Tax software for personal computers continues to get better. Many of the new 1990 tax-year programs, which are just now appearing in final form, have added streamlined controls and features that help the taxpayer understand the tax code and fill out the appropriate forms as painlessly as possible.
These new tax programs are quite sophisticated, and many are capable of juggling the details on dozens of tax forms, but putting together a tax return often requires judgment and interpretation of the tax laws, which are beyond the scope of any personal-computer software package.
The leading Apple Macintosh program, Macintax, continues to dominate the field. And, despite its curiously mismatched name, Macintax's new cousin, Macintax for Windows, wins the honors for computers using the increasingly popular Windows operating system.
The original Macintax was one of those rare programs that harnessed the full graphical power of the Macintosh computer. The latest version upholds that tradition.
Tax forms appear on screen just as they do on paper, with black type on a paper-white background. The user enters the appropriate data in the appropriate fields, the computer does the calculations and forges links with associated forms, and the completed forms can be sent to laser or dot-matrix printers for high-resolution documents that are accepted by the government.
Macintax Federal 1990 adds some help features that were made popular on the PC side by such programs as Ask Dan About Your Taxes, which later became Andrew Tobias' PC Taxcut.
For example, Macintax now has a feature that interviews the user and determines which of the many IRS forms need to be filled out.
The program then keeps track of which forms and fields have been completed, and at any time the user can get line-by-line help and advice.
Besides the $99 federal version, tax modules are available for several states, including Maryland.
At $69 each, they pull data from the federal return, which saves time. The publisher is Softview Inc. of Oxnard, Calif., (805) 385-5000.
Until the arrival last year of Windows 3.0 for the PC, only Macintosh computers could make an IRS form look good on screen. Now Macintax has a rival on the PC side, in the form of Macintax for Windows.
Despite its split-personality name, Macintax for Windows (also $99 federal, $69 state) is a solid product, although it appears to have a few of the flaws that typically appear in the first version of any new product.
Some are cosmetic: Installation seems to take a long time, perhaps a result of the data compression schemes that are used to cram so many IRS forms onto a disk.
Others may require the user to be vigilant. Unlike some other programs, this one does not automatically stop the user from making some simple mistakes, like deducting more than the IRS limits.