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The Future of Tax Software on Linux? 58

Posted by Cliff
from the getting-ready-for-next-year dept.
mengel asks: "So this last week, I repeated my annual ritual of trashing my scratch partition, making a FAT filesystem on it, booting Microsoft Windows(tm), and installing tax software to do my taxes. I had hoped, with the advent of Xandros, and of Linspire (formerly Lindows), that one of these increasingly important commercial companies would have talked someone like Intuit, or the Tax Cut guys, into developing this years tax software against Wine, so that it would also run on Linux under Wine as well as on MSWindows. So what has to happen before the companies who write Tax Cut and TurboTax will do versions that least run under Wine, much less native Linux versions? What can we do to help make that happen?"

"Tax Preparation is the only reason I boot MSWindows anymore, and each year it gets more arduous, as soon I'm going to be forced to upgrade the MSWindows partition to XP, just as a few years ago I had to upgrade from MSWindows 3.1 to MSWindows 98 -- so in effect my tax software costs me double, because I keep getting forced to buy a newer MSWindows upgrade every 3 years or so as well as the tax software."

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The Future of Tax Software on Linux?

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  • TurboTax Online (Score:4, Informative)

    by Reducer2001 (197985) on Friday April 16, 2004 @04:33PM (#8885880) Homepage
    I ran the online version of TurboTax just fine on my Gentoo box running Firebird/fox.
    • The online version of TurboTax doesn't support W2's from multiple states. I tried H&R block and although they can do it, they want $100 to file my federal and $60 for my state.

      The Federal was actually cake to do, so I did that myself, H&R called me after I submitted and told me that if I only wanted state that they would have to charge me for federal anyways.

      I ended up going to a windows machine and installing the desktop TurboTax.

      (I live in MA and work in CT, also had a W2 from beginning of las
      • Re:TurboTax Online (Score:3, Informative)

        by PerlGuru (115222)
        The online version of TurboTax doesn't support W2's from multiple states. I tried H&R block and although they can do it, they want $100 to file my federal and $60 for my state.


        That's funny sure seemed to handle my multiple W-2's just fine this year, same as last year.
      • I tried H&R block and although they can do it, they want $100 to file my federal and $60 for my state.

        Did you need some premium features? I filed on-line with H & R Block for $34.95. (Maryland now has it's own free web-based state filing.) No problems at all this time. (In past years there was a problem at the end with downloading the PDF of the return, where their server was too dumb to understand that, yes, I do have a PDF reader installed; this year they were smart enough to provide a "click

    • > I ran the online version of TurboTax just fine
      > on my Gentoo box running Firebird/fox

      Ditto. I've used TurboTax online for the past four years, always from a Linux box. Other than how the price jumped $10 from the $59.90 of last year, I have no complaints. In fact, this time around the application works without any hitches under Firebird/fox, unlike the odd occasional hitches of the past.

      I've done my taxes by hand before; as others note, it's really not that hard. That said, it'd have been tough to
    • I personally can't and/or won't use the online version, because my personal taxes are too complex and because I don't like the privacy implications, even with SSL/HTTPS.

      I only want the final tax data going over the wires and don't want another company having all the forms data. (Of course, most of that could be reconstructed from e-Filing, etc....)

      I also don't want to have some new April 15 DDoS knocking out the Internet, itself, come tax day, to stop all Internet filing.... (BTW, I got my return mid-Ma
    • Taxes are for little people - Leona Helmsley.

  • by AtariAmarok (451306) on Friday April 16, 2004 @04:34PM (#8885890)
    "I'm the tuxman. Yeaheh, I'm the tuxman...."
  • No need.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by woobieman29 (593880) on Friday April 16, 2004 @04:35PM (#8885899)
    You can do this on the web, using either the Tax Cut software on the web provided by H&R Block, or go to Yahoo and use their TurboTax service. There are probably others too.
    • Re:No need.... (Score:2, Informative)

      by Jahf (21968)
      Agreed. For the last 3 years I've used HRblock.com's online preparation services and e-filed through them.

