A less free, but more awesome way to run FECFile on a Mac
A couple of years ago I wrote a post on How to run FECFile on a Mac. As a quick recap, FECFile is free software for campaigns and committees that need to file financial reports with the FEC. The FEC is stuck in 2001 and therefore only provides a Windows-compatible version of their free software.
The post I previously wrote explains how to run FECFile for free on a Mac using software that you can install on your computer called Wine. It works well and is, of course, a free option. The only obstacle I found was that I had to configure it slightly differently on two different computers and it's not installed on my current computer. I also experienced a weird issue where the desktop Mac that I preferred to work on kept failing when I tried to file, but the tiny laptop Mac, which my 6-year-old has claimed ownership of, was successful in submitting the filings. So, I would complete the filing on my desktop, save the most updated version in Dropbox, and then reopen it on the laptop in order to submit. This, honestly, was a struggle because it required me to constantly triple check to make sure I had definitely moved the most recent file into Dropbox and that the second machine had definitely opened the newest file.
Heading into 2020 I decided to take a new approach. It's less free ($58.38 so far in 2020), but has several benefits. The first is that you can access it from more than one computer. The second is not having to rely on Dropbox to store the most recent file. It also means that if someone steals your computer, they are not also stealing all of your data and perhaps your only copy of the latest file.
This newest solution is creating a Google virtual machine.
A Google virtual machine is basically a computer in the clouds. You can initialize it with a large number of operating system choices. For this situation, we will, of course, initialize it with Windows. Once everything is set up, you will be sitting in front of a Mac, but your screen will look like this:
To start, you will need a google account. You probably have one of those already. Then just visit Virtual machine instances and select "Get started for free."
You can get started for free, but this ultimately is not going to be free. When you get started, you will see (at the time of the writing at least), the following offer:
You will need to provide a credit card during this process, and the estimated fees for me were between $50-60/month, but have actually been less because I rarely log in to add data. So, you can try this out for free for probably around 6 months, and then will have to start making payments that are much lower than buying a Windows machine solely for the purpose of FEC filings or signing up for a cloud-based filing solution like NGP.
First, create a new project in the Google Console. If you are not in the right place, navigate to the Compute Engine on the left side menu.
You need to create a new instance, at which time you will need to add a credit card.
When you create a new instance, you can play around with the timezone and see the difference in cost estimates. I don't think it really matters what timezone you select, but I imagine what you choose will be your machine time. I am not sure if FECFile cares about machine time. I do know that TurboTax does, but that's a different story.
When you get to the part where you choose the Boot disk, choose Window Server 2012. Do not choose a more modern server because FECFile cannot handle anything more advanced than Windows 2012.
Once the instance is created, it will show up in the Console. Set your Windows password and store it somewhere safe. You also need to download Google Chrome RDP. This is the app that will open up the instance.
Once you have a password, click RDP (not the arrow next to it) and Chrome RDP will open up. Leave the first field blank and enter your username and password into the second and third fields.
You should very shortly see an instance of Windows Server fill the RDP screen. The first thing I did from here was download Chrome because Internet Explorer is as terrible as I remember.
Download FECFile from the FEC and install it. You may see the following notice. If you do, hit OK and carry on. You have exceeded the supposed capabilities of FECFile, but it will still work on Windows 2012. Google Console does not offer anything older than Windows Server 2012 as an option. You may also have to download Java during installation.
Once the installation is complete, FECFile can be opened. You will now see this screen:
There you go! You can now either create a new file or open a file that you somehow transfer to this machine. I transferred my old file to this machine via Dropbox, only to discover that I had somehow lost the most recent file, thereby confirming that it is worth the money to have your FECFile exist in one place, not passed back and forth between computers via the cloud. Now, more than one staffer can log into this machine from anywhere and assist in painful data entry!
In case you are a little worried that the actual submission process might not work, as I was, here is my final confirmation screen: