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On The Desktop

Taxing software:  Considering the time of year here in the US, it isn't all that surprising that I was recently asked if I knew of any software for Linux that could help with producing tax returns. While the question is a bit moot at this point for US users, it is still interesting to note just what options are available in this category of applications.

First, there are plenty of financial packages around for Linux, starting with the very popular GNUCash. While a decent clone of Quicken (with quite a few features still to go, however) GNUCash does offer extensions for writing tax software. There just doesn't seem to be any written yet. While GNUCash is great for managing finances in general, you can't handle your taxes with it.

The problem isn't that projects don't exist to handle tax processing, there are plenty of those:

  • gTaxEstimator
  • GNUTaxes
  • PTax98, which appears to have been capable of calculating a 1040EZ form, at least in 1998. It uses a Tk based interface running Perl.
  • LeTax

The bigger problem is that writing tax software is a difficult proposition. An extended discussion on finding and writing tax software took place late last year on Slashdot. The gist of the story is that because tax laws change and can be interpreted very loosely it's difficult to write accurate software for helping to calculate taxes. We're talking about something more than just an online form that adds numbers. It needs to be something that understands tax law.

While tax software is difficult to write, it's not impossible. In fact, it's already been done - in Germany. Last week we reported on the release of Buhl Data Services' Tax2001, a tool for creating German tax forms that apparently runs on WINE. And this isn't the only country outside the US with projects for making Tax forms - a project is underway to help Canadian's handle their taxes, too.

Even though there is a lack of available native software, it's not impossible to do your taxes using Linux. You just need a Web browser. Sites like SecureTax.com or TurboTax for the Web offer online services for users of any platform, though it has been reported that this latter service may require your browser to be Netscape or IE or else it may not work.

Tax season is over for most Americans, and I'm not sure when taxes are due elsewhere, but managing your money using Linux is a year round process. While I use the Applix spreadsheet program to keep my budget, there are many other financial tools available. These include tools ranging from managing stock portfolios to balancing checkbooks to doing payrolls. Don't expect all of these to provide beautiful windowed interfaces just yet. Most tools are still primitive in form, but they are getting better. Expect to see a big advance in these tools over the next year since both of the major desktop environments - KDE and GNOME - now have very stable and extensible interfaces.

KDE's KParts is not MICO.  It was pointed out to me after last week's column on Bonobo's use of a CORBA implementation that my report on KDE using MICO was, well, just a little out of date. That was an understatement. The move from the CORBA-based MICO to the current KParts happened long before KDE2 was released. KParts is a non network transparent, shared library approach that was considered easier to develop with and provided better performance. The best clarification came from Daniel Burckhardt, who stated:

Bonobo uses ORBit as a CORBA implementation while KDE experimented with MICO long before KDE2 was out. KDE abandoned CORBA-based interprocess communication because there were performance and compilation issues with MICO and because they felt that they could still fill their needs with a simpler approach. So they based DCOP (KDE's alternative to Bonobo) on libICE, part of the X11 libraries.

KParts has an extension called XParts, which is how KDE embeds non KDE parts such as Gecko. Interestingly, searching for CORBA on KDE's web page didn't show anything about KParts. While this is understandable - KParts isn't CORBA - there was no information that said "KParts provides the equivalent to or similar functionality as CORBA". I just needed something that would point me to KParts when looking for KDE's counterpart to Bonobo. It was late and I really didn't know what exactly I was looking for anyway. Hopefully that's a problem I'll rectify as I get some test systems put together and can experiment more thoroughly with KDE and GNOME. Daniel also provided a note that KDE leader Matthias Ettrich is considering bringing CORBA back into the fold:

To everyone's surprise, KDE's founding father Matthias Ettrich recently started a discussion about maybe bringing CORBA back to KDE, this time based on ORBit instead of MICO. For a good summary about possible advantages and disadvantages of that approach, have a look at Kernel Cousin KDE #5

Monkey business.  Finally, it seems that while Ximian may be a barrel full of monkeys, the Bonobo project can't claim such a close heritage. Thanks to M Carling who pointed out the fact that Bonobos are not monkeys at all, but rather sit just off the branch that spawned humans. Carling also offered an update on the Bonobo's mating habits, but we'll leave that for a Discovery channel special.

Desktop Environments

Ximian hires new CEO. Co-founder Nat Friedman is stepping over to a VP role at Ximian to make room for a veteran CEO, David Patrick.

KOffice 1.1 approaching Beta 1. In a posting to the KOffice Development mailing list, David Faure notes that the 1.1 Beta 1 release of KOffice is scheduled for packaging on April 18th. He included a release plan for the KOffice 1.1 release as well.

Interoperability -- Progress at GUADEC. GNOME hacker David Mason wrote this GUADEC II coverage, reflecting on the progress made in ensuring GNOME/KDE interoperability. "We were graced by the presence of four or five KDE members. This was one of the more positive events to occur during the whole show. We had one formal meeting in the form of a BOF and many informal conversations throughout the show."

Trolltech announces Qt 3.0 preview. Trolltech has gotten around to announcing its preview of Qt 3.0. The announcement includes a list of the new features in this upcoming release.

GNUStep Weekly Update. The GNUStep project posted their weekly update. While GNUStep continues drive towards a desktop environment to rival GNOME and KDE, this update is probably of more interest to developers than users.

Enlightenment gets a facelift. Noted in passing - the Enlightenment web site got a major update this past week. While most of the site is still under development, the Goodies page does give a nice overview of how the 0.17 release will be breaking out components of the window manager into low level back end services that can be used by other projects.

FVWM2 update. FVWM2 also slipped in a little update on their web site back at the end of March - a new release candidate: 2.3.31.

Desktop Applications

It's Play Time: Linux Games Shipping Next Week. Loki has announced they are shipping two new games next week: Tribes 2 and Alpha Centauri Planetary Pack. They're offering both at a discount price when bought together.

On the go...

A developer's perspective on Agenda's VR3 Linux PDA (LInuxDevices.com). LinuxDevices presents a developers point of view on the new Agenda VR3. "It is encouraging to report that the VR3 is a fairly successful implementation of a Linux PDA, from both a user's and a developer's point of view."

Guadec Diaries. In one of the more amusing and thorough diaries covering the recent GNOME User and Developer European Conference (GUADEC), Telsa Gwynne tells of her travails following (and leading) Alan Cox and company around the conference.

Thanks to Havoc Pennington, who let us know about Dave's report and sent in one of his own.

More GUADEC summaries can be found here.

Section Editor: Michael J. Hammel

April 19, 2001

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