      It doesn't save any money over using the software locally that I've found so far but it has 3 distinct advantages:

      1) Runs Mozilla (though you need to turn on pop-ups for that site since the entire application is in a pop-up)

      2) Access from anywhere ... twice I've needed to refer to my past year's taxes while out of the house and HRBlock keeps up to 3 years online at a time in PDF format

      3) I don't hav
    • Re:No need.... (Score:3, Informative)

      by DeadSea (69598) *

      For two years I have used TaxAct [taxact.com] online. This year it cost my $17.00 to file both my federal and state taxes.

      Advantages:

      • Works on linux (I used firefox web browser)
      • Cheap (as I said $17.00) - less than I have found in downloadable software or other online services.
      • Fast - the website is very responsive and unlike turbo tax online, I have never been frustrated by the server speed.
      • Stores last years return for you and auto fills in that data.
      • Has tax advice, good instructions, a nice wizard interface, an
  • TaxCut for the Web (Score:4, Informative)

    by yelvington (8169) on Friday April 16, 2004 @04:37PM (#8885917) Homepage
    Tax Cut for the Web [taxcut.com] lists Netscape 6+7 as supported browsers, so it should work fine with Mozilla/Firebird.
  • TurboTax for the web (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lindsayt (210755)
    Why do people buy windows software to do their taxes? I just pay the $30 (I have to do the long form and some schedules) and use TurboTax for the web every year - it allows me to do my taxes on my Sun Rays (Solaris/Mozilla) as well as my linux machine at work (linux/mozilla). And I can stop at any point and come back to it later on a different computer. It's amazingly easy and it doesn't make me (1) buy physical software packages; or (2) steal a neighbor's windows machine for the few hours it takes me to
    • I bought the software because I got close to $53 off and paid $20 to do my taxes with TurboTax. ($10 off coupon for staples + $30 rebate on the state tax software + 3% off thanks to being a business rewards member + $10 gift card to staples for buying tax software at staples and being a business rewards member == $20 tax software).
  • It beats me why an individual taxpayer who knows anything about programming would use tax prep software. I did my taxes by hand, along with separate state and federal returns for each of my three kids, in less than the time it took you to set up a Windows environment and get the software running.

    Anybody who can follow instructions like "subtract the lesser of lines 14 and 16 from line 18 and enter the result on line 21" would be better off following the hacker creed and doing it themself.

    • [i] It beats me why an individual taxpayer who knows anything about programming would use tax prep software.[/i]

      Actually, even though I'm very good with programming, high level math, etc, I screw up small calculations like that all the time. Expense and mileage reports, everything. I'd probably goof up.

      The main reason I did my taxes on line, back in late Janurary or Feburary, was so I'd get my refund faster.

      Doing them online, with eFile, and Direct Deposit...I got my refund in about 12 days.

      As opposed t
      • Getting your refund via direct deposit has absolutely nothing to do with how you file your taxes.
      • by flockofseagulls (48580) on Friday April 16, 2004 @06:03PM (#8886899) Homepage
        If you're getting a big enough refund to be anxious about it, your are already doing your taxes wrong by having too much withheld. You should adjust your withholding (allowances) so you get the money in your paycheck rather than in the form of a tax refund.

        You're better off owing $100 or less on April 15th than overwithholding all year and then figuring out how to get that refund a few days faster.

        As for the simple math required on the tax forms, what a lame excuse! Get an $18 printing calculator. Go over the numbers twice. The IRS will check your calculations and correct them anyway, and in that case you have a fifty-fifty chance of getting a reduction or increase in taxes. For small discrepancies resulting from arithmetic errors you won't get into any trouble, they'll just send a refund or a bill -- don't you think they get LOTS of those already?

