TurboTax Test Results Uncover Real Problems

Update: Forget conjecture! We put TurboTax and its Macrovision DRM to the test to find out what's really going on. Today, we post part one of our test results, and we'll bring you part two later this week.

Editors Note: Weve updated this story based on new information from Intuit clarifying their privacy policy, along with their comments and our observations regarding use of forms mode in a "non-activated" copy of TurboTax.

Many taxpayers throughout the United States have been upset to discover that Intuit has added digital rights management (DRM) -- AKA copy protection -- to TurboTax, its bestselling income tax preparation software. So we put the software to the test - in our labs -- to determine exactly what was going on. In this article, well give you the skinny -- the good and the bad -- on what weve found out about this thorny issue.

Why Consumers are Worried
Many readers in ExtremeTechs forums have indicated that they resist purchasing any copy-protected software -- including Microsofts Windows XP and recent versions of Microsoft Office -- on principle. Theyre not thieves, but theyre simply not comfortable with the prospect of asking "Mother, may I?" to run software for which theyve already plunked down their hard-earned cash.

Other posters have expressed worries that the software which enforces the copy protection will interfere with the correct operation of their machines, consume excessive resources, refuse to work if they change computers or replace components, or spy on them as they work. One user claimed -- though we were not able to reproduce the problem in our tests -- that TurboTaxs copy protection interfered with his ability to burn CD-Rs.

When confronted with DRM, many users have, historically, voted with their feet. Several ExtremeTech readers who run alternative operating systems, such as Linux and BSD, have said that the "product activation" in Windows XP and Microsoft Office caused them to make the jump from Windows. Others have told us that theyve only tolerated Microsofts scheme because of the companys entrenched monopoly or because the vendors from whom they bought their computers offered no other options.

DRM is an even greater concern for users of tax software. They worry -- justifiably as we found out -- that they might be cut off from their tax data if they change computers or hard disks, perhaps at a crucial time such as just before a deadline or during an audit. And they want ironclad assurances that theyll be able to access their data at any time in the future -- for example, decades from now when computing capital gains on a home or other asset thats about to be sold. Will the software work if the company that sold it goes under, is acquired, or discontinues the product? Users want to be sure.