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Intuit scrambles to ease TurboTax woes

The TurboTax maker says it's beefed up customer support to handle complaints about product activation technology in the software and it's working to avoid problems in future versions.

Financial software and services company Intuit has pledged to make controversial product activation technology less obtrusive in future versions of its TurboTax software.

Intuit spokesman Scott Gulbransen said the company is working with software maker Macrovision, which supplies the antipiracy technology used in TurboTax, to address customer complaints about the technology. Intuit has also beefed up its customer support, he said, including the formation of an "executive response team" to respond specifically to product activation complaints.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has been stung by widespread criticism in online forums and elsewhere over the introduction of product activation in TurboTax, its market-leading tax preparation software. Product activation is a controversial antipiracy approach that locks a piece of software to a specific PC.

Intuit's version relies on SafeCast, software from Macrovision that runs in the background on the PC and checks for a unique activation number generated when TurboTax is activated and stored on the PC's hard drive. The technology is intended to prevent customers from printing or filing returns from any PC other than the original machine the software was activated from.

Customers have complained the technology makes it difficult to continue using TurboTax if they acquire a new PC or hard drive. Many have also complained about the fact that SafeCast continually runs in the background, even when TurboTax isn't being used, monopolizing a small chunk of the PC's memory.

Gulbransen said Intuit is working with Macrovision to develop a version of SafeCast that runs only when TurboTax is active, and that includes other changes designed to make the technology less obtrusive.

"We're working with Macrovision to get away from its current setup and get away from having a memory-resident application," he said. "Product activation is not going to go away--we're just looking at ways to make it work more in line with what our customers have said they expect."

Gulbransen said Intuit has also expanded its customer support team by adding representatives specifically trained to deal with product activation issues and questions.

"We want to respond to folks in a friendly and prompt way without affecting our other customers," he said.

The response was enough to convince at least one Intuit critic. Michael Block, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., accountant, had started a Web site promoting a boycott of TurboTax products. He called off the boycott this week, after being satisfied with the company's response because of extensive conversations with Intuit executives.

"To me, this is Intuit's finest hour: Fast action to do right by customers," Block wrote on his Web site.