        If you're going to defend the big refund by saying that it's a great way to save, it's not. Set up an auto-withdraw savings plan with your bank, credit union, or U.S. Treasury in the form of savings bonds. Overwithholding is just an interest-free loan to the government, and then when the "windfall" check comes you're probably going to blow it rather than save it anyway.
    • by angle_slam (623817) on Friday April 16, 2004 @06:07PM (#8886949)
      It beats me why an individual taxpayer who knows anything about programming would use tax prep software

      Ease of use maybe? Actually following instructions is easy. But it's time consuming. TurboTax does it for you already. For a really simple return, you can be done in 2 minutes. For more complicated returns, it does the thinking and calculations for you: should you itemize? Enter in your deductions and it will determine that for you. Are your medical expenses more than 7.5% of your AGI? TurboTax will automatically determine that and enter the information for you. Do you have to pay AMT? Turbo Tax automatically calculates the AMT once all your data is in.

      It's just much faster than doing it by hand. You don't have to worry about making an addition mistake. You won't make a mistake in looking up the tax owed. You can file electronically and get your refund much faster. It will automatically transfer your information to a state tax return. It is more readable than hand-written returns. You can forecast next year's taxes and print out an appropriate W4 (I did this last year. If not for unexpected income, both Federal and state would have been within $50 of what was withheld). If you have your own business, it will do your estimated taxes. It will tell you of your options with basically anything you can think of. I'll never do taxes by hand again.

      Of course, if you have to buy and install Windows to do this, you don't save much time. But for a person who has a Windows machine, TurboTax (and the like) have great advantages.

    • I did my taxes by hand this year, and then via a web-preparation thingee. I'm a smart guy, and a programmer, and I found the forms easy to fill out.

      I got $1200 more using the program than I did filling out the forms manually. I think it made a lot of this difference by transferring some elegible deductions from my wife's return to mine (as her part of the return actually got smaller). Perhaps I should have known which I could do this with, but I didn't.

      Add to this that the total time to use the program
  • by Otter (3800) on Friday April 16, 2004 @04:41PM (#8885964) Journal
    As Ask Slashdots go, this is almost as easy as "My school's network is insecure. What should I do about it? Should I sniff passwords and publically post them?" earlier this week:

    Use Linux. Insist on Linux software and *buy* it when it's available.

    There's no conspiracy here-- those companies do MacOS ports because Mac users make it worth their while. As long as the US desktop Linux base remains tiny and as long as most of those users can dual-boot and are willing to buy the software, what's the value for them? Especially since you know the remaining Linux core is a) going to complain that it doesn't run on Gentoo or LFS, b) berate them for not making the whole thing open-source and c) too cheap to pay for it anyway.

    There is one huge upside, in that there will *never* be a good free alternative, so if a userbase exists, products will emerge.

    • Use Linux. Insist on Linux software and *buy* it when it's available.

      No!! They must give it to us for free!!! Just kidding. Just kidding. I agree with you. I'm actually trying to move away from open source software. I'm focusing more on open standards & standards compliance. But I digress...

      Regarding Gentoo, there is a feature that allows us to install binary software that has no source available. You can install RealPlayer, & probably a few others. Some people will still complain, though.

      I've act

  • by greenhide (597777) <jordanslashdot AT cvilleweekly DOT com> on Friday April 16, 2004 @04:43PM (#8885991)
    So what has to happen before the companies who write Tax Cut and TurboTax will do versions that least run under Wine, much less native Linux versions? What can we do to help make that happen?

    The companies need to believe that they will make money if they release versions for Linux. Currently, there just aren't enough users who only use Linux to encourage tax program companies to devote resources to making compatible versions available.

    Also, consider the Linux culture, which generally eschews proprietary software. It's pretty much impossible for a tax preparation sw company to release its source code, so you'd have to use binaries. That could lead to compatibility problems between different variants of Linux. The thing is, if you write an application for Windows, you mostly only have to worry about writing it for two flavors of Windows: 95/2000 and XP. It's a known quantity. At this point, most companies just have to change the rules from the previous years, and can keep most of the GUI and interfaces intact.

