It’s not the least bit surprising, but now it’s official: Microsoft is discontinuing its personal-finance program, Money, after ending updates and yanking the application out of retail stores last year. The program joins Encarta and Flight Simulator among famous, venerable Microsoft products whose lives are coming to an end.
I don’t see this as bad news for Microsoft. Actually, it’s an encouraging sign of rational behavior: the company is being brutally realistic about prospects for some well-known products, which is surely smarter than trying to continue being all things to all people forever. But I do think that the end of these brands is part of a larger trend that’s still nascent: The start of the end of shrinkwrapped software.
Money, Encarta, and Flight Simulator all flourished in the era when doing stuff with PCs nearly always involved going to a store, buying a box with one or more discs inside it, and installing software on a hard drive. The shrinkwrapped-box part of that process already feels archaic; software remains relevant, but it’s hard to imagine any future except one in which traditional applications largely give way to Web-based services (and application/service hybrids) over the next few years.
Of course, the rise in Web apps doesn’t automatically spell doom for successful desktop software: Money, Encarta, and Flight Simulator could have theoretically kept on going in largely or completely Web-based form. But it would have been a tricky leap. In a way, it reminds me of what happened in the early 1990s, when Windows began to catch on. Over the next decade, most of the best-known applications of the DOS era–hits like Lotus 1-2-3, Harvard Graphics, dBASE, and many others—failed to be anywhere near as successful in Windows as they’d been in DOS. They didn’t always go away completely, but they were rendered irrelevant.
(Intuit’s Quicken, an application which managed to triumph over Money despite Microsoft’s best efforts, is going a far better job of reinventing itself for the road ahead–but it too is going to find the transition hugely challenging.)
You gotta think that many, many other notable applications–and not just Microsoft ones–will join Money in the deadpool over the next three to five years…