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BBC new media boss defends iPlayer Flash, slaps Microsoft

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The BBC has defended its use of Adobe’s proprietary Flash technology in the Corporation’s iPlayer service.

“Our use of Flash is not a case of BBC favouritism, rather it currently happens to be the most efficient way to deliver a high quality experience to the broadest possible audience," said BBC new media boss Erik Huggers in a blog post this morning.

"Let's also not forget that we already support a very wide range of other formats and codecs to deliver BBC iPlayer and other services to variety of devices.”

His comments came after some iPlayer users complained that the Beeb was betraying its commitment to open standards.

“The fact is that there's still a lot of work to be done on HTML5 before we can integrate it fully into our products. As things stand I have concerns about HTML5's ability to deliver on the vision of a single open browser standard, which goes beyond the whole debate around video playback.”

Huggers claimed that open standards was “fundamental” to the “BBC’s mission to introduce the benefits of new technology to society”.

He said that HTML5 development was currently too bogged down in a standards row that could undermine the project, and called on browser makers to sort out their differences.

“Recent activity in the HTML5 Working Group and the apparent split between W3C and WhatWG suggests HTML5 might not be on the path we expect, or deliver what I believe our industry requires,” he said.

“Despite grand overtures from Microsoft toward HTML5 support, their new browser is yet to ship and so the jury is out. The tension between individual motivation and collective consensus has brought an end to many noble causes in the past, and here, the pace of progress appears to be slowing on bringing HTML5 to a ratified state.”

Huggers was a Microsoft exec before joining the Beeb in August 2008. But that clearly hasn’t stopped him sticking the boot in to his former employers.

Redmond said yesterday that a beta of its IE 9 browser would be released on 15 September this year.

“History suggests that multiple competing proprietary standards lead to a winner-takes-all scenario, with one proprietary standard at the top of the stack, which is not where most of us want to be,” added Huggers.

Ouch. The former Windows Media man just got scratched off Microsoft’s Christmas card list.

In April this year Microsoft confirmed that Internet Explorer 9 would only play HTML5 video using the H.264 codec. It ruled against using the open source Ogg Theora codec from Xiph.og, following in the footsteps of Apple.

Browser makers Opera Software and Mozilla both eschew H.264 in favour of Ogg Theora.

Huggers, meanwhile, wants everyone to play nice.

“As HTML5 promises to allow us to create new online products with the confidence they will work across the web, the savings in our development and operating costs mean we can spend less on reversioning for different browsers and focus on product development,” he noted.

“So my request to the W3C, HTML5 Working Group, and major browser vendors, is to continue fervently on the path you began. Understand you are representing the future of the web, as well as businesses like ours with your efforts.

"HTML5 is more important than any one motivation. Speed is of the essence. Professional integrity is of the essence. We are counting on you to bring one HTML5 to the web and the W3C to help make this happen.”

The BBC new media chief will presumably hope that browser vendors won't be calling on a "taxi for Mr Huggers", after reading his latest thoughts on HTML5. ®

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