The Australian Tax Office Hates Macs

Well it’s August, high time I should be getting down to doing my tax return. And thanks to the Australian Taxation Office this doesn’t need to be a daunting venture involving paper, pencils, a calculator and about nine spare tax forms. Y’see the ATO have a product called eTax. It’s a piece of software that automates much of the grueling process. You also get your refund much, much quicker. Combined with online tools, doing your tax almost becomes tolerable. All this is a service provided by the tax office for the tax-paying computer-users of Australia.

Well not quite.

eTax is a stand alone program and will only run on Windows, not Macs.

Don’t worry, say the folks at the ATO, Mac users just need to fork over a bit of cash for Microsoft’s emulation software and they’re set. Emulation software runs about $150 – for that kind of money, I might as well get myself a tax agent and save the trouble. Oh, and Linux users – you have no hope.

Just to demonstrate how out of touch the ATO is, their website (here) claims that eTax has been tested on a Mac running (Microsoft’s) Virtual PC 7. The trouble with that is Virtual PC has not worked on any Mac built since August 2006. Microsoft discontinued Virtual PC for Mac when Apple switched to Intel more than two years ago. A conspiracy theorist would have a field day with the reasons behind ATO’s persistent and misleading advertising campaign for the Microsoft Corporation. Personally I’m of the belief never to attribute to conspiracy that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.

I first used eTax back in 2004, and at the time I remember thinking that they were a bit behind the times in only offering it for the PC. Fortunately, I was able to install the software on one of the University of Newcastle lab computers. Never mind, I thought, they’ll probably get it fixed for next year. But 2005 brought no such innovation. I was able to get my 2005 tax done one weekend at my parents’ house. And in 2006 and 2007, I was able to stay back at work and complete it there. Apart from distributing my financial records about the state, this is hardly “from the comfort of your own home” stuff.

According to the ATO’s website (here), last year 1.9 Million people used eTax. We know that the number of people using Macs is roughly between 2% and 8% (here), so somewhere between 40 000 and 150 000 competent tax-paying computer users with perfectly decent machines (by most usual technology standards) are being discriminated against by a myopic, out-of-touch government department.

In the ATO’s Taxpayers’ Charter (here and here) they claim that they will:

  • “act impartially” [Nope, totally partial towards PC users]
  • “respect and be sensitive to the diversity of the Australian community” [Nope, disrespectfully insensitive to diversity among computer users]
  • “act fairly and without either perceived or actual bias” [Nope, unfair bias towards PC users]
  • “not discriminate against or favour any taxpayer” [Nope, discriminate against Mac users, favour PC users]
  • “act with due care and diligence” [Nope, carelessly produce a flawed piece of software]

Why shouldn’t I, as a Mac user, be entitled to the same rights as a PC user. People choose to use Apple computers for a variety of reasons, and given the degree to which computers play a role in our lives, surely using a Mac or PC computer platform could be considered a lifestyle choice. This is discrimination and should not be permitted. Do you think I’m drawing a long bow? Maybe you’re right. Okay, let’s consider it from a government/commercial conflict perspective. Suppose the ABC was only available to people who purchased a Sony TV, or the RTA (or equivalent) only permitted registration of cars made by Ford. How is the ATO doing anything different? Whatever way you look at it, it is unethical and unacceptable.

Although I can’t find any direct quote from the ATO, many commentators agree that the reason behind the ATO insisting on restricting the availability of this public service to Microsoft customers, is that the job of allowing anybody with a computer to  access eTax would be too difficult for such a small minority.

Are Mac users a small minority? and would it be too hard to make the service available to Mac users? Firstly, no, and secondly, even if it were, that would be no excuse. There are between 40 000 and 150 000 potential Mac eTax users. When even the smallest building society can provide internet banking facilities to its Mac, PC and Linux members, why can’t the ATO pull this together? They are not a business that has to worry about profit, eTax is a public service that should not just cater for 92% of potential users.

Back in the 90s, most computer programs were individual applications (“stand-alone apps”) that would be individually launched and perform specific tasks. These days most applications are available as web-pages (“web apps”). Email, games, word processors, photo managers and many other types of software are available through the browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, etc). Things like Gmail, Facebook or your Internet Banking system are accessed as web-pages. Certainly most internet specific programs are now web apps. This keeps things secure, universal and user friendly. eTax is not a web app, it is an individual program that is downloaded and launched separate from your browser. This is a fundamental flaw of eTax. It should never have been produced as a stand-alone app, and it has no future as one.

Last year, the tax commissioner had this to say about eTax development (from here): “…we will redevelop e-tax to make it compatible with any computer system that has internet access. We will test this with a small group of users in 2008, aiming to make it available more broadly in future years – pending the success of the trials.”