    Right now, there are some 25 million Mac users (supposedly) in the US, and there's one (TurboTax) preparation software application available to them. I'm guessing there's far fewer than 100,000 users in the US who use Linux and a Linux-based desktop exclusively in their home, and a great many of these people use the Linux desktop because they don't want to spend any money on an OS. <joke>A good portion still live in their parent's basement, and don't have much of an income to speak of.</joke> All considered, 100,000 is a very low number.
    • you mostly only have to worry about writing it for two flavors of Windows: 95/2000 and XP

      There are two lines of Windows. The 9x line includes 95, 98 and ME. The NT line includes NT 4, 2000 and XP. 9x and NT are a completely different operating system. They both implement the Win32 API and thus run (most of) the same applications.

      Right now, there are some 25 million Mac users (supposedly) in the US, and there's one (TurboTax) preparation software application available to them.

      There is also TaxCut P [taxcut.com]
      • by b-baggins (610215)
        I'm a big fan of Taxcut. They'll refund your efilling fees, give you a rebate on the software and refund the cost of the state package. And it's about $20 cheaper than turbotax right off the shelf.
  • Two questions: (Score:2, Insightful)

    by vasqzr (619165)

    #1

    I did the TurboTax software on the web. Doesn't it work under a Linux browser?

    #2

    Wouldn't it be easier just to have a tax preparer do them for $40, or is your time worth that little?

    • #1 I did the TurboTax software on the web. Doesn't it work under a Linux browser?

      Yes, but there are other reasons it isn't right for everybody. It all depends on your own tax circumstances. For me, in the past few years with an S corporation, various depreciating assets, etc., the dumbed-down web-based version just didn't hack it. The full offline "Turbo-Tax Business" version probably would have, but I ended up using an accountant anyway, since it was too complex.

      But I no longer own a business, so ne
  • by Captain Rotundo (165816) on Friday April 16, 2004 @04:47PM (#8886029) Homepage
    Each year I use Windows for one thing, taxes. and each year I print out way more just in case I need to check a document, I wont have to go through the windows trouble. I've been lucky enough that I have had access to windows systems so far. But this year was probably the last that will be the case. Every year I also tell Intuit (via there registration and/or other feedback) that I would prefer a Linux solution.

    I am as much a free software zealot as the next guy, as a matter of fact this is one of the few areas I would probably disagree with RMS on, I will be the first in line to purchase a tax solution for linux. - It is probably one of the last areas where there is literally NOTHING to compete with the windows platform, not even a substandard work in progress.

    I understand the web based solutions, but would really prefer a standalone app if only for illogical person preference reasons.
  • I refuse to pay any more money to Bill, or for any software that run on his OS, so I found myself in the same situation.

    I was going to actually pay the extra money for TurboTax for Mac, figuring if that was the cost of avoiding Bill's monopoly, I better put my money where my mouth is.

    Then I came across TaxAct [taxact.com], which is much cheaper than either TurboTax or TaxCut. I almost caved in to spend money on the Windows version, because they let you download a free version where you only pay when you file, but I

    • I'll second this. I've used Tax Act version dating back to 1998 and have been nothing but thrilled with their product. One of the best things they ever did was when I bought the 2002 version last year they sent the 2001 version with a note that said "here's a full version of last year's tax software in case you forgot to file or would like to compare our software to your previous year's software" I ended up needing to go back and do some 01 taxes, and the full version they sent was indeed just that, no stri
  • by Inoshiro (71693) on Friday April 16, 2004 @04:49PM (#8886056) Homepage
    I just went to the CCRA [ccra.gc.ca] website and went through an online efiling. I found out about this cool site [cutetax.ca]. Since I made less than $25,000 CDN last year (being a student and all), it was even free.

    Works quite well in Mozilla.
  • I Have a Dream (Score:3, Interesting)

    by npsimons (32752) on Friday April 16, 2004 @04:55PM (#8886133) Homepage Journal
    . . . but first, some backstory:


    Normally, every year at tax time, I would browse on over to TurboTax.com to use TurboTax for the web, which seemed to work just fine under Linux. Unfortunatley, this year they finally decided to start denying access to users without an "accepted browser". Up until this point, I had been very happy with TurboTax for the web. I briefly considered writing a tax return preparation package for Linux, but then decided I should probably just do my taxes ASAP because it was Apr. 14.


