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BBC Redifines “Neutral”

Back when the BBC first created iPlayer the BBC where ordered to make it platform neutral.

In response the BBC has released a new version of iPlayer using Adobe AIR. According to Adobe’s website this runs on Linux, provided your version is “Fedora Core 8, Ubuntu 7.10, openSUSE 10.3″[2].

For those who know about Linux they would notice that these versions are outdated. Ubuntu is now at 8.10[3], Fedora is at Core 10[4] and OpenSuse is up to 11.1[5]. Ubuntu 7.10 also ceases support in April 09[6]. The BBC intends to release it’s new iPlayer publicly in February, so it will only work on Ubuntu for 2 months before 7.10’s support is pulled.

According to the BBC’s Mr Rose

The cross-platform nature of Adobe AIR means the iPlayer will work with Open Source and Apple Mac computers “out of the box” on 18 December, said Mr Rose. It fulfilled the Trust’s demand that the iPlayer be “platform neutral”, he said.[1]

Princeton’s wordnet defines neutral as:

not supporting or favoring either side in a war, dispute, or contest

However the BBC’s version of iPlayer favours a few specific platforms. It will not run on Debian on ARM nether is there a version of for the SPARCS platform. Quite clearly providing versions for one platform and not for another platform is not being entirely neutral.

In the computing world we do have many platform neutral technologies. For instance HTTP is considered platform neutral as the IETF holds a public specification for it’s operation, which they provide to anyone who wants a copy and therefore any platform can chose to implement HTTP.

This is not true of the BBC’s iPlayer. The BBC has chosen to withhold the details of iPlayers operation so that no platform can implement it on their own. They then provide iPlayer to certain platforms. This is not neutral.

It would appear the BBC have a different definition of neutral to the rest of the world.

At the time of writing the BBC Trust have not confirmed whether they consider the BBC to have complied with the platform neutral obligation however they have provided the following statement:

The BBC Trust welcomes BBC management’s announcement today that Linux and Mac users will be able to download programmes from the iPlayer. We will continue to assess progress on the Trust’s requirements for platform neutrality at six monthly intervals.

References used in this article:

[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7787335.stm

[2] http://www.adobe.com/products/air/systemreqs/

[3] http://www.ubuntu.com/getubuntu/download

[4] http://fedoraproject.org/en/get-fedora

[5] http://software.opensuse.org/

[6] https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Releases

[7] http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=neutral

December 18, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Linux, Software, Ubuntu | Leave a comment