Web Log

This Blog discusses the current status of OTS, issues, ideas, thoughts, and other ramblings about Open Tax Solver.
  • 1-25-2014: The American tax system is virtually infinitely complex. Yet our OTS team does not have infinite resources, nor enough time to codify and maintain implementations for the entire set of tax publications. Rather, our goal is to implement as much of the major sections that benefit the most people - as much as we have time to do, and that we can reliably maintain over the long run.

    Like most things, the tax rules are such that implementing maybe 20% of the key parts is all that about 80% of the populace ever needs or uses. Going after the next 10% would multiply our effort, while only benefiting a small number of users, ... and so on - with diminishing returns.

    This is a major difference between our voluntary effort and the commercial tax preparation packages. They need large full-time developer teams to implement maybe 70% of the tax rules, to satisfy maybe 95% of the populace.

    We face a continuing balancing act. On the one hand, there is always the temptation to continue implementing more sections for the small number of users to whom they might apply. On the other hand, if we over-extend by covering too much, then Quality is at risk. This would not be as much of an issue if the tax rules did not change so much each year. Effectively, unlike most other code projects, we are always developing against a moving target. Each year, changes must be made to update the forms, and these need to be re-checked and re-tested. If we divided our volunteer developers over too many forms, the chances for errors would rise.

    Sometimes we receive requests to add additional sections that would apply to only a very small number of total users, and would make the overall forms more complicated for all the rest of us. So we need to make difficult decisions to balance the overall ease and usefulness for everyone. ... Sorry ...

    At the start of this project I did not know how much help we would get. I am pleasantly surprised that we have been getting more than I had originally expected. It has allowed us to cover more forms with greater Quality and Reliability. If the user/developer base continues to expand further in the future, we could implement even more.

    So we are providing something that helps a lot of people, with minimal effort, which makes it maintainable over the long run. We are not aiming to produce something that satisfies everyone - at least not out of the box. However, one advantage is that if a branch of the tax rules are not implemented that you need, you can just add that piece for yourself without needing to implement the whole thing from scratch. The commercial tax packages must be more comprehensive, considering they are not extendable by the end-users.

  • 1-24-2014: The initial updated version of OTS for the 2013 Tax Year has been released and is now available for downloading. As in prior years, this version, 11.0, contains programs for US 1040 with Schedules A, B, C, D, and with the 8829 and 8849 forms. It also contains updated State versions for California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts. The version number indicates this is the 11th straight year that OTS has provided updated tax programs.

  • 1-16-2014: The updating continues and is now in full stride. Many government forms were released much later than expected, which will delay our initial release. The US 1040 instructions were only released last week (Jan 8)! We expect full coverage of all forms covered in prior years.

  • 12-17-2013: The updating of OTS for the 2013 Tax Year is now underway. Initial release is expected by early January 2014. Unlike last year, we do not foresee any major hold ups. However the federal forms were not posted until last week, and we are still awaiting the corresponding instruction booklets, which are necessary for updating our programs. This year is planned to feature a significantly upgraded GUI.

  • 4-7-2013: Much later than expected this year, the initial version of OTS has been released just ahead of the big crunch weekend. Sorry for the late release this year which was due to several unusual factors. It contains updated US Federal forms 1040 w/Scheds A-D, and State forms for PA, OH, NJ, and VA. Expecting the CA and NC updates to be posted later this week, and possible also the MA and NY ones as well.

  • 1-7-2013: Preparation is underway in updating OTS to the 2012 tax-year. Release of the updated version may be delayed due to late release of the 2012 tax forms and instructions. As of Jan. 7, 2013, US IRS has not released the 1040 Instructions for 2012. Our OTS-2012 release is now expected by third or forth week of January 2013 - still around the time your tax documents are arriving in your mail (W2's, 1098's, 1099's, etc.).

  • 11-25-2012: Preparation has begun for updating OTS to the 2012 tax-year. Initial release is expected by mid January 2013, as usual.

