OS/2 eZine

16 February 2001
Mark Dodel has been using OS/2 since about 1989. He uses OS/2 in his daily work as a Healthcare Computer Consultant. Mark was a founding member of VOICE and has been the chief editor of the VOICE Newsletter since it's inception almost 4 years ago.

If you have a comment about the content of this article, please feel free to vent in the OS/2 eZine discussion forums.

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Tax Solutions for U.S. OS/2 Users

For residents of the United States it is Federal Income Tax time again. You can smell the fear in the air. Most people have given up on the complexities of the US Tax Code and just hand all their information to an accountant, along with a sizeable payment in hopes that a professional can do the job right. Every year my wife tells me to just let her accountant do it, but I still like to take up the challenge, though I have to admit finding the time to do my taxes is getting tougher and tougher each year. But I have always done it myself, and this year would be little different than years past.

This article looks at two options I found to do my US income taxes under OS/2. There are other options as well, like online tax software sites http://www.hrblock.com/taxes/doing_my_taxes/products/otp.htm or http://www.turbotax.com/turbotaxweb/tcomhome_welcome.htm, or other tax software like Intuit's TurboTax or Microsoft's Tax Saver. I don't trust my personal tax data to an online site, in fact I have never filed electronically before, so the online tax sites are out for me. I have used TurboTax in the past, but this year I heard that there were problems trying to run it under Odin. Using a Microsoft product of any sort is dangerous in my mind, so relying on them to get my taxes right was totally unacceptable.

That left me with few other options. In the past I have used a DOS/Windows 3.1 package called ExelTax, but their website now just says "The new web server for LamSon Technology is currently being upgraded". That is not a good sign, considering that this is now the beginning of prime tax season. In the past I have also used the 16bit windows version of H&R Block's TaxCut. Beginning this year there is only a 32bit version.

Feeling brave, I downloaded the H&R Block TaxCut 2000 Deluxe. The online, download version is only $19.95USD ordered directly from H&R Block's online store. The standard version is only $9.95USD for the download version. I have also seen the regular CDROM version of TaxCut advertised at $9.95USD at Walmart. The major advantage to the Deluxe version is that it includes one free State tax version and one free electronic filing.

I've been using Odin, the Netlabs project that allows running win32 applications under OS/2, for over a year now. Until now I have just played with it, since there hasn't been any win32 app that I really had to run. Last April I wrote about my experiences with Odin in an article in the VOICE Newsletter on RealPlayer7 and Odin. Running a tax program under Odin would be the first time I was running something of import, and wouldn't want to chance any major failure. Was Odin up to the test? In case it wasn't, I also looked at and downloaded AMTax, which is still a DOS application.


I already had Odin installed on this system. You have to understand that Odin is a work in progress. I update to the latest daily build frequently. Sometimes a new build may break something that has been working, sometimes it fixes something to make a particular program work that hasn't worked before. When you go to the Odin FTP site you will see at least 4 versions of the latest daily build for download. There are a debug and release version in ZIP archive format and a debug and release version in .WPI format. The initial install should be done using Netlabs' WarpIn installer and the .WPI version of Odin. Unless you are having a problem, you only need the release version. The debug version can produce log files for helping track down problems.

For a first time install, unzip the latest WarpIn installer into a new directory, then run warpin.exe. That will setup a WPS association for the WPI files. Next download the latest .WPI release version of Odin, which as of my writing this is ftp://ftp.os2.org/odin/daily/odin32bin-20010131-release.wpi. Because netscape does not know what a WPI extension is, it will either download it as an ASCII file or display it as a text file in the browser widow. Either is not what you want, since the file needs to be downloaded as a binary file. Either right click on the link and select "Save Link As" to get the file, or setup a mime association in Netscape to download WPI files. (Edit menu, Preferences, Applications, then add a New Type for WPI).

Then double click on the Odin WPI file via the Drives object. I run it from FileStar/2 by selecting the file and then pressing Alt-ENTER. Follow the screens, and complete the install. Make sure you have at least selected the first two packages (Odin Daily Build and Odin Daily Build System Files) for install. If you want to be able to run win32 programs directly from the WPS without writing batch files, then also install the Win32k.sys driver. Otherwise to run win32 apps, you have to use

PE application.exe

from an OS/2 command prompt or from a batch file.

Since I have the win32k.sys driver installed, I can create a program object for TaxCut. Unfortunately the current builds don't recognize the Windows icons, so the object just gets a white Windows icon unless I manually change it. This object can be run like any other OS/2 program object, just by double clicking on it. So not only can you run a 32bit Windows app on OS/2, but you can do so as if it was a native OS/2 app. Isn't life grand? Of course Odin is still in it's infancy, so not all Windows applications run perfectly on it, and some won't run at all.

