Using Windows. What a horrible thing to ask a Linux user to do.
Every year at this time I have to scramble to boot into a Windows partition to do my taxes. I could do them online, safe and secure in my Linux comfort zone, but I do taxes for three people and all the online services want to charge extra for each and every return. If I download and install the software onto my own machine, there’s no extra charge. Trouble is, none of the big three tax programs supports Linux. Tax Act, the cheapo bottom of the barrel one that I use, doesn’t even support Mac.This means that every April I get a reminder of what a pain Windows can be.
This year I decided not to trust Windows to handle the financial end when purchasing this year’s tax program — Windows security being what it is — so I took care of that in Linux. In the process, I discovered that Tax Act has added a new wrinkle. Every time you try to access your account on a new machine, you have to wait for an access code, which is sent to you by email.
Other than that, it was smooth sailing….
Well, not really. Lots went wrong, starting with sticker shock.
Because I run a business, however small, I can’t be a bottom feeder and use the federal-is-free-but-you-pay-for-state version. Nor can I use the next tier, designed for the homeowner who has to deal with investments, interest and the like. I have to go all all the way up to Premium, which is where they keep the Schedule Cs and inventory counting routines squirreled away. The price for this has been on a steady uptick for the past decade or so, from about $30 to $50 last year. This year the price jumped to 85 bucks. For a second, I considered just forgetting it and doing my taxes the old fashioned way, but I couldn’t remember where I stored my abacus and went ahead and let loose with the money.
I better get a hefty refund on my taxes, I thought. At least enough to pay for this.
My original plan was to keep my trusted desktop running Linux and use it for finding all the numbers I’d need to plug-in to Tax Act for it to do its thing with them. I’d just purchased the desktop in December, a refurbished machine that had come with Windows 10 preinstalled, which I kept on a small partition, just in case, when I installed Linux Mint on most of the 2 TB drive. But I figured I’d let it stay in Linux, where it belonged, and install Tax Act on a Windows 7 partition I have on a System 76 laptop.
Windows on a System 76 machine? Sacrilege, right? Don’t blame me, I didn’t do it, even if I was partially responsible. When the used machine had been gifted to me, it had come equipped with Windows installed and nothing else. I fixed that. These days, the majority of the hard drive is devoted to Linux, with a tiny little corner reserved for the Windows it came to me with — again, just in case. It’s what I used for my taxes last year.
Windows being Windows, a monkey wrench was thrown into the machinery right off. I booted the laptop into Windows, which then refused to connect with the Wi-Fi. It found the on-board Broadcom Wi-Fi just fine, but every time I’d try to get it to connect, it’d throw up an “unknown error” notice and ask if I’d like to enable logging so I could figure it out myself. This was odd, considering I’d used the machine to do my taxes last year, and it connects with the Wi-Fi just fine in Linux. But I wasn’t going to spend the better part of a day trying to fix it — I had no desire to start relearning my way around Windows. Time for Plan B, which was the reverse of Plan A: boot the desktop to Windows and use the laptop in Linux for finding all my facts and figures.
So, I booted the desktop into Windows 10. Again, with Windows being Windows — and me being me — I hit another snag right away. It turns out that the Windows install on the desktop had been a brand new OEM version. My grace period had expired and Microsoft would very much like for me to add my registration key. Fark. I had (and have) absolutely no idea where it is. I remember seeing it in the box when the computer had arrived from Amazon, but since I was going to be installing Linux on it, I didn’t pay it much mind — you know, proprietary Windows crap, right? Knowing me, I probably threw it out when I disposed of the box.
Windows offered an option to “do it later,” which I clicked. I was informed that some update features would be disabled, but I was granted access to Windows, although with click through notices telling me that I was using a “counterfeit” version of Windows occasionally popping up.
As usual, I did my roommate’s taxes first, because hers are the easiest. I’d already made a thumb drive copy of her Tax Act file from last year, which Tax Act uses to import last year’s info into the new return, meaning there’s a whole lot of fields I don’t need to fill out. When I got to the part that asked if she’d used Tax Act last year and would I like to import that info now, I clicked “Yup” and plugged in the thumb drive to copy the file.
Trouble is, Windows didn’t see the thumb drive and no amount of coaxing could make it do so.
I didn’t mess around with that long. I did a quick search and found something about USB ports having to be activated in Windows, which I thought odd because I’ve never had to do anything to get USB ports to work in hard-to-use Linux. I wasn’t going to spend any time trying to figure that out, since there was an easy work around. I rebooted the machine into hard-to-use Linux, opened a file manager, copied the needed file into the proper location in the Windows partition and rebooted the machine into Windows.
From there, doing my roommates taxes was a breeze — until it came time to print her return.
Like me, roommate always files a paper return. None of that online filing stuff for us. Call us old fashioned. We are, and there’s a good reason for that. We’re old.
I hit print and nothing happened. I checked to make sure I had the printer turned on. Yep, there was a green light. I hit print again with the same result. Then again and again and again. Eventually I realized that continuing to click “print” wasn’t the answer.
Tt turned out to be another configureatin problem. That, and no driver. Windows wasn’t configured for this printer and was trying to print to something called OneNote, whatever the hell that is (don’t tell me, I don’t really want to know). I did some futzing around and discovered that Windows saw the printer just fine, but couldn’t use it because it didn’t have a driver for it. I looked through Window’s list of readily available drivers, and discovered that the Deskjet 1000 I use (a horrible printer, BTW), evidently doesn’t exist in my copy of Windows’ world. I found a screen that asked if I’d like Windows to find the driver online. I clicked “make it so.”
“Dave, I can’t do that. You have’t entered a registration key and I might be counterfeit.”
The good news was that Hal did discover that my USB ports weren’t activated and fixed that for me.
I found the “I have a disc” option and looked around for the Windows install disc that had come with the printer when I bought it a year-and-a-half ago, to no avail. Next week, as they say, I have to get organized.
This was a problem. I wouldn’t be able to print the return from Linux, as the Tax Act program is necessary to bring up the proper forms and populate them. Actually, there’s probably a way, but I wasn’t going to spend a day figuring it out.
I came up with another cockamamie solution, however. Since I had printed returns on this printer from the System 76 machine running Windows last year, I figured I could boot it into Windows, copy in the “install.exe” files from the desktop to use to install Tax Act on the System 76 laptop that couldn’t connect to the Internet in Windows, and print from there.
Confused yet? Good.
Then, while booting the laptop, I had an aha moment when my memory cells began to work for a couple of seconds. Last year, I remembered, I’d also had trouble getting the laptop to connect to Wi-Fi in Windows and had fixed the problem by using one of those little Wi-Fi dongles. I looked around for the wooden cigar box I use to keep things like dongles and spare thumb drives, found a dongle and plugged it in. It worked. All that was left was to find my Wi-Fi and tell Windows to connect.
Long story short: Thanks to Hal, Windows 10 on the desktop now had working USB ports, so I was able to easily transfer my roommates file to the Tax Act installation on the laptop. I plugged the printer into the laptop, told Tax Act to print the return and it was done. But jeez, what a headache this ordeal had been.
I’ll begin preparing my taxes shortly. Hopefully not, but there might be a Part Two to this story.