A history of Canadian Tax Software by Cam Peters

This week in February marks the 28th anniversary of the CanTax T1, the first piece of tax software I developed. I don’t often celebrate the occasion, but it does cause me to pause and reflect on how tax software has changed over the years. This year, I decided to go a step further. I dug out my boxes of old software, dusted them off carefully, researched operating systems from the pre-Windows era, and got the old tax software running again.

CANTAX 1985 TO 1994

After spending an hour or two playing with 1990s era tax software, I decided to write this post about printing features we included in early editions of CanTax and ProFile.

CanTax T1 was released in February, 1985. At that time, Revenue Canada (as it was then called) did not accept computer-generated returns of any kind. CanTax calculated the tax return, and we asked our users to transcribe the final figures from a print out onto the official forms that Revenue Canada mailed to all taxpayers.

In 1986, Revenue Canada changed the rules to allow for “computer facsimile” tax returns. They would accept computer-generated returns provided they were printed on specially-coloured paper, and a “keying summary” was printed and sent in with the return. Here’s an example of one of those early tax returns, created on a dot matrix printer:

Printing a tax return usually required between 30 or 40 pages of special paper, so we included an option to review the forms and remove any that were unnecessary.  Here is a screen shot from 1991:

At that time, there was no print review process. You had to remember to check the diagnostics first.  If you remembered, you could see a screen like this:


By 1994, we realized that combining the return diagnostics with the print step could save you time. And it could help correct errors before printing, saving paper as well. In 1994, printing took you to this screen:

I’m particularly proud of this screen because it was ahead of its time. The text in white (e.g. Taxpayer’s postal code) represents a hyperlink. Click the white text with your mouse, and CanTax would take you to the point in the return where you could make the correction. Cool!

PROFILE® 1998 TO 2012

Four years later, we implemented a similar feature in ProFile® software (circa 1998)… it looked like this:

Unfortunately, we forgot about the hyperlinks that we built for CanTax. You could read the messages, and decide whether or not you wanted to print.  But, if you want to correct the errors, you needed to cancel and do so manually (or by opening up the auditor).

The next step in the ProFile® printing process was the print selection dialog, which looked like this:

This dialog gave you options for fine tuning the printed output of your tax return. But, if you wanted to see (or change) schedule 2 before you printed it, you needed to cancel printing and go back to editing the return.


In 2013, your printing needs have changed in a couple ways:

  1. Nearly all professionally-prepared tax returns must be electronically filed, so you’re printing much less. (See our recent blog post on CRA mandatory EFILE.)
  2. Clients often prefer an electronic copy of their tax return.

As a result, we think the way that printing works needs to change too. We set out to build “printing” features with four design goals:

  1. Printing and final review should be tightly integrated. You should be able to review, make corrections and print, all from the same screen.
  2. Paper-saving options should be easy to find, and always available.
  3. Where required, printing should be embedded in the electronic workflows. For example, when you EFILE a T1013 authorization, it should be easy to print the form for signature. (More on this in another blog post.)
  4. Printing should happen entirely in the background. (Let’s make use of those dual and quad core processors!)

To accomplish this, we put printing in the sidebar. You can access it any time. And, you can continue to edit the return, like this:

A couple things to note about this layout:

  1. In the top left, you see there are outstanding critical errors that should be corrected.
  2. The client letter prints first, since you’ll want it at the top of any return you give your client, whether paper or electronic.
  3. The lower portion of the sidebar shows forms TaxCycle selected to print. You can click any form to view and edit it in the right hand pane.
  4. The check boxes to the left of each form in the side bar allow you to deselect any forms you don’t want to print.
  5. The red asterisk on the T1 form indicates that a field is overridden… something that you will want to review before you finalize the return.
  6. The blue asterisk next to the T936 shows that its selection is overridden. To remove that override and let TaxCycle decide if the form should be printed, click the blue asterisk.

Click the “gear” to the left of the printer name to reveal few more printer options. Here you see some of the paper-saving options available for my printer: duplex printing and four pages per sheet. (These change depending on your printer features.)

To really save paper, the best option is not to print at all. Here are the options available you select Adobe PDF:

A few things to note here:

  1. The folder specifies where the PDF file will go (including “same folder as tax return”).
  2. The file name sets a template for the PDF file name. This template “{Name} {Date}” save the PDF as “Happy Taxpayer 2013.02.01.pdf”
  3. You can also set a password to add some security to the output file.

So, what has changed in your history of printing tax returns? What should be done better?  Tell us what you think… click here. (http://www.taxcycle.com/Support/SupportRequest.aspx) and select “TaxCycle Technical Support” from the dropdown.  We’re here to help!

ProFile is a registered trademark of Intuit Canada Ltd. Cantax is a registered trademark of CCH Canadian Ltd.