Mac & Linux Users Vs. The Spanish Government

Fighting for a PADRE for all – Linux users lead the fight for platform equality in Spain

Mac users the world over, and especially outside the US, are accustomed to being treated as an afterthought by most government entities and big corporations. It is quite frequent to find online banks that won’t deal with Macs, or carmakers’ sites that disregard Mac users to the point of not making their web site available to us.

The damage hurts more when it is a government entity, paid for by our money, which chooses to make its services unavailable to anyone without Windows. Think of a tax service (IRS to US readers) that won’t make their online calculation and payment tool available unless you work on Windows: you actually need to get Virtual PC or go back to paper, pencil, mistakes and queues... and you’re not paying a penny less of tax, nor has Microsoft won any global tender to be sole provider to the administration.

That is exactly the current situation in Spain with the strangely named PADRE (FATHER) application. And it is not just income tax softwar, but social security that works as Windows-only applications. And to make matters worse, there is a European Union-wide initiative to make government services available online (called imaginatively e-Europe) that looks like it might be implemented along those lines in our country. Think about second-rate citizenship, and you’ll have hit the mark.

The apple in your eye

Of course, the Spanish subsidiary of Apple has long been bent on fixing this discrimination. It has already held three years of talks with the administration, after which it has a deep knowledge of the program, the ways and means for making it multi-platform, and (this we gathered from a lot of off-the-record conversations) the sad knowledge is that the tax agency is unwilling to move a finger for platform equality, much less fork out money for developing a version and changing its working methods.

Users have also started several initiatives, not least from Macuarium, but to absolutely no avail. Mac User Groups have only recently taken an active role in Spanish Mac life, so it usually was mailing lists or magazines (and lately, Web sites) that promoted the matter.

The attack of the organised penguin

Thus it was very interesting to see the other big segment of discriminated users get into action. The Spanish Linux users association HispaLinux, got the ball rolling a month ago with a series of high-profile letters to parliamentary groups and senior administration members. They also managed to get into news services and make their complaint (more or less) heard.

Of course, this being Linux, their claim was not just for a Linux version of the software, but also for the actual opening of the program’s source code.

As soon as we found out about the initiative, Macuarium collaborators got in touch with HispaLinux’s president and campaign managers to find out how we could collaborate, and subsequently set our own campaign rolling in the same mold and with the same content as theirs. (For those of you who don’t know their Mac web, Macuarium is the largest Spanish-language news site and community, and one proud of an activist tradition... we’re even sending people to MW New York, a first for non-print Spanish media).

On the road to something?

Due to the pressure from the politicians, the taxmen have finally got moving. A meeting is being talked about in e-mails that the tax people are exchanging with HispaLinux: the first time that things have gotten that far with a user group. There is still no firm date, but the spirit is optimistic.

We are continuing to participate indirectly through our contact with HispaLinux people: suggestions for the practicalities of turning PADRE into a Mac program, for instance, and also arguments for the coming discussion. There is even a possibility of more direct involvement. Also, we keep up the pressure through a new e-mail campaign directed at the appropriate Senate and Public Administration Ministry committees.

The importance of this breakthrough can’t be overstated. Users have never been allowed into the consultations of this sort of policy... and it is policy that is being debated here. Not just whether to invest or not into a couple of different versions of a couple of apps, but whether or not to seriously undertake an open-standard, non-proprietary online government.

We will keep you informed. For further detail, see http://macuarium.com/macuarium/actual/noticias/2001_06_26_padrecito.shtml.

Miguel Cornejo is the editor-in-chief of Macuarium, the largest Mac Web site in Spain.

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