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The project is to build a Linux Mint machine to have the identical functionality and ergonomics as the existing Windows 10 machine.
Having established that there is no way to migrate fully from Windows to Linux, the project now needs to consider running Windows apps in Linux.This is a big change to the strategy of the project.This is a big change to the deployment of a Linux workstation, a crushing admission of failure, and the opening of a whole new world of risks to an otherwise secure operating system. Environment & required functionalityFor this blog post, Wine was tested on: The Linux Mint Xfce 19 virtual machine "Bilbo", on host Windows 10 laptop "Saruman"The Linux Mint Xfce 18.3 virtual machine "Gimli", on host Windows 10 host "Legolas".
Alternatives There are alternatives to Wine/PlayOnLinux, notably the paid software Crossover. Software selection Wine and PlayOnLinux are present in Linux Mint by default.  If uninstalled following advice fr…

Case-in-use study: filing a UK tax return online

The project is to build a Linux Mint machine to have the identical functionality and ergonomics as the existing Windows 10 machine.

This is a case-in-use study.  The case-in-use relates to the online filing of a UK tax return.

Environment & required functionality

This case-in-use study featured the following machines:
  • The Linux Mint Xfce 18.3 laptop "Gandalf";
  • The Windows 10 laptop "Legolas";
  • A Linux Mint Xfce 18.3 virtual machine "Gimli" running within VirtualBox on Legolas.
The synchronisation agent is Google Drive in Windows 10, and grive2 in Linux Mint.

This case-in-use study featured the following apps:

  • Chromium internet browser (on Gimli);
  • Google Chrome internet browser (on Gandalf and Legolas);
  • FoxIT PDF browser (on Gandalf and Legolas);
  • Xreader document viewer (on Gimli, pre-installed in Linux Mint);
  • GIMP image editor (on Gandalf, pre-installed in Linux Mint);
  • the printer service.

Alternatives

The sole alternative is not to do a tax return.  Which means prison.  Hmm.  So not much of an alternative.

Software selection

There are other software packages available for taxpayers to compile and file their tax returns, but all of them cost money and most run on either Windows or Mac.  The majority of taxpayers who need to do a tax return are better off using HMRC's own online filing software.  This is the salient choice, because it's one less app for the end-user to maintain and if HMRC's software screws up the tax computation, then that's quite a good defence in any investigation.  Thus, the existing internet browsers will suffice.

There are other software packages available for taxpayers to prepare their accounts.  Like tax compilation and filing software, most accounting software costs money.  There is one open source app that runs on Linux, Mac and Windows, GNUCash (source).  Again, the use of another app creates a maintenance burden on the end-user.  Unless the volume of transactions and the complexity of the book-keeping demands it, it would be easier for most users to maintain a simple cashbook and trial balance in Excel/Calc.  Thus, the existing spreadsheet apps will suffice.

There are other PDF browsers (see here and here).  The existing PDF brower - FoxIT - will suffice.

There are many other image editors available.  At the outset of this case-in-use study, GIMP - as supplied with Linux Mint - was used.  In retrospect, Gnome Paint might have been a better bet.

Installation experience

This case-in-use study required no software installation.

User experience

On Gandalf

Calc

Calc opened XLSX fine, did not need re-linking.  Unexpectedly, Calc translated the objective filepaths from the Windows filesystem to the Linux filesystem.  The opened file was not edited, so did not need re-saving.

It turns out that SHIFT+CTRL+F5 enables the user to jump to a named range entirely by keyboard.

FoxitPDF reader

FoxitPDF reader was painful to use, because the fools have substantially exterminated keyboard access to use the program.  Using the mouse is really, really painful.

In Windows, Foxit can print double-sided and two-to-a-page (2x2).  In Linux, Foxit can print only one-to-a-page double-sided (1x2).

The printer service

In Windows, the end-user needs to find the precise device driver for the printer to hand.

In Linux Mint, the same is technically true, but the device drivers are either pre-installed with Linux Mint, or based on the manufacturer's common standards (e.g. a generic device driver).

The printer to hand is an old HP OfficeJet 276dw, which Linux Mint found on the network within seconds, registered the device correctly and started printing successfully immediately.  So much quicker than in Windows!  The registration process temporarily knocked out the scanning app Simple Scan (the sane API), for which the solution was to re-boot Linux Mint.

HMRC's online tax return software running in internet browser

It turned out that HMRC's software did indeed contain a design bug.

In prior years, HMRC asked for losses brought-forward, asked for losses to be used this year, then calculated losses carried-forward.  This year, the fools have decided to ask for only losses brought-forward that are to be used in the current year.  Utterly counterproductive for both taxpayer and HMRC!

The help documentation has acknowledged the stupidity of the form's design, telling the taxpayer to maintain the loss memorandum in the freeform text box "other comments".

Really difficult to understand why HMRC chose to do this; presumably, an extended period of austerity has reduced HMRC's IQ scores, resulted in the remaining staff in the design department being grossly overpaid relative to the usefulness of their policy choices.

Anyway, the design bug needed to be screenshot, to prepare a defence against a hostile inquiry caused by an HMRC inspector actually reading the loss memorandum in the "other comments" box.  And that's when the real pain started.

GIMP image editor

Doing a screenshot is easy (Menu > Screenshot...).

But screenshots need to be edited so that simpletons can understand them.  Often, this means circles, arrows, boxes, highlights, really big text.

Windows users have it easy.  Paint does all of that, and really quickly.  It is literally so simple and function-led that a 5-year can master it within an hour (or less).  After a short-lived attempt by Microsoft to kill Paint resulted in nuclear war between Microsoft and the user base - another Vista moment! - Microsoft came to its senses and re-instated Paint for Windows 10.

To learn GIMP, on the other hand, requires a degree in brain surgery and a flair for tooth extraction as form of torture.  All GIMP had to do was draw a circle around one line of text and crop the excess screen.  It took 30 minutes, 3 different websites and 1 video to learn how to do the most simple of functional requirements.  GIMP might be great for professional artistes, but for normal people, it's too complex.  Linux Mint should have bundled in another, more simple Paint-like package, perhaps Gnome Paint.

Conclusion

Notwithstanding the time wasted by (and on) GIMP, the case-in-use was:

  • wholly successful on Gandalf;
  • to the limited extent tested, wholly successful on Gimli;
  • in a comparable shadow test-in-use, wholly successful on Legolas (as it had been in prior years on Gandalf when Gandalf was a Windows 7 machine).


Completed Jul2018.


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