BBC takes political hits for rejecting open source

Could open source deliver the streaming technology the BBC needs, and allow the underlying content to be protected in the way the BBC demands? Why can't we have video which works on all 21st century computers?

BBC Tardis from Dr. Who
The BBC wants to put its shows on the Web, and made a deal with Microsoft for the technology required to do that. (That's the Tardis, from Dr. Who, one of many fine BBC programs.)

This has the BBC in political hot water. Boingboing says it's a DRM issue, but the country's Open Source Business Consortium has complained to the EC, calling it an attempt to cement Microsoft's monopoly:

A report from the BBC Trust states that, for the first two years, services will be unavailable to consumers who neither use Microsoft software nor have an up-to-date version of the Windows operating system. The OSC believes that, if the BBC were to proceed with its plans, licence fees will be spent promoting a single IT company over its competitors - a position which some observers claim will breach the broadcaster's charter.

A point of disclosure follows.

When Interactive Age, one of the first magazines covering the Internet, closed in 1995, I was sent to a BBC conference about "multimedia" because the ex-publisher could no longer be bothered. I got into a committee on Web technology, found a PC, linked to what NPR was doing and then said, "That's your competition."

Some time later, the BBC launched its Web site, which remains one of the best, brightest, and most informative sites around, something for which I take no credit. But I do feel an attachment to the BBC, which is funded through a quaint tax called a "license fee" on radios and TVs.

The BBC is caught here between a rock and a hard place. I don't think open source can currently deliver what it needs. But, by requiring "the most current" technology for users, Microsoft undercuts its best argument, namely that its solution serves most of the British people.

So let's ask some hard questions. Could open source deliver the streaming technology the BBC needs, and allow the underlying content to be protected in the way the BBC demands? Why can't we have video which works on all 21st century computers?

I await some good answers.

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