Secret CIO: Isn't Tax Time Already Frustrating Enough?

Treating all customers like potential thieves just doesn't work.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

February 27, 2003

3 Min Read

I like the characters in old movies--Rick in Casablanca, Rhett in Gone With The Wind, and Howard Beale in Network. Howard, played by Peter Finch, exclaimed the immortal words, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore." And that's just how I felt when I learned about Intuit's new product-activation and license-enforcement method for its TurboTax tax-preparation software.

Intuit has decided that it needs to protect itself against people sharing TurboTax without paying for it. The company has installed Macrovision's SafeCast/C-Dilla digital-rights management technology on every TurboTax disk it sells. As a result, honest users are inconvenienced and have less flexibility. For starters, you can't make a fully functional backup copy of your CD. In addition, if you activate the program on a machine and then have to replace major system hardware, the program may not print your tax return. What's worse, Macrovision's technology keeps chugging along like the Energizer bunny, eating up machine cycles and monitoring your computer whether or not TurboTax is running.

People are reporting systems glitches they believe the digital-rights management scheme causes. Intuit, benevolently, has released a way to remove it from your machine, but if you do, TurboTax won't print. Fear not, though, you can use TurboTax fully without the protection module if you wait until October 2003. Of course, the IRS might want you to file your taxes a tad earlier than that. Intuit must be proud of its clever technology, so it's surprising that nowhere on a TurboTax box can a prospective customer find the slightest reference to it.

It's getting to be a habit with digital publishers to ignore the rights and comfort of their customers. First, we have Microsoft with its XP activation. Just how much of my machine can I change before I have to call Redmond and try to convince them I'm not a thief? Then, the music industry decides I should have limited ability (if any) to copy selections from the CDs I buy. So much for my habit of compiling a disc of my favorite songs for those boring weekday morning drives. And now Intuit comes along and mandates that it will inconvenience me, potentially to increase sales.

What's wrong with Intuit's executives? If they published books, would they make sure that their volumes were printed on checkered paper so they couldn't be photocopied? And would they legislate to do away with libraries on the off chance that this would enhance their revenue?

Well, like Howard in Network, I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore. This year, I bought TaxCut software instead of TurboTax. What's more, if Intuit wants to implement its intrusive copy-protection and check-on-the-customer technology in Quicken, then I'll switch to Money, even if the conversion process and learning curve turns out to be a pain.

One thing I've learned from dealing with my hard-nosed associates, Gornish and Kratmeyer, is that if you want cooperation, make it easy for people to do the right thing. Let Intuit put some of the effort it expended on digital-rights technology into making it advantageous to obtain TurboTax legally, maybe by treating it as a subscription with reduced price updates and enhanced service. If it came up with ways to encourage customers to act appropriately, instead of treating them as potential thieves, it just might wind up making even more money than it does now.

Herbert W. Lovelace shares his experiences (changing most names, including his own, to protect the guilty) as CIO of a multibillion-dollar international company. Send him E-mail at [email protected].

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Herbert Lovelace's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Herbert Lovelace, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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