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Re: [Fsfe-uk] BBC digital curriculum service in England

From: Alex Hudson
Subject: Re: [Fsfe-uk] BBC digital curriculum service in England
Date: Tue, 12 Oct 2004 14:52:06 +0100

On Tue, 2004-10-12 at 13:56 +0100, Lee Braiden wrote:
> It sounds (to me) as if one of their main concerns is accessibility to
> disabled users.  I'm not sure how much support Flash currently has for that.
> I know Macromedia was working on it, but traditionally, Flash has been pretty
> terrible at accessibility. 

It's supposed to be very good in version 6. But, as with XHTML/SVG, it
really depends on how you use what's available.

> Actually, no.  It has a player on Linux/x86, but that is NOT the same as a
> Linux player, and certainly not the same as an open player available or
> guaranteed to be for all platforms.

Exactly, and we must not say that Flash might be okay because there is a
non-free player available on a few platforms (that is also a version or
two behind IIRC). I don't think it can reasonably be described as a free
software-friendly solution.

> Besides, I think shockwave would be more likely than Flash -- shockwave is
> used for many training solutions, including LearnDirect -- and that has even
> worse support for other platforms than Flash does, IIRC.

Are you sure about that? I've never seen any Shockwave at Learndirect;
Shockwave is generally pretty much dead now anyway AFAIK, since version
5/6 Flash does all the interesting things you might want to do anyway.
(Maybe that's true for their training CDROMs; I don't know).

> There are a few Open/Free Software possibilities, though:
> XHTML/SVG+Javascript, as I mentioned; the presentation apps in OpenOffice,
> and perhaps other suites; Blender has a game mode that might be useful for 3D
> scripted applications, python + some cross-platform GUI library might be
> reasonable.

I think the issue here, though, is that we'd be asking them to develop
their own delivery system which is rather different to setting rules on
how to develop content for delivery. None of the solutions above are
'out-of-the-box', you'd have to do some significant development and the
client wouldn't have the same installed base. Ditto about your points of
doing interactive multimedia in python or Java; neither of those has
terribly good in-browser support anyway (Java kind of does if you use
the non-free stuff, afaik).

The problem we really have here is that there isn't really a good
alternative to Flash. There is scripted SVG, but that has few authoring
tools, would be difficult to create content in and would be limited in
terms of sound and video. It's also not terribly well supported by free
software. Mostly ditto SMIL and/or MPEG. 

Flash isn't really great for us either, although it does at least have a
somewhat-available in-browser plugin, which the other things mentioned
don't! It does have some standards support (i.e., it talks XML and
things, so you can do server-side things in free software without using
whatever server thing Macromedia currently flog), but it's not a
standard and there is no good free software implementation. On the
brighter side, the format is reasonably well known and pretty static
(Macromedia have a large installed base that they need to be very
compatible with), so it could be something that is developed.

So, there could be two approaches. The first might be to try to get them
to use some standards-based system. Personally, I think that will
probably be impractical, because it would involve a lot of work
retraining and retooling for very little benefit (from their point of
view). The second is to try to get them to put some funding into
development of Flash on free software systems. I think this is also
going to be pretty tough, but I would think it would be the more
cost-effective option and therefore more palatable. Are there options
that I'm missing?



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