Did Microsoft Try To Buy Mint.com?

Mint.com’s investors won’t say, and Microsoft isn’t talking either. But in light of Bloomberg’s story today that Microsoft is forming a joint venture with Citibank to compete against Intuit and Mint.com, I wonder if Microsoft did.

Last June, Microsoft discontinued Microsoft Money, its 18-year-old personal finance software. At the time, the move was portrayed by the media as cost cutting given Microsoft’s depressed financials, and by Microsoft as its need to satisfy customers’ desires to buy and use software online, at MSN Money.com.

But there was more to it than that, as there usually is with Microsoft. Intuit is one of the very few software companies that has consistently been able to beat Microsoft in sales. Despite all Microsoft’s years of trying, Microsoft Money was never able to catch up to Intuit’s Quicken.

Whether it was Intuit’s marketing prowess (founder Scott Cook was a retail whiz from Proctor & Gamble) or the quality of its product or its integration with the Web, Intuit always won, even after Microsoft landed some marketing deals for Microsoft Money with banks. (Citibank was one).

In 1994, Bill Gates tried to buy Intuit — but the deal was shot down by the U.S. Department of Justice, which filed suit to block it on the grounds that it would hamper innovation and reduce competition.

The DOJ had that one right. Microsoft never gave up trying to beat Intuit, even after Gates moved on. When Microsoft said that it would stop selling Money, Intuit promptly offered discounts on Quicken — and assured customers that it was “working closely with Microsoft to develop an easy way for Money users to transfer data into Quicken desktop products.”

I bet. “We will continue to evolve and enhance the online MSN offering in the coming months,” Microsoft said in a statement when it discontinued Money. Now we’ll see how.