    So, I went to Google to search for "Linux tax return software", and not finding anything of worth that was free, decided to try TaxCut.com (a part of H & R Block). They had a web based version, and it seems to be working fine with Linux and Mozilla. However, I wonder how long it will be until it doesn't, and I'm reminded of my dream: to never have to use another piece of non-free (as in speech) software again, including being able to file my taxes online under Linux.


    I would still seriously like to start work on tax preparation software, but I wouldn't know where to begin, and even if I did, I don't have the time. I figure, maybe I could take courses to become a certified public accountant, try to get on the inside track for accounting and tax codes, but again time is an issue.


    Anyway, that's just my story; if anyone else has the gumption to actually start a tax preparation program for Linux, let me know. I may not have the time to work on it, but I'd definitely be interested in testing and donating what little time I do have to it.

    • if anyone else has the gumption to actually start a tax preparation program for Linux, let me know. I may not have the time to work on it, but I'd definitely be interested in testing and donating what little time I do have to it.

      There are some classes of programs where Open Source makes little sense, and it is unlikely to attract enough people to make it worthwhile. One of those classes is the set of programs that basically are gigantic business rules databases. (Note this is as opposed to systems that ru
      • Actually there's no real liability. Software doesn't have the same kinds of liability guarantees that manufactured products usually do. In fact, most licenses state it very clearly (usually in all caps).

        For a commercial company producing tax software (like the one I work for), the only real liability is losing credibility with your customers. There aren't any penalties to the company if we (or even the user) find a bug that would cause miscalculations, except that if there are lots, people won't buy your s
        • Tax preparation is a different story. The software author is functioning as a tax preparation provider. Unfortunately, I can not quickly find a link outlining what additional responsibilities that entails, and while the tax filer ultimately has the responsibility to ensure their return is correct I'd be surprised if the preparer gets off "scot free" in the event they make an egregious error. It is, as I said, a risk I might take on in return for compensation, but most assuredly not something I'd take on for
  • I used the webapp version. No headaches. No bloody Windows. Cheaper than a retail box, with more
    functionality too.
  • The current Brazilian government's love for Free Software gave us a nice surprise this year by providing a nice Java app [fazenda.gov.br] with which we can declare our anual taxes on several platforms. Until last year we had to chose between using a Windows app or using paper forms. Gee, I just realized that the Receita Federal site [fazenda.gov.br] (our IRS equivalent) is made on plone [plone.org]. How nice!
  • Ok, several people have mentioned thinking about starting a tax prep software project for Linux.

    Question: why does it have to be that hard? Take it in stages, with low goals.

    For next year, make a program that can fill out a 1040EZ. That should be dirt simple, and useful for a few people.

    For the next year, make it able to fill out and calculate a 1040A.

    For the next year, make it do a 1040 with one or two of the most common schedules. I'd recommand Schedule D for stock transactions, since several of us
  • I had a CPA do my taxes - it took just under 2 hours from the moment I walked in the door to the moment she filed electronically. And she charged me a few hundred for it (I have a business and lots of extra stuff complicate things - I counted 20+ forms generated in addition to the 1040 & 540). I also had all my paperwork in order when I went in.

    I think she was using TurboTax (or something that was Windows-based) but at least I (and all her customers) didn't buy or need to use TurboTax directly. Thu

  • There's a way of doing your taxes that lies squarely between A) use a commercial package, B) do it all by hand and check your math, and C) the never-gonna-happen Free Software solution. For the last several years, I've been using homegrown spreadsheets to do all the arithmetic, then transferring the numbers to the paper forms.

    The basic logic of the 1040, schedule SE, etc. changes very little from year to year; usually all I have to do is plug in different values for standard deductions and exemptions (I

  • ... which is this: why should we have to buy Tax preparation software in the first place? What's wrong with our Tax system that it has to be this complex? Or if it must be complex, why doesn't the IRS (who has to cope with end results on an efile) just write a front-end client that can be distributed for free? It would have to be cheaper for the government than what they have now.

    Of course that would cut into the business models of the tax preparers and tax software manufacturers, so I guess it isn't

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