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The VITA MILPITAS COMMUNITY LIBRARY Site in Milpitas introduced a Networked TaxWise installation in 2005.   In the absence of a permanent network infrastructure, we assembled and dismantled a temporary private Local Area Network (VITA LAN) each session.


Let us define a few terms for the following discussion:

  • Laptop or Desktop refers to a specific computer
  • Server is a program that provides services to Clients
  • Client is a program that requests services from Servers.
  • Each Laptop or Desktop has a Name and can host zero or more Servers and zero or more Clients.
  • TaxWise Server is the part of TaxWise that manages the login, database, and taxpayer return information, and includes the TaxWise database which holds all the information of the returns that are prepared.
  • TaxWise Client is the part of TaxWise that interacts with most volunteers and the TaxWise Server
  • Standalone TaxWise  An installation where taxes can be prepared without connecting to a network.  It includes both the TaxWise Server and TaxWise Client on the same Laptop or Desktop. 
  • Networked TaxWise  An installation where a TaxWise Server can communicate with TaxWise Clients on several different laptops at the same time.
Note that a laptop could be part of a Networked TaxWise as well as host a Standalone TaxWise.

System Description

The VITA LAN consists of a combination Wireless Access Point and Broadband DSL Router connected to two network switches.  Laptops for preparing tax returns connect to this network.

One laptop, the Primary TaxWise Server laptop, hosts the primary TaxWise Server and the TaxWise Database.  Other Laptops, also known as TaxWise Workstations host TaxWise Clients and connect to the network.  When returns are being prepared, the Clients connect to the TaxWise Server and save individual return data on the TaxWise Server instead of the local drive.  Each volunteer has a unique password protected user account to allow only that user and the TaxWise Admin user and no one else to view the returns prepared by that volunteer.

A Microsoft Windows Server 2003 desktop computer named Milpitas-WS2003 runs a Print Server and a Web Server.

The Print Server controls printers connected to this desktop.  TaxWise Clients send print jobs to the Print Server.  Multiple printers of the same make and model on this server form a printer pool, and a printing job sent to the printer pool is sent to the next available printer in the pool.

The Web Server hosts a SharePoint Web which is a team collaboration platform included with Microsoft Windows Server 2003.  Volunteers fill in their time sheets on the SharePoint Web.  Totals are calculated automatically and downloaded to an Excel spreadsheet for transmission to VITA.   Since March 9, 2005 volunteers started adding contact information,  thoughts and comments to the collaborative web site.  Useful and frequently referenced documents such as Pub 17, Pub 660 and 2005 refund cycle charts are also available on the SharePoint Web site.  This collaboration platform supports data entry, discussion forums, a voting feature, and ability for users to add additional information,

A Sony Laptop, the Secondary TaxWise Server Laptop is configured to support both TaxWise Client and a Standalone TaxWise.  It has Microsoft Office 2003 Professional Edition, Front Page 2003 and other applications for creating and editing documents to be saved on the SharePoint Web.  These applications do not exist on the VITA issued laptops.  Data on the Primary TaxWise Server is fully backed up on the Secondary TaxWise Server between sessions, so that the Secondary TaxWise Server Laptop also acts as a backup server.

TaxWise Workstation Laptops install the printer drivers directly from the Print Server instead of from CDs.


How does a Networked TaxWise help Tax Volunteers?

  • Fewer printers to manage.  Typically, 8 to 10 tax preparers are on site, each using an IRS or a personal laptop.  This site currently has 3 printers assigned to it, one for generating documents such as 9325s and other off-site documents, and the other two on the network for on-site printing needs.  Without a network, typically one printer is shared between two laptops by switching the printer cable to the laptop needing to print returns, so 5 printers are required to support 8 to 10 laptops.
  • Multiple identical printers to a single printer pool.  A print job sent to the printer pool on the Print Server is queued for the next available printer.  If a pool printer is busy or unavailable (for example, because it is out of paper), the Print Server sends jobs to one of the other printer(s) in the pool. 
    • (Please note: this is how it was supposed to work.   For the 2005 tax season, we found that network printing was slow due to slow LAN network, and the print server did not always work as expected)
    • (These problems were investigated, and for the 2006 tax season we plan to use networked printers with their own servers, so a laptop or workstation is not tied up with the printer)
  • Avoid transferring returns using a floppy or flash drive.  Using a floppy or flash drive is particularly inconvenient because a person using the destination laptop must interrupt the current task, causing delays for the taxpayer currently being helped.
How does a Networked TaxWise help the Site Coordinator?
  • Spend less time and make fewer errors during installation.   Installing TaxWise from a network is more convenient, less time consuming, and less error prone than from a CD.
    • CD installation generally takes 40 60 minutes per workstation to load, install, configure and register TaxWise and Federal and State form updates.  Each install requires information to be typed in manually and correctly, something that is error-prone under time pressure.
    • Network installation of the TaxWise Client requires assigning a unique Workstation number to each client, and loading and installing the TaxWise Client software, which takes less than 10 minutes per workstation, and requires no configuration or registration of the software.
  • Install updates only on server
    • Updates to TaxWise are issued almost weekly.  In a Standalone installation, the updates must be copied and installed via floppy diskette, USB flash drive, or CD on each workstation.  This inconvenience generally means that the workstations are seldom updated.
    • In a Networked TaxWise installation, only the server is updated.  Networked TaxWise clients automatically get the updates when they connect to the Server.
  • Standardize Tax Form Defaults.  When the PTIN and site information are entered manually, it is difficult to keep them identical across all the Standalone Workstations at the site.  As tax form defaults change over the course of the season, each workstation must to be configured with those defaults.  With Networked TaxWise, the default form is configured for the Admin user, and copied into each user directory at the TaxWise Server.
  • Standardize Print Package defaults. When configured on the Networked TaxWise Server they are readily available to all the Networked TaxWise Clients.
  • Improving system reliability is simplified because only the Primary TaxWise Server data is backed up onto Secondary TaxWise Server; the Standalone TaxWise Laptops do not need to be backed up.
  • Simplify DCN (Declaration Control Number) tracking and assignment.  The TaxWise Server assigns sequence numbers when TaxWise clients generate E-files.  A good practice is to let volunteers run the E-file diagnostics, fix obvious errors and assign the DCN before printing the taxpayer copy.  This simplifies the situation where the E-file transmitter needs to refer back to the volunteer tax preparer when TaxWise diagnostics give an error, provides the taxpayer with the DCN number right away, and avoids hand entering on the signed copies of the 8453 forms.   It is also easier to track signed 8453s by DCN number than by last name.
  • Simplify locating previously partially or fully completed tax return.  Since tax returns are stored by user, the volunteer can access them from any Networked TaxWise Client.  If the volunteer is not present, the taxpayer can be helped by another volunteer on a different workstation since the Admin user can track down and transfer the return to the user directory of the second volunteer.
  • Simplify protection of taxpayer information.  Since taxpayer personal information resides only on the Primary and Secondary TaxWise Servers, securing the TaxWise Client laptops becomes less of an issue.

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Last modified: 10/28/09.