Monday, February 13, 2006

Demand Open Standards

I work with Open Source software on a daily basis. Linux runs on our clusters, desktops and servers. I used OpenOffice to do all my grades. I wrote my latest paper in LaTeX. All of this software was free to use. I forget how spoiled I am until I have to use a closed source, closed standards piece of software. My latest gripe? TaxCut software.

I've been using TaxCut for the last 3 years since it is much cheaper than TurboTax (which seems to think they should charge more for their software than what it would cost to have a professional just do them). Each year I put the file safely away and print out a hard copy of the taxes and e-file away. Part of the e-filing process (as you may know) is the electronic signature, where you specify last year's adjusted gross income so the IRS knows its you.

Well last year I must have forgot to print the hard copies of my taxes since they are nowhere to be found (all the W-2, 1099s etc are in the file, just no forms). No problem I say. I'll just look at my 2004 TaxCut file and read the number from there and print out the forms.

Here's where the closed standards come into play. TaxCut 2005 won't read 2004's return except to pull the personal data out to auto complete the forms. Their website even says "reinstall TaxCut 2004 to read last years returns". Like I can find that disk laying around. Does TaxCut provide a free 'tax file' reader? Nope. Does TaxCut give any indication how to open last years file beyond stupidly reinstalling their software? Nope.

Now granted this is all my fault since I must have forgotten to print last years return, but for TaxCut to demand I have their software from a specific year to read a specific file is insane. I demand that software companies adopt open standards to their file formats can be *read* by any software supporting those standards.

This bit me a few years ago when I tried to print off all the class notes I had written in WordPerfect. "Sorry, that company is basically gone, so all your files are useless now." Grrr. All that work gone.

Microsoft is fighting hard to not adopt open standards and formats for their Office product. I wonder why? Is it to lock people into their product line? You betcha.