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That's what happens when you sign with the devil

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We correctly predicted that after the fiasco of five million lost tax records that people would start sniffing around the appalling effort for self-assessment online filing.

But things went faster than we expected. A reader informed us of an internal Revenue memo he had seen that told of Revenue staff printing off Internet-submitted forms and then inputting them manually into another computer. It was too late on Friday to contact the Revenue and it seemed so ludicrous that we didn't write the story. But come Sunday, it had been confirmed that this was exactly what the Revenue was doing.

How, how, how could an organisation as anal as the Inland Revenue have completely failed to produce a credible IT infrastructure? And how, following the annual tax disaster when it becomes overwhelmed with returns, did it expect to get away with this simply insane botch job?

It stinks so badly and is just so poorly thought-out and buggy, that there could only be one solution: Microsoft. And that, sadly, is exactly what we are looking at. Microsoft and the Revenue are to be investigated by the Office of Fair Trade over - guess what - anti-competitive behaviour.

The Revenue has started to actively promote Microsoft's software for filing online. This must surely be the worst of both worlds. It has also had a Microsoft staffer working in the Revenue for 12 months. While people were pitching for the filing software, Microsoft effectively pushed everyone out the way - which would account for the delay in the software launch. Microsoft also pulled in buddy EDS - which was one of the two companies involved in the five-million tax return cock-up.

The Revenue has now admitted it has signed a deal with Microsoft but, of course, the extent to which they have screwed the British tax-paying public is "commercially sensitive" and so we're not allowed to know. If we even get a sniff of the UK government signing up with Microsoft, The Reg will personally lead a nationwide protest down Whitehall and peck its brains out.

Meanwhile, we are frantically hunting for a story in which a company has installed some new technology which does what it said it would, works really well and everyone likes. We could all do with a bit of cheering up. ®

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