By Brett Glass  |  Posted 2003-02-10 Print this article Print

TurboTaxs product activation scheme has raised many fears among potential users that it is "spyware" -- or that it will disable functions such as the creation of CD-Rs -- because it uses one of the copy protection schemes created by C-Dilla (now a part of Macrovision). Fortunately, TurboTaxs implementation of SafeCast (the C-Dilla product which Intuit licensed from Macrovision) does not appear to include any spyware features, nor does it intentionally disable any system functions.
It appears that many of the problems worrying our users are caused by C-Dillas SafeDisk product, which isnt used in TurboTax. According to Macrovisions Web site, SafeDisk does interfere with copying of CDs and it performs other tricks which users may find unacceptable, including replacing the drivers that run your CD-Rom drive, and monitoring what you do with that drive. But again, as far as we can tell – and Intuit backs this up --TurboTax does not use SafeDisk.
Some issues do remain, however. Because SafeCast surreptitiously manipulates "hidden" areas of the disk, it may cause conflicts with other software. And because this data is not saved during a conventional backup, you are likely to lose access to software youve legally purchased if you back up your system and then restore to another hard drive in an emergency. Also, the fact that every installation (even "trial" installs) must be activated before use means that one must secure Intuits "approval" -- either via their Internet servers or by telephone -- every time one installs the software. Our readers are uncomfortable with this process. Intuit assures us that its DRM software isnt spyware, and that it does not maintain records of the IP addresses and telephone numbers used in activation. But thats not all. Our readers have issues with Intuits use of DRM in general, for several reasons.
First, many users tell us that they feel as if Intuit considers them to be thieves or potential thieves -- not a good way to begin a trusted relationship involving sensitive financial data. Second, some readers lack confidence that Intuit will re-activate their software if they change machines or upgrade components – such as swapping a hard drive or adding memory. Some users reported problems like this early on, but others now indicate that Intuit has recently relaxed its policy. Still, wed like to see Intuit publish a policy about replacing product keys during an upgrade or component swap.

Third, Intuit says that its servers will allow an infinite number of software installations after October 15th -- the final deadline for US citizens not living abroad to file taxes. However, some users are skeptical that Intuits servers will be around years later when those approvals might be needed. As "JLMann" writes in our forums: "I cannot believe that their server will actually still support Turbo Tax 2002 in five, ten, or twenty years. They will be like everyone else - We dont support that version anymore......" To its credit, Intuit says it plans to provide a completely "unlocked" version of the software after October 15th. We recommend that every user grab a copy of that software and burn it to CD. The, put it in a safe place -- along with a copy of the ".tax" file generated by the program. Also save a paper copy of your return that includes all of the optional worksheets. Fourth, many are also worried that DRM will go wrong, denying them access to essential resources at exactly the wrong time. In our tests, we discovered ways in which Intuits DRM actually did go wrong –although in at least one case, it granted more, not less access. But what if the software suddenly suspects you of thievery or "forgets" that youve paid... just before you need to file? Weve no evidence that this could happen, but then again were talking software and taxes – where Murphys Law always seems particularly active. Finally, users are concerned that accepting Intuits DRM will set a bad precedent, paving the way for other software vendors to include even more onerous restrictions on their products. Some users feel that, as a matter of principle, they must reject DRM-enabled applications simply to keep the practice from becoming commonplace. Those customers will most likely reject TurboTax out of hand, even if the DRM worked flawlessly.

Brett Glass has more than 20 years of experience designing, building,writing about, and crash-testing computer hardware and software. (A born'power user,' he often stresses products beyond their limits simply bytrying to use them.) A consultant, author, and programmer based inLaramie, Wyoming, Brett obtained his Bachelor of Science degree inElectrical Engineering from the Case Institute of Technology and his MSEEfrom Stanford. He plans networks, builds and configures servers, outlinestechnical strategies, designs embedded systems, hacks UNIX, and writeshighly optimized assembly language.

During his rather eclectic career, Brett has written portions of the codeand/or documentation for such widely varied products as Borland's Pascal'toolboxes' and compilers, Living Videotext's ThinkTank, Cisco Systemsrouters and terminal servers, Earthstation diskless workstations, andTexas Instruments' TMS380 Token Ring networking chipset. His articleshave appeared in nearly every major computer industry publication.

When he's not writing, consulting, speaking, or cruising the Web insearch of adventure, he may be playing the Ashbory bass, teachingInternet courses for LARIAT (Laramie's community network and Internetusers' group), cooking up a storm, or enjoying 'extreme'-ly spicy ethnicfood.

To mail Brett, visit his Web form.


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