  • 1-14-2012: All US Federal and State forms have already been updated and the preliminary version posted for 2011-Taxes. This year's version includes several improvements such as, better worksheet coverage and printouts, as well as additional checks for filing requirements on most forms. This is about the earliest that we completed all form updates -- before your 1098's/1099's begin arriving! Updating the forms keeps getting easier, due to OTS's re-usable framework, even though there were significant changes on almost all State and Federal forms. In particular, Schedule L and M went away, and Schedule D now requires filing the new 8849 forms. Thanks to everyone for helping update and correct the form-programs, as well as for contributing the new ones.

    One other change this year ... the input and out file-name suffixes were all changed to .txt. Apparently the .dat and .out suffixes confused some people who did not realize they were all simple text files. Point-and-click openers on some platforms merely look at the file suffix to select an editing tool, and generally did not know to use a text-editor to open them or to print them. The output files will now end with _out.txt.

  • 12-10-2011: The updating of OTS for the 2011 tax year has begun. Similar coverage of forms is expected, as in previous years, including US-1040, and forms for several of the largest states which levy income taxes. The initial 2011 version is expected to be posted by mid-January 2012, about the same time your tax documents begin to arrive (W2's, 1098's, 1099's, and etc..).

  • 3-20-2011: Calculations for Schedules L and M were newly added to the US-1040 form this year, due to user requests. CVS is back, and the latest updates were posted there, as well as on the normal file download site. Will look into moving the project over to using a newer revision control system like SVN. Not clear how to change to another one, once we have been using CVS ??

  • 1-29-2011: State tax versions for NY and Mass were added, as well as some significant improvements to the GUI. In particular, the GUI now automatically displays results in a scrollable viewer window. All forms are stable, and are believed ready for usage. The v8.02 update posting was delayed for several days, due to Sourceforge's recent block on uploads. CVS is still blocked, so the latest changes are not yet checked into CVS, but are available from the v8.02 download package.

  • 1-17-2011: Schedule-L was added to the US-1040 form. It is for disaster and new-car excise tax deductions. Updated State tax programs were updated and added for OH, NC, NJ, and PA. Some further improvements were made to the GUI, and all updates were checked-in and posted for download. Just NY and Mass remain to be updated now.

  • 1-10-2011: The initial release of OTS for the 2010 Tax Year has been posted. Contains US 1040 Federal, with GUI, as well as two State Tax packages. Expecting to post additional State Tax versions during the next two weeks.

  • 12-8-2010: The new tax forms are coming out, and updating of OTS for the 2010 Tax Year has begun. Presently we expect first update to be posted by early January. Similar forms coverage as in previous years.

  • 1-31-2010: All previously covered US Federal and State forms were updated for 2009 taxes and posted. Thanks to everyone for helping update and correct the form-programs, as well as for contributing the additional ones.

  • 1-10-2010: First update posted, as promised. Includes US Fed 1040 forms. State forms to be posted in upcoming weeks.

  • 11-30-2009: The new tax forms are coming out, and updating of OTS for the 2009 Tax Year has begun. Presently we expect first update to be posted by early January. Join the OTS mailing list by clicking the Subscribe button under the Freshmeat project page (you need a Freshmeat account to join this), to get instant email notifications of updates. Plans for expansion this year include providing pre-compiled executables for Mac OSx.

  • 3-13-2009: All previously covered US Federal and State forms have received updates for 2008, and have been posted. There were also some minor improvements to the GUI. Thanks everyone for helping.

    Have not been hearing much activity from the non-US countries recently?? Also, just curious, even in the past, the only non-US versions that were submitted were from Canada and Britain. Are taxes done that differently in other countries? If so, how? For example, does your government calculate them for you and then just submits a bill to you? Is there a language issue? ...

  • 2-25-2009: Updating of all forms continues. Expect initial update release for '08 tax year this weekend. This year, will attempt to release updates to most all forms in first release, instead of piecemeal, as in past years.

