I have an ancient box with Windows XP as its only operating system gathering cobwebs in a space under my desk, right where it was the last time I used it. That was back in April of last year, on the day that Microsoft quit supporting XP. Up until then, it’d been used mainly to process credit card orders from an online store I manage. The bank’s required software for processing won’t run on anything but Windows, so I kept it around for that purpose.
When I took it out of commission, I decided I was through with Windows for good. No more dual booting. No more keeping a Windows machine running all day just to process plastic. No more blue screens. No more rebooting for no apparent reason except that’s what Windows wants.
I cancelled my deal with the bank, switched the site to taking PayPal only and shut down the box for good.
Until today, that is.
It’s tax time and I do my own taxes using tax preparation software. The trouble is, no decent tax software runs on Linux. I considered doing them in the cloud, but I despise doing anything in the cloud. Not only that, I also do the taxes for a few family members, and all of the online tax sites want you to pay again and again and again when you prepare multiple returns — once for each return you do.
So today I pulled the cables from my main Linux desktop, plugged them into the Windows machine and hit the power button, just to see if it would still boot for a few days — long enough for me to prepare a couple of returns. Because the machine is old and hadn’t been started for a year, I fully expected the hard drive to fail during boot. Unfortunately, it booted, and in a few minutes I was greeted by the Windows splash screen.
I say “unfortunately,” because I’d forgotten what a pain in the kiester running Windows can be.
Right after boot, I was notified that there were important “updates” that needed to be installed. That turned out to be Adobe Reader, of course, and since I figured I wasn’t going to need to look at any PDF files to do my taxes, I took a pass on the update. Then AVG reminded me that it might be a good idea to update the antivirus system. I almost took a pass on that too as I was only going to be online long enough to purchase and download a couple of apps.
I quickly came to my senses and changed my mind, however. After all, I was in the world of Windows, the most insecure operating system on the planet. Not only that, I was using a version of Windows that hasn’t been supported for the past year. As I was planning to type some payment info on the keyboard, data I’d rather not see in the hand’s of some Russian cracker hacker, I decided to play it safe. I hit the button and told AVG to go ahead and update.
When I saw that the update was going to take over an hour I almost changed my mind and cancelled out. Then I thought (always dangerous), I could go ahead and get started while AVG was updating. After all, Windows is capable of multitasking. I clicked on Firefox to get started on the task at hand.
I’d forgotten that antivirus software hogs resources. With AV updating, Firefox took forever to load, and even after it did, it was barely responsive. But I was eventually able to get to the tax software folks’ webpage and navigate to check system requirements — just to make sure XP was still supported — and to purchase the software.
Then I couldn’t remember my login information from previous years’ purchases, which would be safely stored in an email somewhere — so I opened up Thunderbird for a look-see.
With AVG, Firefox and Windows already maxing out resources on my old metal, T-bird took a couple of eternities to load — first giving me a blank white screen for ages. When it finally opened, I used Thunderbird’s quick filtering feature and quickly found the email from seven or eight years ago with the my account number. Then, or course, I couldn’t remember the password, so I clicked for a password reset and returned to the email client to grab the link from the email I’d be sent.
About as soon as I got the password changed and was ready to place my order, Firefox and Thunderbird both ran out of resources and refused to respond or close, necessitating the opening of Process Hacker, the third party software I used as a task manager in Windows. After three minutes or so, Process Hacker finally found the resources to open and I was able to kill Firefox and Thunderbird.
At this point I decided to make a pot of coffee and wait for AVG to quit doing its thing before continuing — which took another forty five minutes or so.
When the AV program finally finished, Firefox was much more responsive. I went back to the tax company’s website, discovered my shopping cart had emptied when the browser crashed, and went through the process again. When I was finally through with the purchase, I downloaded both the federal and state programs into my downloads directory.
This being Windows, I then clicked Start and Run, then navigated to the install file for the federal tax program. I clicked to select it, then clicked “OK” in the Run box.
Of course, I was met by an error.
“The file is not a Win32 file.”
What? This tax company doesn’t even port to Mac and they damn well don’t port to Linux. What other kind of file could it be? Kaypro, perhaps? I repeated the step, this time trying the state version.
“Sorry. Installer can’t find a federal version installed on this machine. Federal version must be installed before installation can continue.”
At least it was evidently a Win32 file.
Figuring I probably had a broken download, I went back to the good tax preparers’ website and downloaded to the same location, clicking through do-you-know-this-file-already-exists and agreeing to an overwrite.
“Error. We can’t save file because we don’t know what kind of file it is. Contact the vendor or choose from list.”
I tried it again, with the same results, so I downloaded to the desktop, which was successful. But again Start>Run>navigate to desktop version yields: “Not a Win32 file.”
I was ready to look for a help desk number for the tax software people, but at the last minute thought I’d try one more thing. I opened Windows Explorer, Redmond’s sorry excuse of a file manager, found the file and clicked on it. Voila! Like magic, the program began installing.
So now I seem to be good to go. I’m just wasting my time writing this article because I hate doing taxes.
I know what you’re thinking.
You’re thinking that my problem is with old, antiquated hardware and has little to do with the operating system. The hardware is obsolete, true enough. But I have a laptop with similar specs running Bodhi Linux and guess what? It runs just fine. It even runs Netflix — like a charm.
I hate Windows — and today has reminded me why. I’m determined not to go through this again next year.
After I finish this years taxes and get them printed and in the mail, I’m going to save the resulting return files on one of my Linux machines. Then I’ll partition the hard drive on this old machine and install a reasonably lightweight Linux distro, probably Bodhi Legacy. Then I’m going to try my old WINE shortcut trick and have WINE access the tax software from the XP FAT 32 partition to see if it runs. If it works, I’ll be good to go when next year’s tax software’s released. I’ll just download the new software from Linux onto the Windows file system and install it from WINE.
If that doesn’t work, I’ll have a year to work on it and figure out what it’ll take to get it to work on WINE — find all the .dll’s and all that. If even that doesn’t work, I’ll breakdown and do my damn taxes online. That, or use a pencil and slide rule.
As I said, I’m through with Windows for good. Except at my “day job” — but that a whole ‘nother story.