Microsoft Vs. Intuit: Episode IV. (Or is it V?)

Barbara Darrow

Even as Microsoft execs up to and including The Big Bill prepare to unveil the company's planned small- and mid-market gear in Redmond Wednesday, Intuit came out swinging

An Intuit exec said the company's upcoming QuickBooks 2006 will sport better multi-user support than the current release. Intuit has subbed in a new-but-unnamed "industry standard SQL database" for its venerable, but stretched-thin database, says Dan Levin.

"Our database was designed 15 years ago for a very different environment," says Levin vice president of product management for Mountain View, Calif.-based Intuit

He also swears there will be no conversion issues moving data from QuickBooks 2005 to the new version. That's a pretty big promise. We'll see. The product's due later this month.

The 2006 release of QuickBooks Enterprise will support up to 15 users where its predecessor supported ten, he added.

Microsoft's Office 2006 Small Business Accounting is –big surprise—aggressively priced. The standalone version can be had for $149 retail after rebate. Right now, the best discounted QuickBooks Pro price is around $180.

But Levin, who won't talk SRP on QuickBooks 2006, maintains that the price isn't everything, even to accountants. On one thing Microsoft and Intuit agree: It is accountants who advise small- and home-office businesses what finance software to run. And both vendors are wooing them.

Levin basically said Microsoft paid for glowing quotes from accounting and developer influencers with a liberal disbursement of marketing funds.

"It's always interesting to see what people will say if you pay them enough," he noted. (Obviously, Microsoft would dispute this contention. Execs have said the company has just done its homework and designed the package for ease of use and power for users and accountants alike.)

"There is no erosion among partners or accountants," Levin said. "Of 400,000 accountants in this country, 250,000 of them recommend QuickBooks. Why go to some unproven version one of a product that's a pretty good copy of QuickBooks five years ago?" Levin noted.

Levin is seemingly similarly unconcerned about developers, typically a strong Microsoft constituency. "If you're a third party developer, who would you rather write for, three million active users or four active users? The leader in the market for fifteen years or a vendor who's tried three times and quit each time?."

As has been abundantly reported, Microsoft has attempted small business finance software several times before. With Microsoft Profit. With Microsoft Money. With bCentral hosted solutions. And it has, in fact, thrown up its arms each time.

It finally decided to try to buy Intuit about ten years ago but gave up on that too after regulatory resistance.

Interestingly, one of Redmond's attempts, Microsoft Profit, seemingly disappeared after being sold to Great Plains Software, which subsequently resold it to Champion Accounting Systems. According to good sleuth work by someone other than myself (you know who you are) it seems Champion is now Red Wing Software and there are some vestiges of Profit buried in the support section of its Web site. Red Wing makes financial management software for farmers.

This guy will forthwith be identified here as as CSI: Software.

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