Future years? Pending the success? This is a cop-out from a government department who are ignoring their responsibilities.

eTax may be modern and innovative to the suits working for the ATO, but as a piece of software it is stuffy, antiquated and fundamentally flawed. The ATO are embarrassing themselves by producing such an ugly, inefficient and old-fashioned stand-alone program, and they are arrogantly discriminating against Mac and Linux users by making it only available to Microsoft customers.

Birthday Wishes

Red Scarlet

Tomorrow I turn 26. Now don’t feel like you have to get me anything, seriously. Just having your readership is all the kind token I require, but just in case you wanted to get me something, I’ve compiled a list of a couple of things that I wouldn’t mind. Y’know, just in the off-chance that you were stuck for ideas…

  1. The BMW R1200R – A motorbike that is all attitude with no pretensions. Not unlike me in many ways.
  2. Red’s new Scarlet 3K Camera (my JVC is almost due for an upgrade)
  3. The Lexus LS Hybrid 08 – Because we’ve all got to do our bit for the environment
  4. A can of Dr Pepper (you can’t get that stuff here)R1200R
  5. A Bell 407 Helicopter – this would seriously cut down my commute
  6. A Saeco Primea Cappuccino Touch Plus – I do like a nice morning cuppa
  7. A Mitsubishi LaserVue laser TV – because there’s nothing that cannot be improved somehow with a laser

Well, now I’m stuck for ideas. Oh yes, I like anything with cashews in it and also anonymous donations to World Vision.

Love, peace and spaghetti,

Tom.

2008

So they tell me that 2008 is the year of the Scout. If you see a scout, tell him to take five while you start pulling your weight and help an elderly woman across the street yourself.

I say good on them. After years of wearing geeky uniforms and lighting fires underwater, they get their own year. Of course, I can’t say too much about the Scout movement because I never was one. Duke of Edinburgh yes, Scouts no.Why am I troubling you then?

Well, I wonder if you have ever wondered how they come to decide these ‘years of’. Well, I was supposed to keep this to myself, but I guess I can tell you…

I helped to make them up.

This all started way back in 1978, which was the very first year of. I was watching an episode of Seseme Street – it must have been an early one because Snuffy was still Big Bird’s imaginary friend. I got to thinking, if Big Bird can have an imginary friend, why can’t I? And to that end, why does it have to be a friend. I had plenty of friends, what I was short of, as a toddler, was people I just knew well enough to say hi to. And so I decided to invent an imaginary passing acquaintance. His name was Blake and he and I used to catch the same imaginary bus (yes, the bus’s number was the square root of minus one). I can’t tell you much more about Blake because I didn’t really know him that well, he was after all, just an acquaintance (and an imaginary one at that).

Anyhow, what I didn’t know about Blake was that he actually worked for the newly formed Year of Bureau. Trouble was, they couldn’t think of anything to be commemorated for that, or any, year. Blake and his team were all brilliant guys, but certainly not ‘details’ people. Years 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1981 were to be the years of the paperclip, the calculator, the half-eaten devon sandwich and the sticky-tape dispenser, which turned out to be the first four items Blake’s assistant thought of after glancing around his desk.

Well, it’s always a delicate matter to offer one’s opinion to somebody so desperately in need of it, but I was not one to shy from the task. “Brad”, I said, (he corrected me). “Sorry, Blake, what about instead of random things in your office we commemorate important aspects of our culture. How about the elderly or libraries?”

Blake’s superviser spoke up, “That’s a fine idea, what about volunteers or seeing eye dogs?”

“That’s the spirit.” I gave her an encouraging nod.

“Telephones,” this time it was the creative director, “or dairy farms!”

“Curling irons!”

“Democracy!”

“Half-eaten devon sandwiches!”

Before long we had compiled a list of enough years of to see us through until 2015.

I was pleased with myself for having bettered the world in some small way. But at the same time there is something to be said for the serendipity that occurs when ignorance and a lack of creativity is allowed to florish. (Did you ever see the Kevin Rudd interview on Rove?) We may never have the opportunity to celebrate the year of the stapler or the year of the paperclip. Is that society’s loss? I don’t know. Anyway I have to go and sit around a campfire and play Kum-Ba-Ya on my guitar. And by campfire, Kum-Ba-Ya and guitar and mean couch, Scrabulous and MacBook.

Tootles.

