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The Bank, the Linux User and the 9-Month Call for Help

The Bank, the Linux User and the 9-Month Call for Help

Garrett Heaton has been struggling for months to get his bank to open up its deposit@home feature to Linux and Unix. As he and a few other savvy users have figured out, there's no real technical barrier. All Linux users have to do is pretend to be a Mac. For nine months, the bank has been declining Heaton's persistent, polite and helpful requests -- and, amazingly, he is still a very loyal customer.

By Katherine Noyes
04/20/10 5:00 AM PT

Garrett Heaton can't speak highly enough of his bank.

"USAA is a FANTASTIC bank, and their services and customer service are top-notch," he says -- especially its Deposit@Home feature, which lets users scan checks for immediate deposit into their account.

There's just one problem: Heaton, a N.Y.-based member of the military, is a Linux user -- and USAA's Deposit@Home feature is designed for use only on Windows and Macintosh computers.

Aiming to get the system opened up to users of other operating systems, Heaton began an email conversation with the bank last July that still continues today. He recently gave LinuxInsider the chain of correspondence as an illustration of the difficulties Linux users sometimes have to endure.

If nothing else, it's a lesson in perseverance.

Masquerading as a Mac

"I am writing to inform you that through a few steps (by the user), Linux and other Unix users are able to spoof having a Macintosh computer and still able to use the deposit at home feature (I just uploaded 2 checks from my linux OS)," Heaton wrote in his original email to the bank.

Because of USAA's current filtering system, Linux users must "trick" the system into believing they're on Macintosh computers in order to get access, Heaton explained.

Indeed, several posts in the blogosphere -- such as on Miscfits and on an Ubuntu forum -- provide instructions to that effect.

A Minor Modification

"My goal is to enable Linux (and other Unix) users to be able to use the deposit@home functionality, thereby increasing your service to members of the bank," Heaton added in the email.

"I was asking them to drop the requirement to pretend to be a Mac, because the system itself is really OS-agnostic," he told LinuxInsider. "I understand if they won't support Linux, but I wanted them at least to provide the opportunity to use other systems."

Such a change would require a technical alteration to drop the filtering technology, but only a minimal one, he pointed out.

'Below 1 percent of Our Membership'

For many months, the bank appeared to believe that Heaton was asking it to begin supporting Linux.

"It would not be fiscally or financially responsible of our company to spend resources training our team members to support Linux/Unix systems at this time," wrote bank representative Anthony Garza in an email response to Heaton last July, for example. "This is because statistical logs show that a majority of our membership utilize Windows/MAC systems. Our Linux/Unix users are below 1% of our total membership statistically."

Similarly, "USAA will continue to monitor the number of Linux users attempting to access the D@H system," the bank's Mark Voelkel added earlier this month. "If we see a significant increase in the amount of Linux users trying to access the Deposit@Home system, we will then explore the option opening up access for this operating system."

'You Will Never See Me'

Heaton, for his part, reasserted many times that it is simply the choice to use unsupported configurations that he's requesting.

"By all means refuse to provide me support; however, don't restrict me from operating on my own, which is clearly the case as is," he wrote in an email last month. "If I can pretend to be a Macintosh computer and still use your site effectively (as all who follow the same published steps can), it means your restriction is a policy decision and not a technical issue."

Heaton also noted that it would be difficult to monitor the number of Linux users trying to access the system, since they are forced to do so under cover.

"The number of women using the men's bathroom will always be low..." he pointed out. "Why? Because women aren't allowed to use the men's bathroom."

Similarly, "when I use the D@H feature (which I do), I masquerade as a Macintosh computer," he added. "That means you will never see me trying to use the D@H feature as a linux user."

A New Ray of Light

Early this week, Heaton told LinuxInsider it looked like the confusion may have finally been cleared up, and that the bank may now understand that it's not Linux support that he's requesting.

On Monday, he was optimistic that he might soon get a positive response in light of that new understanding.

When asked by LinuxInsider, USAA spokesperson Paul Berry said, "this is the first I've heard of anyone using Linux or any other system having trouble" with Deposit@Home.

'A Much Longer Process'

The bank does not currently support Linux for its Deposit@Home service, company spokesperson Lisa Carr confirmed, though she added that "we're always considering ways to expand the services we offer to additional platforms."

Will that include Linux in the near future? Only time will tell. Luckily, Heaton is a patient man.

"Originally my goal was eventually to say how I got an institution to adopt Linux," Heaton recounted. "It's been a much longer process than I envisioned."


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