ATO + Linux = FAIL

I keep a windows VirtualBox image lying around for two purposes

  1. To sync music to my iPhone
  2. To use the Australian Tax Office website

I would dearly love to expunge windows from my life entirely, but so far I haven’t been able to find suitable workarounds. For the iPhone, the obvious solution is to follow chromatic’s advice and buy hardware that supports linux, such as an Android phone – and now that Android 2 is out that is looking increasingly viable.

The ATO issue is rather more intractable. Any linux user in Australia who run a business and/or submits their own tax return via the ATO website will be painfully aware that the site doesn’t work on non-proprietary operating systems; specifically, anything other than Windows or Mac. The culprit is the “Common use Signing Interface (CSI)” that the site uses to “allow businesses to securely transact online with Government agencies using digital certificates”. CSI is written in Java, which despite being a horribly verbose enterprise-friendly language, is at least supposed to be a horribly verbose cross-platform enterprise-friendly language (remember WORA?). But in spite of this, the developers did their bit to prove Kirrily Robert right and made the application only work under Windows and Mac.

For fun, I decided to submit this as a bug. Subsequent correspondence with the ATO follows for your enjoyment.

Mike@ATO:

I spoke to you yesterday in relation to the feedback you gave the ATO in relation to our Business Portal.  As I said on the phone  here is an email with some information I have been able to find.

I have received some advice from our Portal Support area.  Their response to the issues you raised were:

ATO Portal Support: (my emphasis)

Stated here is that the client cannot log into the Business Portal as he is running Ubuntu and Firefox. In this situation Firefox is not the issue as Firefox is supported for the Portal and testing has been completed around this.

The issue for this client is to do with CSI (the digital certificate software) and Ubuntu. CSI would not be able to be installed on Ubuntu and is not supported for CSI software as per the link below:

http://www.ato.gov.au/onlineservices/content.asp?doc=/content/36220.htm

If the user was using Firefox on a windows based system this would work correctly.

The difficulty with Linux based operating systems is that the percentage of users is quite low for Linux operating systems and also there is a large quantity of Linux distributions (or types) making it very difficult to support.

Hope this answers the queries set out below, if you need any further information please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Mike@ATO: (my emphasis)

Probably not what you wanted to hear and not sure how much this helps you.  It is unlikely that the ATO would be doing any work to address the compatability issues for Ubuntu due to the costs involved and the anticipated small number of users. The ATO believes that it is complying with the Australian Government’s guidelines and recommendations for government websites.

If you believe that the Business Portal is not supporting Firefox and were able to provide the specific circumstances it would give us an pportunity to do further investigations and address those concerns.  If you have any further issues or comments feel free to contact me.

Me:

Thanks Mike, I’m really impressed with the way you’ve followed up on this.

That’s great news re: Firefox.

If it’s not imposing too much, would you be able to ask the Portal Support person what percentage of Portal users are Linux users and what percentage of Portal users have Javascript turned off?

For example, on an internet-wide level, the latest W3C stats show Linux usage at 4.1% vs 5% for browsers with Javascript turned off. This is likely to vary wildly on a per-site basis, which is why I’m interested to find out what the specific ATO Portal numbers are.

I’m wondering what percentage is required before the Linux user group becomes worth supporting, and seeing how this compares to the current percentage of disabled web users which the ATO website currently supports via Australian Governement Accessibility standards (e.g. http://australia.gov.au/about/accessibility).

Mike@ATO: (my emphasis)

The following information is provided in relation to your latest enquiries.

In relation to the Business Portal we do not gather specific statistics regarding specific operating system usage or if a user has Java script turned off.  In saying this though I could assume that there would be 0% Portal users utilising a Linux Distro, reasoning behind this response is where by CSI (the software that allows login with a digital certificate) cannot be loaded onto or used on a Linux operating system and is not supported by the ATO.  So basically there wouldn’t be any users as they wouldn’t be able to access via Linux.  Regarding the Java script query, this is not something we would be able to answer as we do not gather those statistics.

The statistics you have quoted are an internet wide statistic as stated and cannot be related to the Portal as in the first response there would not be any users as CSI is not supported for Linux.

It should be noted that as the stats for usage for Linux is quite low this is not just an issue affecting the Portal and the ATO. There are a plethora of systems and software that does not support Linux as the user base is just not there to support. This position also aligns to that of the majority of the software developers producing the accounting and practice management software used by our clients.

The link you provided to the Australian Government Accessibility Standards goes to a page discussing the commitments by the Australian Government to ensure access to online information for people with disabilities.  There is no corollary between our obligations to support users with disabilities and users of specific operating software.  Government agencies are bound by specific legislation (Disabilities Discrimination Act) on the issue of accessibility of Government services.  This does not apply in the case of operating software choice.

The final point to note is a Catch 22 situation ie Linux users aren’t clients because the systems don’t support them and because they can’t use our systems they’ll never make up a large enough percentage of our clients to warrant changing our position.  I think the answer to this is that the Linux users of our website as opposed to our installable applications (e-tax, ECI, CSI, eSAT) should not be overly impacted by compatibility issues.  Statistics collected by the ATO show that only 0.3 percent of visitors to ato.gov.au were identified as Linux users.

In summary:

* We do not routinely test our online applications against Linux;
* Consequently, we do not support Linux through our technical support areas;
* Given the very low verifiable client base percentage (<1%) that are Linux users, there are no current plans to change this approach;
* There is no defined threshold % at which this position would change.

Realistically, in the absence of any substantial research or statistics confirming a much greater Linux client base then we are currently aware of, the position stated in the dot points above is unlikely to change.

I also appreciate that this situation is less than satisfactory to the Linux clients, however, we are bound under our policies and financial legistlation to ensure that expenditure of public monies promotes the efficient, effective and ethical use of all Commonwealth resources and provides value for money.  Any stance other than that above would not be in keeping with our obligations under the Financial Management and Accountability Act.

Hope this further information answers your enquiries.

So there you have it. End of story. No ATO for linux users. Ever.

..

heh yeah right.

Where the Australian Government fails you, the linux community saves you. Someone slap me for wasting 3 weeks on an email exchange instead of just asking google.

Whirlpool.net.au to the rescue:


sudo apt-get install sun-java6-bin sun-java6-jre sun-java6-plugin
export JAVA_HOME=/usr/lib/jvm/java-6-sun/jre
wget http://pki.ato.gov.au/atocsiInstall/CSIinstall.dmg
sudo mkdir /tmp/csi
sudo mount -t hfs -o loop CSIinstall.dmg /tmp/csi
sudo cp -p /tmp/csi/CsiInstaller.pkg/Contents/Resources/jarFiles/csi.jar $JAVA_HOME/lib/ext
sudo cp -p /tmp/csi/CsiInstaller.pkg/Contents/Resources/jarFiles13/jce1_2_2.jar $JAVA_HOME/lib/security
sudo umount /tmp/csi
sudo rmdir /tmp/csi
java au.gov.bafcsi.clapi.crypto.CsiManager # run CSI certificate manager program

You can even drop your .csi directory from your windows home dir into your linux home dir and your existing certificates will be appear without any need to manually export/import them. After completing the above steps, completely disable AdBlock, restart Firefox and you can log in to the ATO website!
(tested on Ubuntu 9.10).

Now all I have to do is ditch my iPhone..

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