How to kill a magpie…


“Elster” (English: magpie) is the German online software that is used for everything related to your taxes. I am not really familiar with it and I normally would not care. But I have to care, because my parents are using this software. And: when my dad bought his iMac a few years back, at one point I installed a Parallels environment with Windows XP on it as virtual machine. This way my parents could do their taxes with the iMac without having to use the shitty PC they still had standing around for this single purpose. Naturally, the PC was never moved from it’s spot, despite the fact that there was no need for it anymore and it wasn’t turned on, ever… I guess there’s some sort of a hoarding gene that is really strong in my family.

Now, as amazing as Germany might be, software development is not one of the traits the common German should be entrusted with. Even if we get some working software out of the door, it’s inherently evil – either it’s sad and madness inducing tax software or vicious cheating software for car manufacturers.
So, as friendly as the “Elster” website might look like, the software client is a pile of horseshit and is poorly designed. It doesn’t help that it basically assumes everybody in the country is using a Windows PC, which is something I kind of take as a personal insult.

Put all of this together and you understand why the term “ugly German” never got out of public consciousness. The software was made in Bavaria, so this might explain something, too…

Anyway: after its functionality had already broken down a little while ago, quite fortunately my smart, then visiting brother could solve the software and related system (and user) issue. Things seemed to be fine, but then I learned this week that my parents had once more run into insurmountable problems with the software and could not perform a certain tax requirement that was due in 4 weeks from now.

Looking at an email from Bernhard that suggested reasons why the whole thing had come crushing down again (.Net Framework issues, Java issues, WinXP too old, Parallels too old, …) and suggesting that I, as the Mac expert, should have a go at figuring out what the problem is, made me sigh one of those deep sighs:

Leo: There goes my weekend…

Fortunately, I’ve had at least ensured a little while ago that the iMac is set up to be accessed remotely via iMessage.

So today we connected and I tried to figure this out.

After looking at the Elster software design, which in parts is admittedly not totally non-obvious to use, and browsing through settings as I tried to understand the problem, I yet shivered with disgust: this is really not a well designed program.

Nevertheless, I was able to figure out what the problem was. And it turns out that the reason why this became a problem in the first place is simply because it *is* not a well designed program.
The issue was, in fact, trivial. It arose because my parents could not access the 2016 sales tax summary report form. The solution was that an Elster software update was required. I realized this when I went through the Elster website and saw some alert that as of April 18 only transmissions from version so-and-so would be accepted.

Easy enough, right?
Sure. But seriously: why isn’t there a simple pop-up in the client software, telling you that you have to run an update to do this and that?! Even better: why doesn’t it simply automatically download the required forms by itself in the background, without having to bother the user? It’s obvious that the software is not usable otherwise.

Now, I might be asking too much “fancy” stuff here: background downloads, pop-ups… 
All of this may be too advanced. Can you imagine how you actually get the latest forms? No, no! – I know what you think, but you don’t download these forms by clicking a button or so. Nooooo! You actually have to download the whole Elster software update and re-install it on your computer, i.e. removing the old one (and it was not clear to me whether this would lose any important data).
This is like dropping a hydrogen bomb on a chalkboard to wipe it clean for the next class.


Anyway. I should not complain. In the end I did not have to spend my whole weekend on this like I feared, it was an easy fix and my parents are happy – so I should be grateful. But it annoys me that with a more thoughtful software design, this issue would have never occurred in the first place.

Now, when I am in Germany in August I will install the latest Parallels and Windows update, so we won’t run into age related system issues in a few months later. Whatever the cost – it’ll be worth it…

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