Buying Software

Back in the early 90s I got a bundled copy of Microsoft Money with a PC. At the time I had next to no money, and was pretty much living off credit cards. Keeping track of who I had to pay when was critically important, and so I tried Money, found it invaluable, and have pretty much stuck with it ever since. I’m fairly anal about entering everything (a source of great amusement to some), but I’m a sucker for data and reports and graphs and the like,

I’ve looked at a few of the upgrades to Money over the years, but I’ve never actually installed them. The demo versions never seemed to play nicely with a pre-existing installation, and it seemed that if I decided not to upgrade after the 30 days were up I wouldn’t be able to use my existing version either easily (I’d need to have backed up my data in advance as newer versions would undoubtedly ‘upgrade’ the file format, and I’d need to re-install the earlier version from CD, probably after cleaning out some registry entries).

So recently when I got a new PC for home I thought this was the perfect opportunity to try the latest demo. I could leave my ‘real’ version on my work PC, copy across the latest backup of my data, and play with both in parallel on two machines. At first I hated it. The interface has changed significantly in 10 years and there didn’t really seem to be that many new features that would persuade me to upgrade. I never really liked their “online banking” side of things which supposedly interfaces with my banks and credit card companies, and most of the new features seemed related to that, as well as online bill paying, house inventory tracking, house buying etc. The core functionality of just keeping track of basic transactions seemed mostly the same as ever, only with a clumsier interface.

But after a week or so playing I began to notice tiny little changes that made things much easier. Previously, when adding transactions in January, if you entered something from the previous month as 24/12 it would automatically fill in the current year, which of course was ludicrous. Now it correctly auto-fills the previous year. There’s a nice function to “flag” transactions to be brought to your attention again at a specified later date. There are a variety of new ways in which you can order the transactions when reconciling an account. Even the online import of a statement from my bank is much smoother, correctly merging transactions that I’d already entered even if they were on a slightly different date and entered to a slightly different payee.

So, when my 30-day trial was over I decided to go ahead and purchase it. I went back to Microsoft Money home page where I downloaded it from, and searched for the part that would let me enter my credit card number to get a product key to “unlock” my trial version.

Of course I searched in vain. Microsoft apparently don’t work like that. Instead I had to go to Amazon, order a physical CD in a box to be shipped to me, wait a week for it arrive, uninstall my trial version, and re-install what appears to be an identical piece of software from a CD. It’s not as if you even get a manual or anything – it’s just a CD in a box.

I really don’t get this. This is a solved problem. You download a trial version. It expires. You go to a website, give your credit card number, get a key that unlocks the software. You plug that key in, and bingo, your software works again. There’s no need to send me a CD through the post. There’s no need to force me to uninstall and reinstall the software. There’s no need for me to wait a week between deciding to purchase and actually being able to use your software.

So maybe Microsoft don’t want to upset their dealer network. (Like Microsoft have ever cared how they upset…) Then allow the on-line retailers to sell your license keys for you. Amazon could just have easily sent me an email with a registration number when I bought the product as send me a box (actually they could do this much more easily, and much more profitably). Sell boxes to people who really want them. But those of us who just want working software, please don’t get in our way.

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