  • 11-23-2008: Well another tax-year is upon us. Soon we will be getting the finalized tax forms from the Governments, and we will be updating the tax packages for the 2008 tax-year.

    On another topic, I would be interested in a poll on which entry method people prefer and are using ? For example, have you used either of the GUIs for OTS ? If so, which one was preferred ? (The original OpenToolKit-based version is distributed with OTS, by default. A second one based on TCL/TK was contributed, and is downloadable from OTS front-page.) How many people go right into their favorite text editor and skip the GUI ? Just send me an email with your vote to aston_roberts@yahoo.com. I will post the results here, as they come in. -- Thanks

  • 2-16-2008: Attempted to simplify release by combining pre-compiled versions into a common zip package for both Linux and MS-win. Unfortunately zip does not retain executable permissions. So now we are going back to separate releases: tar-gzip for Unix/Linux, Zip for MS-Win.

    Would be interesting to know how many people consider it useful to have the pre-compiled binaries, or whether you recompile anyway. I know that I received many requests for executables on the MS-Win side.

  • 2-15-2008: Well, all the the tax versions have been updated for 2007 (the ones coming due in mid-April), except Massachusetts State Taxes. And they are believed fairly stable. Thanks for input/corrections from Justin Tripp and Paul Kronenwetter. Precision was upgraded to double-precision, as discussed earlier.

  • 1-14-2008: Initial versions of US-Fed 1040 and CA State taxes ready for download.

    Have received request to increase precision from float (32-bits) to double (64-bits). Float is good for about 6.5 digits of accuracy. We had been hesitant to raise precision because all tax instructions, that I am aware of, suggest rounding to the nearest dollar on each line. Or, if carrying cents, that each line can be (should be?) rounded to the nearest cent. It is no doubt OK to carry more digits, but my guess is, the IRS does not. You could probably explain differences due to using greater precision, if audited though.

    In checking the accuracy of float, I found that it resolves down to the penny for amounts up to just larger than a quarter million dollars ($262,144.00). If you are lucky enough to have income in the millions, then OK, float precision might get off by a few cents or so. (But then you might have someone else doing your taxes.) However, since it is no trouble for the computer to do it, we have decided to change everything to double-precision. We have not done it in the initial releases yet, because it will require some extra testing. But we will increase precision in a near future release.

  • 12-3-2007: The official 2007-year tax-forms are now becoming available. Work on updating OTS for 2007 now begins.

  • 2-24-2007: The USA Federal and forms for several of the largest states have all been updated for 2006, and everything appears stable. Thanks again to all contributors and for all the great comments and suggestions.

  • 1-6-2007: Updated and posted US1040 version updated for 2006 tax-year. State versions to follow soon.

  • 11-20-2006: Now updating forms for 2006 tax-year.   ...

  • 3-21-2006: Ok, all forms have been posted and appear stable. The Fed 1040, Scheds, and state versions of OTS were updated for CA, MA, NJ, PA, NC, NY, VA, and OH. Still a month to go before the filing deadline, and I just received yet another amended 1099 form -- good thing I did not file my taxes too early. Well, looks like we had our 15 minutes of fame, see NewsForge article.

  • 3-15-2006: Got off to a slow start this year. Started updating last year's forms early in November through early January. Then had a major PC failure that took me off-line for a while, as well as some health issues. Well I am back on-line and in full-force now. Have posted updates for the Fed 1040 for 2005, as well as CA, MA, NJ, and PA State Taxes. Special thanks to Robert Heller for the 1040 and Mass. updates! Expect to get other state tax updates reviewed and posted during the week. Thanks to all contributor submissions. They are definitely helpful and will speedup getting good versions out. Next year I promise to get the 2006 updates out much earlier, like in Nov or Dec..

  • 3-23-2005: A lot of progress was made this year. Not only were all the form programs updated to use simplified core routines as well as 2004 tax year changes, but thanks to input from many contributors, a GUI front-end was added, and forms were added for two new states and countries. The main US package was reorganized and simplified. Many of the forms were extended to handle additional cases and work-sheets. In the next year, we will focus on generating direct PDF outputs.

