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 When Windows is contagious


In the last month I've been trying to file my (french) tax declaration online. It's not the first time I do it, and even though I've been successful before, it's always been a pain in the ass. But this time I kept running into problems that made me feel just like I was using a Windows app (and not a good one!).

First you have to download and install several Java applets and libraries. Then you have to authenticate via one of these applets if you already have their certificate, or download another applet to request a certificate. But you don't get all these applets and libraries at once, oh no. You have to start over the procedure again after each one, going through several web pages and forms between each. Be prepared for at least half an hour of that!

Anyway, when I tried to authenticate using the certificate I already had, I was told that authentication was not possible and that I should check my Internet connection and my proxy settings. I don't use any proxy, and my connection is working fine, thank you! What do you do when you've tried several times from two different machines, two different OS versions, and four different browsers (including MSIE)? Clicking on Help seems a good idea, right? Well, I tried, and got a very long FAQ where of course my problem wasn't mentioned at all (it was all about taxes stuff).

Since the government announced publicly a couple of times that their service had problems due to an unexpected number of users, I kept trying once or twice a week at various times of the night. Always with the same result. And the deadline for online declarations was coming faster and faster. So I finally decided to start over from scratch, that is to cancel my current certificate and get a new one.

One of the last steps in getting a certificate from them is to fill out a html form that's also submitted via a Java applet. And of course, each time I tried I got a page that told me basically "Your request failed. Please check the information you entered". Still not a clue on what is wrong! And of course you can't use the back function of your browser to find the form already filled, that would be too easy. No, you have to type it all again (including the darn 25 digits of identification numbers).

After I tried several times (still from several different browsers), I finally clicked on Help again, because this time it said "if you have problems, click on Help and select a contact method (phone, email...) to get the answer to your question." Sounds encouraging, doesn't it? Well, the help button took me to the same fucking FAQ I previously got, where of course I could find nothing related with contact methods. Argh!

I finally found the contacts page I was looking for, from a completely different part of their site. I emailed them with a bug report, asking what I was supposed to try next (as the deadline to send the declaration by the postal service was far behind, by then). I never got any reply. Bastards! Of course, they want me to call. Their number is like €0.8 per minute, and I'm sure they can easily keep me on the line for at least 20 minutes. No, thanks!

Obviously the whole stuff has been put together by windows developers, and they were very careful to not disorient Windows users! It's really a shame when Windows defines the standard of online applications in terms of quality and user friendliness, and unfortunately, most of French official online services are obviously developed on Windows for Windows users.

I was finally successful, BTW. Guess how? I did it from XP running in VirtualPC! :(

Sorry about the rather long rant, but I had to let it out.

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