moot. If anything, releasing "OpenMoney" or "FreeMoney" with an OSI-approved license would engender huge amounts of good will and would also hurt Intuit, the company which has been a thorn in Microsoft's side all these years.
Releasing Money into Open Source would give customers choice. How much financial burden are we really talking about here in order to release Money as an Open Source project? Presumably, a hell of a lot less than continuing development and marketing. We're talking about setting up a code hosting environment and designating one or two people at Microsoft to mentor the project on a part-time basis to engage the community, from a pure startup perspective.
Microsoft indeed has been involved in some Open Source activity, under the direction of Sam Ramji and his Open Source Software Lab at Port 25. Most of this activity has been centered around interoperability with Open Source operating systems and projects with Microsoft technologies. But to date no significant Microsoft software asset has ever been released into the community. Microsoft Money could be that first step into not just being interoperable, but for Microsoft to emerge as a valuable Open Source community contributor and project mentor.
Should Microsoft Money be Open Sourced? Talk Back and Let Me Know.