  • 3-3-2005: Initial VA and OH state TaxSolvers completed and posted. Improved microsoft usage (0_Readme) instructions. Beginning to remove the old-directory-structure distributions.

  • 2-25-2005: Added optional cap-loss carry-over calculation to US1040. Either enter an amount, or last year's OTS output file-name, on line D6. If a file-name, then it will import data from last year's form.     GUI was updated to handle newly re-organized release structure.     Beginning to add Ohio and Virginia state forms - almost complete - early downloads available in latest release. With our other state forms, and by population (considering some states do not have income taxes), we now have about 50% coverage for state taxes. (140M / 285M by 2000 census)

  • 2-23-2005: Adopting re-organized directory structure and file naming conventions suggested by Krish Krothapalli et.al.. Separates sources from executables from data files. Only drawback, forces users to look into different directories for a given form's executable and template file. Previous method was self contained. Each form-version had all files in a single directory. Oh well it looks cleaner.

  • 2-20-2005: Maybe we should provide a single download of all packages for unix/linux, instead of the individual source packages offered now? It would include pre-compiled executables or Linux. We do provide this for microsoft as a .zip file, but a unix person grabbing it would have to unix2dos all the text-files. I had not bothered with this because compiling OTS on unix is so simple, and most users know how to do it. But it might be convenient.   - Done.

    Versions for Virginia and Ohio state taxes have been started, but are not ready for release. Early versions can be downloaded from the CVS repository for anyone interested in helping develop them.

  • 2-14-2005: I believe all the presently released versions for 2004 taxes, are ready for use.

  • 1-31-2005: We now have a GUI for OTS. It is very basic, but it might help those who prefer graphical interfaces. It will remain optional. It is based on Otk because it looks easy to maintain across all platforms. Makes all the packages that much more useful. Just a start for now. With suggestions/contributions overtime it might become better.

  • 1-22-2005: For some governments, the tax calculation is troublesome. Either they do not publish a formula or require a table lookup. In the past, I thought it was best to match a formula, but it could be off a dollar here and there. I now believe in following Robert Heller's idea of including the actual tax table. In some cases, the table can be replaced by a formula where it has been checked to track exactly for all values. I found such case for the US Federal tax this year. But other cases, such as states, seems best to include the tables in a pre-declared array.

  • 1-15-2005: Updating the forms this year will require several iterations. I have released intermediate updates to get make them available early, for anyone also helping to update them. (Was it Eric Raymond who said release early and often?) - Thanks everyone for the early updates/improvements! They have been very very helpful.

  • 1-5-2005: Well this is OTS's second year on SourceForge. Last year was the first wide-audience release. This year there is more disruption in updating the forms due to several things.

    First, due to suggestions that came in from several people last year, we will be simplifying the line-get calls and making the default output go directly to a file (with .out suffix). So-called magic-numbers are being replaced with meaningful macro names (example, filing status). We will be better off when maintaining the forms in future because of these changes.

    Second, the US tax code went through an unusual transient in the area of capital-gains between last year and this year. This was due to the administration's change in cap-gains rates. Last year was a transient year that required tracking sales prior to, or after, a certain day in the year (May 5), as well as 5-year cap-gains. All that is removed this year, and replaced with some new sched-D worksheets. I expect (hope) it will now remain stable for some years to come. Most areas remained unchanged, except for some minor line number changes. Next year's updates should be more minor.

  • 12-29-2004: Still looking at direct PDF export of results. I have noticed there are uncompressed "form" entries toward the bottom of most PDF tax files. They correspond to each of the form-boxes on the tax forms. If there is a syntax to add entries into the boxes, the problem would be solved.

    In another approach, Joel Young provided a java program. I have not gotten it to work and I am still looking to see how it could be integrated seamlessly within the OTS programs. It looks like the source code of the critical functions, such as uncompressing pdf streams, is located elsewhere.

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