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The BBC iPlayer 'launch' that wasn't

Works on Vista though

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The "open beta" launch of the BBC's on demand service on Friday has left many licence fee-payers frustrated, as downloads of the iPlayer are still strictly limited.

The BBC has told would-be users it is taking the action to monitor iPlayer's impact on its own network and on ISPs. News of the rollout shuffleout was buried in the BBC's "launch" statement (paragraph 11), below noodling about partnerships with YouTube and the Telegraph, and consequently cut from dazzled mainstream press coverage.

Ironically, the Telegraph's coverage led the way down the garden path: "Today marks the moment when anybody in the UK can use the iPlayer." Er, no.

So, despite the Beeb's mumbled warnings of a creeping release, this thread on the official message boards for the on demand service is typical of the frustrations voiced, with accusations that the BBC over-hyped the 27 July "launch" when the service wasn't ready. The iPlayer's has been delayed several times during its three-year development.

Forum poster "darlingmarshy52" wrote: "If you where [sic] not ready to launch you should have kept your lips tight instead of misleading the general public. Nothing new as been launched today apart from some extra bods being allowed into the closed program which as been going on for months anyway."

A BBC spokeswoman told The Reg that it had always planned to allow more viewers to download the iPlayer gradually. Part of the reason for the piecemeal "open beta" was that the iPlayer team is unable to send emails in bulk, she said.

If anyone has contact details for Charles Taylor's bulk email solutions consultancy, we'll happily pass them on.

Prior to Friday, the iPlayer closed beta had about 15,000 subscribers, of whom about a third used it regularly, according to this post by a BBC admin. The spokeswoman said she could not tell us how many new users had been allowed to download iPlayer since Friday.

Whatever the figure, it seems that the "launch" was oversold to the mainstream press. Myriad news items, along with tedious media navel-gazing over the weekend hailed Friday as a tectonic shift in entertainment, rather than a tightly-controlled software test. The BBC will have to get its public emphasis right in time for the "full marketing launch", which is mooted for an unspecified date in autumn.

In a twist to the interoperability controversy and accusations of Microsoft bias, it has emerged that iPlayer will run on Windows Vista PCs, and not only on XP as the BBC suggests.

The Corporation is simply blocking Vista iPlayer downloads using the user agent string which allows web servers to identify browsers and the operating system they are running on top of. The blocking is trivial to circumvent using user agent registry override scripts, which are freely available online.

In a statement, the BBC told us:

Microsoft Vista is quite a recent development* and BBC iPlayer Beta was designed to work on Windows XP. We need to test BBC iPlayer on Vista fully before we can recommend to our users that it works properly on this operating system. We know that some technically expert users are able to run BBC iPlayer Beta on Vista but we do not feel it is appropriate to advise the general user to try to use BBC iPlayer Beta on Vista until we have completed our programme of testing.

Reader "UndeadDevil" reports the iPlayer works "perfectly" on his Vista setup.®

* Shortly after we published this statement, the BBC sent us a revised version:

BBC iPlayer Beta was designed to work initially on Windows XP. We are in the process of testing BBC iPlayer on Vista fully before we recommend to our users that it works properly on this operating system and that we are in a position to fully support it. We know that some technically expert users are able to run BBC iPlayer Beta on Vista but we do not feel it is appropriate to advise the general user to try to use BBC iPlayer Beta on Vista until we have completed our programme of testing.

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