The Odin download site has a win32 test application (HelloWorld.exe) so you can test your Odin install. It also supplies a 32bit setup.exe version, which is useful for those cockamamy Windows applications that come with a 16bit installer for a 32bit application. These won't install under Odin, but you can change the setup.exe and get them to install. You can obtain this sample app at ftp://ftp.os2.org/odin/daily/odinapp.zip.

H&R Block's TaxCut

I decided to attempt to run TaxCut first. Install of TaxCut Federal version for Windows uses WinMagic (I think that's what it said.) I installed it on my Toshiba Satellite 2545XCDT laptop, which has an S3Virge MX video with the Sager S3 Virge driver from the NoteBook/2 site. I'm running the eCS Preview on the laptop. RealPlayer8 runs fine, though a bit unstable, on this system.

The install had a couple of problems, but I did get it to complete. I have

win32k.sys PE:PE

in my CONFIG.SYS. The TaxCut install runs an executable zip within the main executable zip, and I received a "Not a valid Win32 exe. (Perhaps 16-bit Windows)" error I ran the second executable zip, and the install completed, though with a SYS3175 in PE after pressing the "Finish" button. Looking in the directory I selected to install TaxCut to, I found a bunch of files.

TaxCut 2000 ran fine, but most of the text area is black. I was able to see some text by tabbing from field to field. Also PageUP/PageDown sometimes restored text, other times blacked the whole text area out. Eventually most of the window ended up blacked out.

I was able to import last year's data, but with the blacked out areas, it was difficult to do much else. So I had hit something of a brick wall with Taxcut. I reported the problem on the OdinUser mailing list but didn't receive any encouraging responses. In the mean time I continued to try new Odin Daily builds. Finally the Odin Team announced that beginning with the January 10, 2001 build, Odin would include some GPI code donated by IBM. This sounded like it was video related, so I excitely tried it when it was available. The 01-10-2001 build didn't make any difference. I then tried it on a new eCS install on a workstation which had an Elsa Winner Office/2000 display card. Again I had the blacked out text area. On a hunch I tried the Scitech Display Doctor Beta38 driver which had just been released. I also installed the latest Odin build (at the time that was 01-22-2001). Starting TaxCut up, I waited to see the large black area, but it wasn't there. I could read all the text.

I have played with the help files, importing data from last years TaxCut return (TaxCut supports importing from TurboTax, TaxSaver as well as QIF files from Quicken as well.) Everything seemed to work, except the Software Update feature from within TaxCut. Others had reported this as well. You can download updates directly from http://www.taxcut.com/updates.

Shown below is TaxCut 2000 running under Odin on my Toshiba laptop running eComStation Preview. Note that the file open window is the same as that found in real Windows. Selecting Print Setup displays the regular OS/2 Print setup window. The Windows app can be run as a window on the OS/2 desktop or maximized. You can cut/paste between OS/2 and Windows apps. Other then the Windows title bar, you wouldn't even know you were running a non-native application.

[Click on screenshot to view full-size.]

TaxCut relies heavily on the interview method, each screen asking a question to fill in required data or determine what forms will be required to complete your return. You can display the individual forms, but the program isn't really geared toward direct entry into the actual forms. One annoyance I found is that on each screen I had to click on the data field entry box to begin typing data. I don't know if this also occurs when running under windows, but it is distracting to have to switch between mouse and keyboard. I tried Tab, but it still wouldn't put the cursor in the entry box.

TaxCut also provides a Shoebox data entry method which allows you to skip the interviews by entering your data based on it's type. If you have all your source documents, that can be really useful, but it lacks a defined flow. You basically just fill in everything you can find, then go back to the interview to see if you missed anything.

It is great to see the Odin project is able to run really useful applications, for which there are no OS/2 native alternatives. TaxCut provides a Review function which analyses your return and lists missing or incorrect information. Printing worked fine using my Epson 1520 Color Stylus inkjet printer. I haven't attempted the electronic filing feature, but I have doubts it will work since the online update feature didn't work for me. Neither did the TaxCut on the Web or H&R Block Web links under the help menu. Perhaps the internet features require Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.

Also I was unable to install the Pennsylvania State version of TaxCut. It uses a 16bit installer from Wise. This does not use the normal windows InstallShield based installer. There is a Wise unpacker on hobbes - http://hobbes.nmsu.edu/pub/os2/util/archiver/e_wise.zip. This worked. It unpacked the file (after I first unzipped it from the self-executing zip file it downloaded in.) I then ran the 0000000.CMD that was created by the e_wise_o.exe (there is also a DOS and win32 version included in the package) and it built a MAINDIR/SYSTEM/Bmp256 directory, which I moved to my Taxcut_deluxe directory. I ran TcWinPA.exe and the PA state version started up. I did get an Odin error message saying 'Unsupported API', but selected Ignore and TaxCutPA continued to run. It automatically imported my Federal data after selecting the return to use. Everything worked until I tried to print, and I received an 'Oh Nooo! Unhandled exception... ' Odin error message. I'll play with it more and see if I can determine why it won't print in the state version, while it prints fine in the Federal version.


I had heard of AM-Tax for the past couple of years, but hadn't felt the need to try it until now. I wanted something I felt could do the job and run under OS/2, and being a DOS application I felt reasonably sure that AM-Tax would work. And it does.

I purchased AM-Tax at their website http://www.amtax.com. AM Software has been around since 1985, so they are not a novice at developing Tax software. They have a Professional version for professional tax preparers, and a personal version geared toward the home user. The personal version is limited to 10 returns, and supports over 70 different tax forms.

They provide a demo version for download, but this is the 1999 version, so you can't use it for more then getting an idea of how the program works. You can't file a 2000 return with it. I purchased the personal version of AM-Tax 1040 (the US Federal version) which is $29USD and the personal version of the AM-Tax Pennsylvania State release which is an additional $19USD. There was also an additional $7.50USD for Shipping. You then get an email with a code to allow you to download the current version. In late January they mailed me a set of floppy disks (one for each version) and a 60+ page manual.

I have recieved an email from AM-Tax when an online update to the software was available for downloading.

The main issue with this kind of software is printer support, since you will need to print your tax return. Electronic filing is only supported in the Professional version. They clearly state that they are working on a win32 version just to accomodate current printer models. In fact they would have had a win32 version this year, except they weren't ready. With the 2000 version of AM-Tax they provide three methods of printing support.

  1. HP Compatible Laser support
  2. Windows9x printer support, which uses the default printer installed under Windows 95/98 if you are running AM-Tax under that platform.
  3. You can select from a list of 200+ printer models, including 45 Epson models, 65 Okidata, 17 HP, 19 IBM, 4 Lexmark and more. From what I could see these were older printers.
I choose option 3 since I don't have a laser printer, and I'm running OS/2, not windows. My Epson 1520 Color Stylus was not listed, but the Epson Stylus 800 was, so I selected that.

Pressing <F7> gets you a menu of printer options, including the printer setup, Print all forms, Print some forms, Print blank forms and Download Laser fonts. Printing the Federal forms in Official Filing format resulted in a printout that was slightly different then that output by TaxCut, but to my eye it actually looked nicer.

AM-Tax is different from TaxCut, in that you basically enter information directly into tax forms, with the 1040 form being the main structure for guiding the input flow. You can also access any form directly by pressing the <F8> key. you can get a basic help screen for any field by pressing F1. No mouse selection is supported, so you move from filed to field by means of the cursor arrow keys, the tab key and by hitting the Enter key.

[Click on screenshot to view full-size.]

The AM-Tax state version uses basic data from the federal version so you don't have to rekey it in all over again. For the Pennsylvania State forms, AM-Tax states that only laser printed forms will be accepted for filing. The draft print is only good for filling in the paper forms. :-(

My Choice

I am using both AM-Tax and TaxCut to do my taxes. TaxCut wins hands down for it's help files, but I find it's interview method of entry to be rather tedious. I find I prefer the more direct flow of data entry that AM-Tax provides. It will be interesting to see if their win32 version follows the same flow next year. AM-Tax doesn't support the mouse, but key entry is easier then in TaxCut. Also the personal version of AM-Tax has no support for electronic filing. TaxCut has that feature but I'm doubtful at this point I can get that to work under OS/2. If electronic filing is a must, you most likely would want to consider one of the online web tax sites listed at the top of this article.

An advantage to TaxCut is that it can import not only the previous years TaxCut data, but also data from TurboTax, TaxSaver as well as data from Quicken or Microsoft Money while AM-Tax can only import it's own previous years data. TaxCut also provides more help and since Odin uses your OS/2 printer driver, TaxCut is less picky about printer models. AM-Tax is probably a better choice if you have a laser printer especially since that is required for the state forms (at least in my state's case.) AM-Tax is also better if you are pretty familiar with filling out tax returns and just want to enter your information quickly. Also AM-Tax has the advantage of a demo version, so you can try it out for free, though at $9.95 for the basic version of TaxCut, it's not a major expenditure either. I'm just happy that both of these products allow me to do my taxes under OS/2. Hopefully Odin continues it's great progress, and next year there will be little problem with choosing any of the win32 applications available.

H&R Block's TaxCut 2000
Website: http://www.taxcut.com
Price: Standard U.S. $9.95, Deluxe $19.95

Website: http://www.amtax.com
Price: AM-Tax 1040 U.S. $29, AM-Tax Pennsylvania State $19, Shipping $7.50

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