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Costly Mistake for Utah State Government

Prior to May 2011, the Utah taxpayer website was simple and effective to use. It was fast and worked fine with any browser (e.g., Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Apple Safari). From the technical side this made sense since mostly it comprised simple HTML forms and Javascript, the fundamentals of any browser. Nothing fancier was needed, nothing fancier was used.

In May 2011, it was replaced with a new webiste, the Taxpayer Access Point (TAP). This resulted in the following fiasco due to an architecture that did not match the needs:

1. Inconvenience and wasted time for many users (including me) for the rest of the year.

2. Expenses for Utah to provide work arounds for the rest of the year.

3. Expenses for Utah to completely rebuild the site again just 6 months later to fix it.

None of this would have happened if the web developer used the right architecture initially.


Here's what happened in May 2011

Upon pointing my browser (Google Chrome) to the new site, I was informed that it can ONLY be accessed from a browser that runs Microsoft Silverlight, a Windows Internet Explorer (IE) extension.

I did have Windows and IE, but my attempts to install Silverlight had failed. Searching the web, I found many others who were also unable to install Silverlight, apparently due to cumulative bugs in Microsoft updates over time.

If I can't install Silverlight, I can't use TAP. And, what about all of the other people who don't use Windows at all, such as Linux or Apple users? They can't install Silverlight either.

I contacted the site webmaster. He said they were aware of this limitation and problem, and provided a workaround. Those who can't run Silverlight must do the following:

1. Download and install a virtual Windows desktop program from Citrix.
    This can run on any computer (e.g., Linux, MacOS, even Windows).

Note: Citrix products cost real money, so Utah must have cut some deal to allow licenses for all of us who needed this workaround!

2. Open a Citrix window, then run IE with Silverlight in that window to access TAP.

Although this was time consuming and clumsy, I was now able to access TAP and login! Pulling up a tax form, I immediately saw the next annoying issue.

The tax forms were not displayed directly in the IE browser window, but rather in a smaller Sliverlight window that sat inside the browser window. This Silverlight window was too small for the whole tax form, but could not be resized, so vertical scrolling was required. However, this Silverlight window was also too large for the enclosing browser window, so vertical scrolling was required in the browser window as well.

So, one must scroll two windows back and forth, one inside the other, to view the tax form.

I contacted the site webmaster -- again. He said there was no way around this, short of an update to Silverlight. He also said:

From Webmaster: Thank you for your comments (the original email and this followup). They haven't fallen on deaf ears. Our vendor is in the process of designing the TAP application for next year, using html rather than silverlight.

Tediously I filled out the tax form... Then, when I tried to print it, TAP could not find a printer. This was because TAP was running in the virtual Windows desktop, which in fact had no printer. Only the REAL Windows desktop (external to the virtual Windows desktop) had the printer.

I then had to manually configure my printer into the virtual Windows desktop. Then I could print!

So I contacted the site webmaster -- again -- to inform him that the Citrix virtual desktop does not inherit the devices of the real desktop. He was aware of this and other limitations.

From Webmaster: Thanks. That system wasn't really designed to accommodate everyone and yes, it does have some surprises. That's why it's not heavily advertised. Again, we're working on a new system, but unfortunately, it won't be ready until next year's income tax filing time. . . .

On November 18, 2011, we were notified that the new, revamped site was available.

From Webmaster: Utah Taxpayer Access Point (TAP) is changing in December!

Even though TAP has been a success, we're making it even easier to use. Starting December 12, TAP will include:
  - A new look and enhanced features for faster access
  - The ability to work on most browsers
     (no more downloading Microsoft Silverlight to use our online services)

  . . .


In Summary

I believe this was the result of an inexperienced web developer who first learned Silverlight, then assumed it could (should) be used for everything. I have seen the same situation with new developers who learned Adobe Flash (Flex), ImageReady, and other tools.

An old saying comes to mind.
      When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

Computer software is not "one size fits all".

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