Monday, 20 May 2013

UK Tax avoidance hoo-ha

No IT today, time for a good old-fashioned moan about the government.

Over the last few months, the bureaucratic plonkers in Westminster have been waxing lyrical about how big business is avoiding UK taxes through 100% legal loopholes in our convoluted tax system. Barely a day goes by where some MP isn't regurgitating the same old rhetoric about Amazon, or Google or any other successful business that engages in these practises, calling them evil and immoral and feigning outrage on behalf of the average Joe who's belt is being continually tightened while big business funnels all it's profits overseas.
Now, I'm not saying they're wrong, but everyone seems to be missing the point here.
 Firstly, whenever you hear a Tory MP bleat about the taxpayer being ripped off by these practices, remind yourself that there is a very good chance this person is a millionaire, most likely because they're a share holder in a business that is carrying out these very same tax-avoidance magic tricks. Their championing of the cause is less likely to be out of concern for the average UK citizen, and more to do with scoring some badly needed points with the public. The same thing has been said by so many MPs, it makes you wonder if they're passing a script around.
 Secondly, no successful, smartly-managed business in the world pays more tax than they absolutely have to. I'm sure there are plenty that don't get involved in tax avoidance, but I'd be willing to bet that the number of companies who realise what they can save through tax avoidance but then say "nah, that would be highly immoral/evil of me, I couldn't possibly do that" is very, very small indeed.

The problem is not that these companies are taking advantage of loopholes in the tax system to save themselves some cash, the problem is that these loopholes exist at all. The UK has the most convoluted tax system in the world and I doubt there is a tax system in existence that doesn't have some kind of loopholes in it. But rather than wasting time going on the BBC and repeatedly moaning about CompanyX not paying more tax than they have to (seriously, why are they so surprised that companies want to pay as little tax as possible?), the Government should be pushing through some hasty reform to close said loopholes.

I'm not suggesting a complete reform of the entire tax system should be done tomorrow, such an undertaking would take years to concoct by individuals far more intelligent than I, but a few amendments to close the gaping chasms in the current system wouldn't go amiss and would serve to reduce the amount of money that is being kept from the tax man that could otherwise be spent on Tory vanity projects and controversial nuclear deterrents, but that's another argument for another day.

 Let's get the money first then start arguing about what it will be used for.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

This just in-Windows 8 not that bad

Yep, I said it. I may have just committed professional suicide and may never be offered a job again and just to make it worth it I'm going to say it again.


Why such gleaming praise? Have I lost my mind, or been bribed by Microsoft to say nice things about their crappy OS to my two readers (hi guys)? No, but unlike most of those who bash Windows 8 for it's split personality and it's absent Start button which is allegedly responsible for the deaths of many kittens, I've used it. I've used it at home since shortly after it came out and have been using it at work for a couple of months now.
I published my first impressions here a while back and I think it's time to refine my impressions a little and add a dash of reason.

This week there has been a lot of talk about Windows 8.1 aka Blue and how Microsoft are going to put all our cheese back and beg for forgiveness. This won't happen. At most, there is going to be a minor submission, such as adding the Start button back but having it trigger the Start screen, or allowing boot to Desktop.

6 months of use has led me to the inescapable conclusion that the Start screen is an almost perfect marriage of the Start Menu and the desktop. Let's face it, most people's desktops consist of loosely related groups of icons and maybe an extremely crucial business file that can never be replaced and is not backed up in any way shape or form.
What is the Start screen but a load of groups of loosely related icons?
The start screen is the perfect replacement for your cluttered and dis-organised desktop. You can't put files on it, therefore forcing you to put them somewhere sensible, or just putting them on the actual desktop where you've always put them.
With just a little tidying up, at boot you are presented with a screen full of big icons for your main applications that are easily clickable through blurry eyes on a Monday morning before you've had your caffeine intake.

So the Start screen is the solution to the icon-explosion on your desktop. But what about the Start Menu?

The Start Menu, the theory goes, was a quick way to access commonly used applications and provided a nice hierarchical folder structure with which to access all your installed apps.
In actuality, the quick app access came true but the hierarchical folder view soon becomes a dumping ground for any amount of shit that installers feel the desire to put in there. Often, applications from the same company will have wildly differing paths so your hierarchical structured view of your applications has absolutely no structure whatsoever!
For years now, I have taken to manually organizing the folders in the start menu. This makes finding anything easy with the rather large caveat that when anything gets uninstalled, I have a dead entry sitting there for me to trip over at some point in the future.

I suppose the closest replacement for the "view everything" mentality of the Start Menu is the All Apps view, which is possibly the worst example of a UI I have ever seen. It is completely intractable to me and I steer clear from it. If I need something that isn't on start, I search. If search doesn't bring it up, I dip down to Explorer.
If I need to get to system functions, I use either Win+R to bring up Run or Win+X to bring up the new Quick Access menu.

Having lived with Windows 8 for a while now, I don't feel I've lost anything. The functionality of the desktop (link farm) + start menu is there in the start screen for me. Anything else can be served by Search or Win+R/X. Overall my workflow is quicker and more streamlined-and no more manually organizing the Start Menu.

Somehow, life goes on after the Start Menu and no kittens were killed in the use of this OS.

Well, not many.