Microsoft Developed UK Government Site Excludes Mac/Linux Users

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Thanks to Macworld UK for directing us to this article from Linkuser. The UK government is on an aggressive path towards offering all government services through the Internet, and part of that path has led them to discriminate against Mac and Linux users. In fact, they are currently discriminating against anyone not using Windows. The government has unveiled a gateway Web site that is supposed to help funnel UK citizens to many different agencies, but you had better be using Windows if you want to actually do anything. Who developed this fantastic Web site? Why, Microsoft, of course. From the Linuser article:

First it was Windows-only tax returns. Now itis an entire authentication platform built on, and exclusively supporting, Microsoft software. But the signs are that Whitehall is having difficulty defending its proprietary-only policy for e-government...

As we go to press, the authentication service www.gateway.gov.uk, flagship of the UK governmentis ambitious policy of providing a complete range of services electronically by 2005, restricts access to anybody not running a combination of Windows and Internet Explorer. Mac users can enter the Gateway site but cannot do anything useful. Windows users running any version of Mozilla or Opera are barred from entry. Anybody else, including those running Linux or Unix of any flavour, is not welcome. They are told that they are running an unsupported browser.

The current bar to the service is twofold. The first, and more trivial, bar simply excludes non-Microsoft/Mac OS users from the site, although site managers do plan to allow limited, information-only access in the near future (and it is actually already possible to gain access to gateway.gov.uk using the excellent Guidescope proxy service to ispoofi the identity of oneis web browser and OS).

The second, and far more serious, issue is that individuals and organisations not running Microsoft products are prevented from using the Gatewayis authentication service, due to the requirement for proprietary PKI technologies on the client computer. The site claims that other browsers do not give proper support for SSL and digital certificates. This is not true. For instance, the PSM (Personal Security Manager) module that comes with Mozilla provides perfectly good 128-bit SSL support. There is no problem providing server-authenticated HTTPS services with standards-compliant browsers.

The problem comes in when a proprietary system that includes artificial road blocks was used to handle some of the authentication. Who was behind choosing this proprietary system that includes these artificial ties to Windows and Internet Explorer for Windows? Again, the answer is Microsoft. Read the article for a lot more information, including some good quotes from Scot McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsoytems, and Bob Young, CEO of Red Hat. The article also has information on the resistance and scrutiny this situation is garnering.

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