MS, developer in conflict over IRD's disappearing Mac support

Microsoft and its business partner EDS seem headed for a showdown over the Inland Revenue department's electronic filing scheme for large taxpayers. Representatives of the two companies will meet today in the wake of conflicting claims about the project, which has seen IRD order Mac-based firms to buy Windows PCs as a matter of compliance.

Microsoft and its business partner EDS seem headed for a showdown over the Inland Revenue department's electronic filing scheme for large taxpayers.

Representatives of the two companies will meet today in the wake of conflicting claims about the project.

Until about a week ago, the IRD's Website was detailing Macintosh support for its scheme, which will see the country's 12,000 largest taxpayers required to file monthly tax schedules electronically via a Web browser-based system developed by EDS. Support was based on Macs running Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.5.

But the IRD has removed the information after discovering that the system will not work on MacOS. The new scheme becomes compulsory next month, and IRD told the New Zealand Herald yesterday that firms will be granted a one-year exemption if they can prove they are 100% Mac - but will then be required to purchase a Windows PC as a matter of compliance.

While the US government has spent millions of dollars trying to prosecute Microsoft for allegedly locking out other vendors, the New Zealand IRD appears to have commissioned a system that forbids the use of Netscape, Apple or Linux products.

The project has its roots in Microsoft's success late last year in winning a blanket US government licence to supply 128-bit crypto products to New Zealand government entities. The licence covers three products - Exchange Server, Internet Explorer 4 and 5 and Microsoft's server-gated cryptography, which is already being used by the ASB and New Zealand other financial institutions.

Microsoft was trumpeting the licence as a coup in December, and several other government projects, including one for Treasury, are in thought to be train.

An EDS spokesman could not be contacted yesterday, but Apple New Zealand's solutions manager Richard Stevens provided a statement he said was based on discussions with the EDS project team.

"They told us initially the product documentation from Microsoft said IE supported a full implementation of SSL 3.0 - but that has proved to be incorrect, as only the server side is supported."

As a result, says Stevens, EDS had to develop a custom application in ActiveX "to verify both client and server to be 'certified' and allow for digital signatures to ensure the data security and integrity."

Stevens says that "although this technically doesn't work directly on a PC", a workaround requiring a digital certificate to be stored both in both Internet Explorer and the Windows "where the information can be exported to the OS, verified and reimported back into the browser for the signature side of the process" does.

Stevens says EDS told him that support for the client-side certificates described by SSL 3.0 was not available on the Mac and that EDS found "there is no true e-commerce solution for Macintosh and other platforms".

But Microsoft New Zealand chief Geoff is strongly disputing some of EDS' claims.

"From our perspective, there is no bug in our software - we're not actively seeking to fix any issue with the way it works," says Lawrie. "Having asked our technical people to review our documentation, we can also say that the documentation of our its capabilities is accurate - and that has not changed since the project began.

"This is not a cop-out on our behalf, but you do really need to talk to EDS about this. They've done the development and design, we haven't been involved in this at any level that would allow us to comment."

Lawrie says Microsoft is likely to become more closely involved now that its name has been dragged into the row, with Act finance spokesman Rodney Hide adopting it as another cudgel in his campaign against the IRD.

Apple, meanwhile, is trialling the system on Macs running the PC emulator, Connectix Virtual PC.

Apple New Zealand general manager Paul Johnston describes IRD's claims that the glitch will affect fewer than 100 businesses as "a load of tripe. The stance we're taking is, who the hell are they to dictate what operating system people should be using and do they have any idea what effect that could have on our overall business as we go forward?"

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