Do you still need to understand why software should be open source? Part 2

We’ve discussed the adverse consequences of arbitrary changes in proprietary software for ordinary users when we learned the the music composition software Sibelius is going into deep freeze.

Here’s another example why everyone should want software to be open source.

“The Register” describes the consequences arising from the decision by the BBC to bump iPlayer from Adobe Air 3.4 to 3.5:

An update to Adobe’s Air application has crippled the BBC’s iPlayer Desktop software, which is used by telly and radio fans in the UK who want to download programmes to view and listen to offline.

A sorrowful Auntie is currently advising its fans to roll back Adobe Air from version 3.5 to version 3.4 in order to get the software working again.

But the whole thing is proving incredibly fiddly, with some users complaining that they are having to remove and then re-install the iPlayer Desktop software as well.

In the screenshot, the BBC suggested rolling back Adobe Air 3.5 to the previous version. Which, as The Register points out:

For the less technically minded, however, re-installing the software is simply out of the question, which means the iPlayer Desktop application is about as useful as a chocolate teapot for some.

The BBC also suggests using another download option for Windows Media Player, Portable Devices and for iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch).

Absent from that list is any Linux derived OS – Android being the most obvious example. And that’s despite the news from Gartner that Android based mobile devices account for over 70% of sales.

Those with a long memory might recall that in October 2007 the BBC got clearance to deliver a streaming and download service but with conditions attached:

A spokesman for the BBC Trust said it had approved the iPlayer on the condition of “platform neutrality”, including a download service

When asked if offering just video streaming across all platforms would fulfil the BBC Trust’s terms of approval for iPlayer, a spokesman for the regulators said: “We required platform neutrality across downloads, streaming and cable [set-top boxes]

It seems that for the then director of “Future Media and Technology” that a clear direction from the BBC Trust was merely optional:

We need to get the streaming service up and look at the ratio of consumption between the services and then we need to look long and hard at whether we build a download service for Mac and Linux.

At the time the BBC did not have accurate figures for Linux users but considered there to be fewer than 3% of computer users in the UK using Apple. However, despite said director claiming that the real issue was not one of diversity, inclusion or universality but rather that:

It comes down to cost per person and reach at the end of the day.

DRM was the big reason that the BBC could not provide a platform neutral solution:

All downloaded video content from the BBC contains digital rights management (DRM) technology to prevent the programmes being copied and to ensure the content is only available for 30 days. The BBC says the DRM offered by Microsoft – which is not available for Linux and has not been licensed from Microsoft by Apple for Macs – is the only solution at present.

So it was potentially surprising that only a few months later, in March 2008, the BBC launched a service for Apple which unlike iPlayer for Microsoft Windows, did not include DRM. At the time (12 March 2008):

The BBC says an official Mac download client will be available this year, and a Linux one “within two years”

Despite its apparent concerns for DRM and content protection, before the launch of iPlayer the BBC had already provided a helpful guide to stripping DRM.

The real point of this article is that there is a Linux client for BBC iPlayer (Windows too) which the BBC doesn’t like, even though:

get_iplayer does not circumvent any digital rights management security (see the BBC’s website on how to do that with the Windows-only DRM content they provide). get_iplayer does not circumvent any effective technological measures. The BBC does not implement any such measures

Also, get_iplayer checks for files older than thirty days and nags you to delete them, because developers of open source software are respectful of other’s rights.

— Gerry Gavigan, Chair, 19 November 2012

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