Labour's close ties to Microsoft look like fouling up its first attempts to provide on-line tax services. i-Form, an interactive on-line project designed by Microsoft and launched last week, allows the self-employed to register for business, but uses proprietary Microsoft technology that blocks Netscape users. David Clark, Minister for Public Service, hailed i-Form as the "first paper free government form - the first step to providing 24-hour government services into the home". However, the software uses OCX, technology specific to Microsoft. Netscape users, and users of non-Windows platforms, will not be able to access the service. A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said: "It's now obvious this system is very limited and of course we want a system that allows all users in." "This is supposed to be accessible to everyone who wants to use the service," said Rob Bamforth, Java market development manager at Sun Microsystems. "The fact is that this system is proprietary and won't let the majority of users in. Unless you are using Windows with Internet Explorer and an Intel processor, you ain't getting in." Dave Robinson, channel sales manager at Netscape, believes the government is about to waste thousands of pounds testing a pilot that will have to be re-engineered once complete. "This strikes me as self-defeating," he said. "If the government wants individuals to conform to a proprietary implementation of technology they should could come clean and say they have some sort of mandate." Microsoft admitted that the i-Form project cannot be accessed by Netscape users but denied any impropriety. Phil Straddling, the i-Form project manager at Microsoft claimed: "We had to use this system because we couldn't achieve the correct level of security with another system. This is just a pilot and we have been advocating the use of open standards all along." He refused to say if the system would need to be changed to an open standards implementation once the pilot is complete. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates met PM Tony Blair on a visit to Britain earlier this year, and was recruited by the prime minister as a key influence in government plans to give shoolchildren Internet access.
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