An article on /. this evening got me thinking, again, about open source. Specifically today it was open source in government. The article was about how the Australian Tax Office (ATO) has release their latest version o e-tax, their electronic tax submission program and, surprise, surprise, its Windows only.
Whilst it being a Windows program isn’t too frustrating the fact that there is ONLY a Windows version is a little disturbing. Most people seem to use the argument that 90+% of all PC’s out there are running Windows so this is not a problem. Anyone complaining must simply be some pincko lefty running linux or MacOS (Or something even stranger). This argument is fine from a purely useability point of view however morally and ethically I object to it on two main grounds:
1) It shows a complete lack of flexibility within the ATO. A system such as thihs could just have easily been written in a multi-platform way such as Java or a browser based interface. Forcing users to have paid for a commercial product is wrong and unethical from a government
2) My tax dollars paid for this e-tax application to be build or bought. Ignoring the fact that I’ve contributed financially to something I cannot use, where is the source code? If the public have paid for this application then they are entitled to the entire application, including the source code. Additionally this would eliminate the complaints for the ATO as it allows the community to port the system to whatever platform they desire.
The only reason for not releasing a program such as this under an open source license is security. If the ATO is so worried about security then, in my opinion, they have a poorly written system and should be addressing this. It is bad enough that large companies are able to hide their shabby products behind closed source, we should not be permitting our government agencies to be doing the same thing.
Its the old thing of “if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to be worried about”.
I’m not even going to mention areas such as accountability, standards compliance, accessibility issues etc, but in an ideal world where governments are FOR the people, begging for openess would not be an issue.
Edit: What’s worse is that I just went to download this application and found that it won’t let me do it with Firefox! Not even download it! This is nothing if not descrimination against free software. There is no possible way that they can argue IE is either more secure or more standards compliant and yet they will force me to upgrade a piece of software I don’t even use before I cn download a single file. If they are using IE’s library files to submit returns then god help us all.