TRA

But then again, i(might)Not

Sorry its been awhile but I’ve had a little something on my mind. Viz – my last entry. I suppose there’s tremendously little actual pressure on me as a “blogger” (the word hangs on my lips like a clumsy lover), but that doesn’t mean to say that I doesn’t have a sort of inherent drive to be not only interesting and sophisticated but also accurate and integral…integrityish…full of integrity – hence my dilemma. I said in my last entry that I would not worry with Apple’s fine iPod Touch but that I would ride the storm and hold out for the much coverted iPhone. Trouble is that you get these ideas, and then you need something to blog about so you tap out a few dozens words on the topic, tweaking it so that it sounds less like a whim and more like an opinion, and all of a sudden this small spark of a notion becomes something of a mission statement. Well the nub of the thing is this: I got an iPod Touch.

“What!?”

(I just heard dozens of readers doing double-takes at their screens. Double-takes are hilarious – well done.) Well, yes dammit I got an iPod Touch, and I’ll tell you why…myPod

Why I got an iPod Touch over an iPhone: Reason #1, “The Wait”

Who knows how long it will take the powers that be to get their act together and unleash the iPhone on an Australian public. Does anyone remember how long it took for the iTunes Music Store to open locally? Freakin’ ages, that’s how long. What with all the international contracts and such, Steve Jobs is hardly going to bust a nut getting the iPhone working here. An Aus-iPhone is not Apple’s top priority. We’re a tiny market with all the logistics of a big one and from a business stand point there is no reason to apply any sort of expediency.

Thank goodness we have a Telecommunications company that runs on efficiency, intelligence and a relentless drive to boost customer satisfaction, right? Yeah…not so much. What was it that the Telstra COO, Greg Winn, said about the iPhone? I believe he said that Apple really should stick to its knitting. Hmmmm, one of our brilliant business thinkers, obviously – someone who really understands the consumer mindset (someone who is probably running Windows mobile on his Palm and wouldn’t so much as consider a product made by Apple even if consumers were demanding it in record numbers). With that kind of bone-head moronicism (if that isn’t a word, then it sure as heck ought to be) I don’t think the leaders over there at Telstra are going to be falling over themselves to get the iPhone on Australian shelves anytime soon.

(Telstra is the only Australian provider with an EDGE network. Given that Apple fussed over things like visual voicemail, etc, it seems unlikely they would launch this on an inferior network, even if it did mean launching with  provider like Telstra that is totally with innovation.)

Why I got an iPod Touch over an iPhone: Reason #2, “The Dosh”

To say that Telstra enjoys taking money from people is like saying that the moon enjoys its 28 day saunter about the Earth. Telstra cannot even offer innovative, attractive plans on products where there is strong competition – can you imagine (if they finally opened their eyes and saw the enormous hype around the iPhone) what it would be like if they had a monopoly on the device? Their irises would flip around into dollar-signs, much in the style of a classic Disney cartoon.

In the US, the iPhone is offered with unlimited data and reasonable voice plans starting at AU$64 per month (after paying AU$427 to buy the device) (I’m talking in AU$ here for the sake of comparison – the US folk wouldn’t actually exchange AU$427…the logistics along would make that ridiculous – I’m converting for you, AU$1 being about US$0.933). These plans may sound reasonable, but that is because the US do have reasonable unlimited data plans. How much do you think an unlimited data plan from Telstra would cost? Well, currently Telstra’s top browsing pack is AU$119 for a 3Gb (hardly unlimited, but certainly comfortable) pack, and that would be on top of an existing plan. Now, iPods and Macs tend to have about a 25% markup from the US product (allowing for the current, rather decent, exchange rate). Based on that, the iPhone would probably sell for about AU$500. So assuming that the heads of Telstra all have some sort of simultaneous stroke and decide to put the iPhone on an extremely generous $80/month plan, which would probably work out to $100/month, icluding calls, ($50 more/month than I am paying now) then over a period of 12 months, I will be paying a minimum of $700 more in a year than if I just continued with an iPod Touch and my current phone plan. And that’s a fair chunk of my annual gadget acquisition budget. For that sort of price, I could almost buy two additional iPod Touches – maybe one for each of my readers?

Why I got an iPod Touch over an iPhone: Reason #3, “The Bulk”

Okay this one’s a little petty, granted, but it’s still a consideration. Lets have a look at the specs:

  • iPod Touch: 61mm wide, 110mm tall, 8mm thick and 120g heavy
  • iPhone: 61mm wide,  115mm tall, 11.6mm thick and 135g heavy

As you can see the iPhone is not only taller, thicker and heavier than the Touch, but also denser at 603 cubic millimetres per gram compared to the Touch’s 447 cubic millimetres per gram.My previous iPod, the 5th generation video iPod weighed in at a respectable 104mm tall, 61mm wide, 11mm thick and 136g heavy (513 cubic mm/g), which certainly gives the iPhone a run for its money. (By the way my old, great and faithful iPod is currently up for sale on ebay.)

I’m finding that the iPod Touch is right on the upper border of being too big for the shirt pocket. The iPhone, like the 5th Gen. before it, would just about tip the scales.

