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Tax site problems for Macintosh users

A ROW has developed between Mac users and the Australian Taxation Office over the accessibility of the ATO’s eTax software.

According to the ATO’s website, users must be running a Windows 95 or later operating system to access the personal income tax software. eTax is not compatible with Apple Macintosh computers.

WA Mac User Group member Warren Jones said this defied the ATO taxpayers’ charter, which claims to recognise individual circumstances.

The charter states: “We are com-mitted to treating you as an individual and recognising your individual circumstances. We are committed to providing high levels of service and support to taxpayers and to continuously improving these levels.”

WAMUG president Matthew Healy said it was unacceptable a large government department such as the ATO could not provide multi-platform software.

“The Government shouldn’t be platform specific. Government services that are funded by the taxpayer should be accessible by everybody, whether they are running Linux, Macintosh or Unix operating systems,” he said.

“They should be able to access their full services and not be tied in to one proprietary operating system.”

A spokesperson for the ATO said the majority of computer users could access eTax, including some users of Apple Macintosh computers.

“The tax office has developed eTax so that it can be used by the majority of computer users, including Apple Macs that use Windows emulator software,” the spokesperson said.

However, it appears an emulator is not a popular or cost-effective option for many Mac users. Aside from the ideological concerns it raises among loyal Mac fans who avoid using Microsoft products, it is also expensive.

Apple Centre Joondalup sales consultant Daniel Kerr said the emulator with Windows 98 pre-installed retails for $478. With the price of a budget PC or second-hand machine available for less than $1000, an emulator is not a common purchase, Mr Kerr said.

“The other downside is that the emulator runs at speeds around 200 MHz, which is similar to a Pentium 3, which is not that fast. If the ATO software is reliant on speed or graphics, then you’ll find it slows to a crawl.”

Users of Linux, a free, open source operating system available for download from the net, have also found the ATO’s decision to create a Windows-only program unpalatable. The fact that the government department responsible for collecting their hard earned is seemingly to blame has made it harder to stomach.

Perth Linux Users Group member Simon Scott said he should get the same benefits as other taxpayers, regardless of the operating system he used.

“I pay a hell of a lot of tax, shouldn’t I receive the same benefit as everyone else and be able to use this software,” he said.

Many Linux users said the ATO should release eTax under an open source licence. Non-Windows users with the programming know-how could then port the software and operate it on their computers.

The ATO has confirmed it is looking into developing a multi-platform version of eTax, but it won’t be available this year.

“An Apple version of eTax will not be available this year. It would involve a significant commitment of resources. However, the Tax Office plans to examine ways to fully introduce a cross-platformed version of eTax in future years,” the ATO spokesperson said.

However, Mr Kerr said he didn’t believe it would take a significant amount of resources to develop a cross-platform program.

“These days, I don’t think it is that hard to make something that can run on most platforms,” he said.

“I think that’s what the private sector is starting to realise. They have to support both (Win-

dows and Macintosh) platforms.

“I think banks were the first ones to follow through with that when they launched Internet banking.

“The Commonwealth Bank’s answer used to be ‘our Internet banking doesn’t work on a Mac, go and buy an emulator’. But because so many Mac users kicked up a stink, they made it web based. Now it doesn’t matter what platform you’re on, you can use the technology.”

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