Web Log

This Blog discusses the current status of OTS, issues, ideas, thoughts, and other ramblings about Open Tax Solver.
  • 2-26-2017:
    Thanks to an generous benefactor, we now have a powerful new set of PDF analysis and composition tools. This will enable finally conquering all PDF forms with a simple organic solution for all viewers. We can now see into all parts of the previously undecodable sections of the forms. It will enable full control of all mark-ups and check-boxes, and will leave the output forms in an edit-able state so that you can adjust any mark-ups in your favorite viewer. Probably won't be able to push this out for this season. But it paves the way for a brighter future in the years ahead!

  • 2-24-2017:
    An updated version, 14.03, was posted for download. PDF auto-Fillout capability was added for two more states: Massachusetts (MA) and North Carolina (NC).   This now provides PDF auto-fillout capability for all the forms presently supported by OTS!!     All State programs were now made to report tax-bracket and effective tax-rate for your information. In case of underpayment, OTS now shows you the percentage underpaid. (More than 10% underpayment may cause a penalty to be accessed.) The PDF form fill-out programs now place commas in large dollar amounts, except where disallowed. The GUI had some major improvements to prevent common mistakes. It should now be easier and more intuitive, especially for first time users. Some issues with the NJ+NY PDF auto-fillout were resolved.

    In the US-1040, the line labels for Cap-Gains-A through Cap-Gains-C were changed to CapGains-A/D through CapGains-C/F, to eliminate confusion about where to record D, E, and F type sales. Anyone who has already entered their data in the 14.02 or earlier files can move their data up to 14.03 by editing their file to update those three labels. Or your could just paste your data onto the 14.03 template.

    There were several enhancments to the web documentation in the How to Use OTS section. They provide more information for both: using the GUI, and alternatively for using the Command-Line, due to requests received for both.

  • 2-16-2017:
    An updated version of OpenTaxSolver (OTS) has been posted for download (version 14.02).

    In this version, PDF auto-Fillout capability was added for two more states: New York (NY) and New Jersey (NJ). There were some minor cleanups and improvements in form comments. The California auto-fillout now writes zeros in lines that require an entry even-if-zero.

    Otherwise, all tax calculations remained stable and unchanged from the last version.

    The automatic form-fill-out capability for the recently added states was made possible by a new Universal-PDF-File-Modifier tool contributed by the Behemoth-Software company. It is significant because it will now allow OTS to quickly offer automatic form-fill-out for all future forms -- regardless of their content or source. Until now, we had difficulty providing fill-out for all forms. Worse, many pdf forms provided by various states cannot even be opened at all on most computers or viewers! Fortunately, the new Universal tool renders all forms viewable on all platforms, even if the original file could not be displayed on the original platform. Sure, there are still a few minor issues even with this tool on a small number of viewers, but at least it allows fill-out and display on more viewers on all platforms -- and we now have a good path to resolve all those issues over time. This Universal solution is simple and self-contained. Unlike other proposed methods, it has no external dependencies, and seamlessly integrates within the overall package. It will enable us to expand OTS to more forms relatively quickly, with no foreseeable limitations. This is a huge breakthrough for OTS!!

  • 1-27-2017:
    Sure enough - NY, NJ, and PA finally released their 2016 forms this week, and the OTS Team quickly completed the updates, re-ran tests on all programs (which could have been affected by the last updates), compiled on all four platforms, and posted the updated package to the Sourceforge server. Go get it !!

  • 1-20-2017:
    North Carolina finally released their 2016 forms, and OTS has been updated. Now we are still just waiting for NY, PA, and NJ to release theirs. In the meantime, all the code for the updated version of OTS for 2016 taxes has been uploaded to the OTS Sourceforge CVS repository to support our Beta Testing Team. Anyone interested in experimenting with the near-final version may download and compile it from there. Updates, as they occur, are always posted there right away.

    We are expecting (hoping?) that NY, PA, and NJ will release their forms this upcoming week. And if they do, we will post the full pre-compiled packages on our downloads page by the end of that week.

  • 1-8-2017: Everything is now updated for the most recent tax-year (2016), and is undergoing testing -- except for the NY, PA, NJ, and NC State forms -- which we are still waiting to be released from those states. Hopefully they will be released this week or so, and then we will complete all updates within just a few days. Release for beta-testing will then follow immediately, followed by the stable wide release within a week.

    Each year it keeps getting better. This year there are several minor improvements.

    • For forms that support Auto-PDF-Fillout, an optional set of lines has been added to supply your name and address only for the auto-fillout option. You can leave these lines blank. They do not affect any calculations. But if you fill them in, and if you select auto-fillout, it will place your name and address on the forms, so you do not have do it manually. Otherwise, you can always enter your name and address manually on the final version of your forms with your PDF viewer.
    • For the MS-Windows version, we have improved the automatic selection of your PDF viewer for the Auto-PDF-Fillout feature. This was a problem for some users last year.
    • For the Federal 1040:
      • Added a line (L8b) for entering Tax-Exempt Interest. This is only used and needed for Social Security Benefits calculations. It is not used if you are not yet receiving Social Security payments.
      • OTS now does the Social Security Benefits worksheet, for whom this applies. This had been much-requested. It now calculates the Line-20b entry for you. (Your SocSec benefits entry for Line 20 changes. Previously you entered the amount for Line 20b, which was the result from the SocSec Worksheet. Now you just enter amounts for Line 20a, which are the raw amounts from the box 5's of all your SSA-1099 and RRB-1099 forms. )
    • Added PDF Auto-fillout for Virginia State Taxes.
    • Help buttons have been added to the GUI. These provide information about the version of the OTS package, some brief instructions on how to use it, and links back to our web-site for additional help, information, and updates.

  • 11-30-2016: Updating OTS for the current 2016 Tax Year is underway. Initial release is expected by the end of January.

  • 2-12-2016: We now have a quick overview movie about how to download, install, and use OTS at OTS Introduction Video. It should be helpful for first time users, or anyone wanting to see how it works and what it does - before downloading it.

  • 2-5-2016: The initial update for 2015 taxes is now released. Most of the programs and tax forms were very stable, with only minor changes from last year. But a couple of the forms completely changed, for example Ohio, which required major revisions. A much requested new feature was added this year - PDF Auto-Fillout. This option appears, if available, when you go to print your results. Presently it is available for the Federal forms and PA state form. We will be working to extend it to the other states.

    Several auto-fillout methods had been proposed, but many of them required each user to have or install additional software packages. And integrating the work-flow added some tricky steps for the average user. Instead, we chose this particular PDF-fillout method because we can integrate and package it as a single-click turn-key solution. It should work "out-of-the-box", without additional hassles. It seems to work OK with several of the popular PDF-Viewers, such as Acroread, Evince, and Atril viewers, as well as LibreOffice, Safari and Google-Chrome browsers. You can further edit your forms in your favorite viewer. Hopefully this feature will help at least some users. If not, then you are back to trying one of the alternate solutions, or entering your numbers by hand like before.

    In the near future, we would also like to add support for ChromeOS on ChromeBooks, based on the number of requests we are receiving.

  • 1-29-2015: The former FreeCode.com website we used for issuing announcements of new releases is now defunct. Therefore, we now have a new mailing list you can join for OTS News. See the link at the bottom of the OTS main page, or here Subscribe to New OTS Releases & Updates. You can remove yourself from the list at anytime by sending an email from your email account to OTS.notices@gmail.com with the words "Remove me." as the first words in the subject line.

  • 1-27-2015: Some of the government tax forms were released later than expected, which caused us to push back initial release of this year's updates to this week. The updated release for 2014 taxes is now ready for downloading!!

  • 12-4-2014: The updating of OTS for the 2014 Tax Year is now underway. Initial release is expected by early January 2015. However, we are still awaiting release of the forms and instruction booklets from the government, which are necessary for updating our programs. Some of supplemental forms were released last week, and we expect the main forms to be released shortly.

  • 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 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.

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