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Thursday, March 24, 2011

2010 CanTax income tax software from CCH - the worst tax software ever!!!

I have been doing personal income tax preparation ever since taking H&R Block's income tax course in the fall of 1988 and worked for H&R Block during the tax season in 1989. Back then I prepared taxes by hand using the tax forms, provided by Revenue Canada, and a pencil. The pencil was necessary as it is easy to erase a mistake when it is written lead.

In November 1993 I bought my first computer which came with Microsoft DOS 6.2 and Windows 3.1. During the tax season (in Canada the tax season is defined as from mid February to April 30) the following year, there was an advertisement for HOMETAX software. HOMETAX proved to be a great software solution for anyone wanting to use a computer to prepare their taxes and quickly become my tax software of choice.

In 1998 I left Canada and returned to Jamaica and stayed for four years. Upon returning to Canada in March 2002, I discovered HOMETAX no longer existed and CanTax from CCH was very simlar to HOMETAX. In those early days, CanTax was a great software that was easy to use. Since CanTax was written for Windows 98, security was not a concern as Windows 98 was not secure and everyone accepted that. Apparently, CanTax also ran on Windows 2000 (Win2k) and XP.

In 2006 CanTax announced they will no longer support Windows 98 and all future versions of CanTax will only run on Win2k, XP and the soon to be released Windows Vista. As my computers were old, the decision was made to buy a new desktop and laptop computers from IBM/Lenovo. These computers came with Windows XP Professional. Since I started experimenting with Linux in 2005, I was becoming aware of the security issues involved in running a computer with a powerful operating system like XP.

Since I do tax preparation for an accountant as well as for my own clients, my most important issues were separating my work from my accountant's work and ensuring all tax data is secure. This is when I first discovered the security issues with the CanTax software. It turns out that although CanTax was writing the software to run specifically on Windows XP, which is a so called multi-user networking system, it could only be used by a user with administrative privileges. To make matters worse for me, Microsoft encourages XP users and XP software developers to use and create software that violates computer security. By default, all new users of Windows XP are members of the administrator group.

To avoid CanTax and Windows XP security issues, I started using CanTax in Linux with WINE (Windows Imitation Native Environment) on my brand new Dell Inspiron 1501 (x86_64 AMD TURION TL 60 chip running openSUSE 10.3 x86_64). There was a user account for doing the accountant's work and a user account for doing my clients' return. However, the tax return did not print properly. Later I discovered virtualization and tried VM Ware. VM Ware proved very difficult to install and impossible to use on my computers. Then I discovered VirtualBox. VirtualBox was very easy to install and worked on my computers on the first attempt. So I installed Windows XP as a virtual machine for all users - one user to do my clients' returns, one user to do the accountant's work and a test user for experimenting with the security settings of Windows XP as well as for entertainment. Whenever XP got corrupted because of improper security settings, the virtual machine was destroyed and a new virtual machine created. The settings that enhanced the security of XP was applied to the other machines. For the next few years everything was fine. Then in 2010, after the tax season ended, but before the corporate tax software was released, CanTax started making their software to require Windows XP with service pack 3 (SP3), Windows Vista or Windows 7. But it is still required a user with administrator privileges.

Since my two tax virtual machines were configured with super high security, SP3 and CanTax could not be installed. A new virtual machine with a standard installation of Windows XP professional with SP3 installed was used to install the CanTax T2 (corporate tax returns). This software worked fine. Then early in March 2010, the CanTax T1 (personal software) was installed and instantly started crashing. The only good thing about the CanTax T1 software is the bug reporting tool works provided an email software is installed and configured. Since March 7, 2011 there has been at least 12 crash reports that CCH support has responded to. Their instructions has been to recover from the crash, not prevent the crashes. Then on March 17 CCH support requested that I send the file(s) that caused the crash(es) to them so the may recreate the crash. Given their track record for security (we say we are secure therefore we are secure, just do not look for how we are secured) - just take a look at in Mozilla Firefox or higher and you will see the padlock icon in the status bar is broken to indicate the security is compromised. My theory is that, since their encrypted web server is not secure, all their networks and computers are not secure either. Why should I give them my accountant's client information or my client information when they have no clue about security?

CCH technical support then decided to have me install a new T1w.exe file so they may figure out what was happening. I was very skeptical about this as they were probably having me install some form of spyware. Anyway, I relented and installed the replacement T1w.exe. Immediately, one of the two users could not access the software and on user, included users with administrator privileges, could not access the internet. The worst part is the only user that could access the CanTax software still experienced the software crashing. Further investigation into why no user could access the internet revealed over a dozen unknown software installed. Since I run a very tight ship - only two user accounts can install software i.e. Administrator and admin - and only the new T1w.exe file was installed, all the new software could only come from CCH. I immediately copied all the tax files to the Linux host machine, destroyed the crippled virtual machine and activated a backup virtual machine with the original CanTax software installed. So now I am back to square one with the worst version of CanTax ever. This software is unadulterated crap. So what if the user interface is easy to use. Ease of use means nothing if it is constantly crashing, violates the Canadian computer security and privacy laws.

Next year, I will be using Ufile Pro which costs $99.00 + tax compared to CanTax T1 professional at $599.00 + tax. I plan to replace CanTax T2 with DT MAX T2 as I have had enough of CanTax/CCH idea of security and stability.
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