In conclusion

So I bought the iPod Touch. What am I missing out on? Well, let’s see:

Mobile Internet? Yes, although I do spend about 70% of my waking hours within the range on my home wi-fi, my work wi-fi or the free wi-fi from the Gloria Jeans on Beaumont St. Plus, if I ever got desperate, I could always use the browser on my 3G Sony Ericson.

A camera? True, but again the K800i to the rescue with a slightly nicer lens. Plus, I’m not one for indiscriminate snapping – if something’s worth being photographed, it’s worth being photographed with a device that was purpose-built for the task.

The prestige? Yes, well, you’ve got me there. After 1200 words or so on how I’m really satisfied with my iPod Touch, it still sounds like a flimsy excuse and sour grapes. A critic could still hold an iPhone aloft, raise a pair of critical eyebrows and my careful arguments would have been for naught. But as the French say, meh. I’ll still use my new toy happily. I’ll smugly send emails with the postscript “Sent from my iPod”. I may even hold my iPod to my ear and pretend I’m taking a call from time to time.

Stuff consumer hype, I’ll take my little Touch of paradise.

i(might)Phone

I made a conscious decision a couple of weeks ago, and that was not to push for an iPod Touch this Christmas but rather to hold out for the official Australian release of Apple’s iPhone.

“An ipod whah?” some of you are no doubt saying. Yes, ok, iPod Touch. I’m sure you’ve heard of the iPhone, well the Touch is the iPhone without the phone bit. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s been a lot of Touch-bashing lately and I certainly want to distance myself from that crowd. There’s nothing wrong with the Touch. Nice piece of technology there. Dashed good iPod, great video player,  and a build in web-browser running off a wi-fi connection. But if I’m going to upgrade the contents of my pockets, I want to eliminate all possible pieces of equipment and if there’s no built-in phone, then I’m going to have to lug around some brick of a handset for the next two years.

Put an iPhone in my jeans and I can give my 5G ipod the flick along with my Sony Ericsson k750i. But let’s not stop there, with built-in calendar I can do away with my pocket diary. With extra functionality I can leave my stopwatch at home. With built-in games, I won’t have to worry about shoving a pack of cards and a travel connect-4 set into my duds each morning. The built-in movie player means I won’t have to carry the TV and DVD player everywhere. The built-in web browser means I can leave to old Macbook at home. The iPhone also displays the time, so I won’t even need a watch. And of course the built-in camera means that I won’t have to tuck my Fujifilm S6000 under my arm as I leave each morning. And best of all, having my very own iPhone will fill me with such satisfaction for reaching the pinnacle of geekish coolness that I can relax and take time to appreciate about the pleasanter things in life.

Or at least that’s what my overly-Westernised consumerist imagination tells me. I think sometimes that I walk a fine line between being on the cutting edge of technology for the advancement our civilisation, and just craving the next generation of gadgetry because this season’s sleek matte finish feels so much nicer than last season’s brushed titanium.

I do like driving with a bluetooth headset on, and reading emails from the comfort of my balcony. On the other hand, I also like the beach and riding my bicycle. Oh, would I be just as happy with my old Nokia 8210 and a tape deck as I would be with an iPhone? I don’t know. Get me one and I’ll tell you.

Merry Christmas all.

TRA

The sound of one voice talking

It has oft been said that talking to oneself is the first sign of madness. But simply saying something oft, does not make it true. What about saying something oft, to oneself? Quite the conundrum. But in all seriousness, and in my professional opinion, there is nothing wrong or shameful in talking to yourself.

The modern myth that links this act to mental illness is nothing short of a smear campaign, probably spread but the unions. I will therefore stake my reputation and boldly proclaim here and now, that I am a person who talks to himself. Usually it’s a monologue, like practicing for some upcoming speech or conversation. Sometimes it’s a dialogue, where I adopt two separate voices. The first voice is usually a “straight-man” voice: deep and earnest, the voice of reason. The second being the “funny-man” voice, a little wacky and ever forthcoming with the witty repartee – his name is invariably Douglas. In most cases reciting the likes of the ‘Wink wink nudge nudge’ sketch.

On the rare occasion I have been known to do a whole crowd scene – my ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ production was a theatrical triumph. Each individual thief had his own back-story and personalised voice that reflected his region of birth. The whole project took weeks to prepare and could only be performed with the aid of forty playback devices (the voice of Ali Baba was performed in real-time). It seems like a lot of effort to go to but if you have a long commute, I’m sure you’ll understand.

Isn’t it ironic, that those who are so very vocal while on their own, feel compelled to remain silent on the topic in the company of others. Basically what I’m saying is that you don’t have to be mad to talk to yourself. ( – But it sure helps, as Douglas would say).

TRA