Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Fifteen years on, ATO realises that Mac users exist

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Fifteen years after it ran a pilot for its e-tax software, the Australian Taxation Office has finally said it would release its a version for the Mac this year, enabling users of this platform to file their returns online.

According to a report in iTnews, the software will be available next month.

It's heartening to know that the ATO has finally become aware that computers, other than those that run the Windows operating system, exist.

Even as stodgy an organisation as the ATO could not ignore all the hype around Apple over the last four or five years. Unless the bigwigs there were living under a rock, they had to know that use of Apple's hardware was growing by leaps and bounds.

All these years, those who purchased copies of Windows to file their tax returns could not even claim the cost as a tax-deduction.

The cost was deemed to be capital expenditure, and only the decline in the value of the software to the extent it was used for a taxable purpose could be claimed as a tax writeoff. This, incidentally, is what I was told when I asked for a ruling on the matter in 2009.

It did not matter to the ATO that many people would never look at that copy of Windows again until the next year's tax returns had to be filed.

What happens to users of GNU/Linux? They will still have to depend on Windows, run either in a virtualised environment or else on a second computer, to file their returns.

Having written about e-tax for much longer and more often than most, it's interesting to note that the ATO is still resisting the commonsense approach - a web application that would enable world + dog to use it.

It's easy to argue that web applications are open to being cracked. (Not hacked, which is the fine art of playing with software, cracked as being broken into).

Security is never perfect; it is a matter of degree. Everything is ultimately breakable, only the time taken and investment required differs. If the ATO had such a degree of trust in Windows all these years, it has nothing to argue against when it comes to a web application.

Use of two-factor authentication has grown by leaps and bounds and many banks utilise security tokens to add an additional layer of protection to their online banking websites, apart from https and certificates.

Even if the ATO wanted to go the software route, it could have commissioned a Java application which could have been run on any platform for which a Java Virtual Machine exists.

That, however, requires common sense. And if the ATO had possessed that trait to any degree, why we wouldn't have had to write anything at all about e-tax. It would have been available to all from day one.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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