February 22, 2005 2:57 PM PST

Intuit customers taxed by software woes

Complaints are mounting from TurboTax customers about problems installing and updating Intuit's top-selling tax preparation software.

Hundreds of customers have posted comments in Intuit forums, product review sites and other Web outlets reporting similar problems getting the software to run.

The most common complaints revolve around getting the software to work at all. Customers routinely report that after they go through with what appears to be a normal installation of the current versions of TurboTax, they can't get the application to run.

"It's not because the software is bad, it's because all these firewall and virus protection programs are creating more places to have hang-ups."
--Bob Meighan
Intuit vice president

Rick Bunton, a retired software developer from Avon, Conn., said he's had intermittent problems getting TurboTax to run. The only strategy that appears to work is following Intuit's suggestion to log out of Windows XP and log in again when TurboTax acts up, a clumsy solution that will at least allow Bunton to finish his taxes. "Bottom line for me, personally, is that they have at least responded, but they have not provided a fix," he said.

Ken Merwin of Cambria, Wis., said it took six hours of reinstalling TurboTax and fiddling with the Windows XP "safe mode"--in which the operating system runs with minimal supporting software--to get the tax software to work. "I have never had to go through such extra work to install software, not even under DOS," he said in a posting at Intuit's TurboTax support forum. "Shame on Intuit/TurboTax for releasing what appears to be an inadequately tested program. After five-plus years of using TurboTax, I'll be switching to another tax prep program next year."

Intuit Vice President Bob Meighan said installation glitches occur for only a tiny fraction of TurboTax customers and that most stem from conflicts with security software.

"It's not because the software is bad, it's because all these firewall and virus-protection programs are creating more places to have hang-ups," Meighan said. "In almost all cases, we have work-arounds."

Intuit's support document for "TurboTax fails to start" lists almost a dozen programs that can prevent TurboTax from running, including such common applications as RealNetworks' RealPlayer media software and Sun Microsystems' Java updating utility.

Meighan said conflicting software is also to blame for another common class of complaints from customers unable to download necessary updates for TurboTax. In most cases, firewall software and other security products are blocking traffic to Intuit servers, he said. Intuit's solution is to turn off such applications while the update process is at work.

"We don't like to go into modifying people's firewall settings," Meighan said, "We don't know the ins and outs of every single firewall product out there. Just for the moment while TurboTax updates, we ask them to switch that stuff off."

For customers who won't run their PC with shields down even for a few minutes, Intuit will ship update files burned on a CD upon request. Meighan added that customer support calls for TurboTax are down by about 20 percent this year, thanks to improvements in the software and online support resources.

TurboTax is the perennial leader in the market for tax preparation software and online services. But the product gave Intuit a black eye two years ago, when clumsily imposed anticopying technology prompted widespread customer dissent.

More recently, the company attracted attention when a message in the business version of TurboTax erroneously directed customers to an 800 number for a sex talk operation.

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