As a technology journalist, I received many press releases promising "solutions." This particular word--"solutions"--is troublesome.
I understand that technology is more complex nowadays, in terms like "bundled hardware-software package" no longer apply. Products for sale often include hardware, software, support, firmware upgrades, and whatever else. It's simpler to use the word "solutions."
But that word is so overused in technology jargon today that it has lost its meaning. For every solution, there must be a problem. So whenever anyone says the word "solution" to me, I always ask: "what's the problem?"
For years, I used Hong Kong's online tax reporting system hosted by the IRD. It has worked magnificently. Log onto their system and they have a short form, with much of your information already filled in. Fill in the particulars for this tax year, and sign electronically using your unique password. The system immediately informs you that you filed your tax return, and even gives you a computational estimate of your tax situation.
The system is world-class. However, when I went to log on this year, I ran into a wall made of Java bricks. No browser I use could communicate with the IRD's system. I was dismayed.
But being the brick-headed geek that I am, I decided to attempt to fix the problem--with the support of the IRD's computer department. They sent emails with possible remedies. I tried the fixes, but still couldn't get the system to work. I took screenshots of the problems I was encountering, and emailed them to the friendly folks at the IRD.
Things came to a head when I followed a detailed FAQ they provided which had several steps involving enabling/disabling certain Java functions, and still could not get the system to allow me to login. I admit: my email after that was rather sharply worded. To the IRD's credit, they invited me to their computer system department, with my laptop, to see if they could help me debug the persistent problem. This is a typical, but as a text journalist, I felt it would be a good practice on my part. After all, I must pay taxes in Hong Kong--and I feel the rates here are fair--and I prefer to do so online using a secure government tax revenue system.
The head of the team helping me debug my problem, Systems Manager Philip Chan, had four other IRD computer employees with him. Even more impressive: a series of workstations with various users set-ups installed on them. The sort of testing environments you would expect from a government department charged with sensitive and compulsory financial operations. What I saw was as world-class as the user interface.
After getting an Internet connection, I attempted to log into my text account. When I received the screen telling me that I was not allowed to login--something I had become familiar with--there was an audible gasp from the IRD technicians. They immediately started suggesting ways to debug my problem. It was interesting to see their reaction: and they're clearly used to seeing their system work on any given user set up, and rarely encounter the screen--that's my guess anyway.
We then went through a series of Java enabling/disabling troubleshooting procedures. The bottom-line: they were able to make my login work not only on Safari, but also on Firefox.
I asked Chan to send me an email detailing some of the steps involved, based on our mutual experience. He was kind enough to do so and I reproduce much of the email below. If you're having trouble filing your online return, this may help. But first of all, contact the IRD.
"Thanks a lot for your visit to our office on 30 July 2013 to discuss the technical problem you encountered in using your Apple laptop to access eTAX services,." wrote Chan. "As per your request, the actions taken in resolving the problem are given below for your information."
Here's the IRD's information:
For web browser Safari,
1. Check the Apple laptop setting and find that Java 7 update 25 (latest update version) has been installed.
2. Log into eTAX using web browser Safari.
3. Click the "Inactive Plug-in" icon prompted in the loading page to allow Safari to run Java applet in eTAX website.
4. Click the "Continue" or "Run" button on the warning boxes (which allow the Java applet to run), and then the eTAX login page appears.
For web browser Firefox,
1. Log into eTAX using web browser Firefox 22 (latest version) and a message listing "unknown Java Virtual Machine" appears.
2. Go to plug-in setup manual in Firefox setting. Disable Java plug-in and then enable Java plug-in again.
3. Restart Firefox.
4. Go to Java test site (http://www.java.com/en/download/testjava.jsp) to test whether Java is working.
5. Click the "Continue" or "Run" button on the warning boxes (which allow the Java applet to run), and then the eTAX login page appears.
I should add that the "Continue" or "Run" buttons appear on several warning pages. You may have to click on four or five of them, so be sure not to click "Cancel."
As for follow-up, the IRD computer text said they will "refine the relevant eTAX FAQs to provide more user-friendly guides in resolving eTAX technical problems."
And they added: "should you encounter any other problems in using eTAX services, please feel free to contact us. Thanks again for your continued support to our eTAX services.
I had a problem, and I was given a solution. In the best of all technical worlds, that's how it works. So thanks to the IRD computer department. They're doing things right.