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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: Wed, 13 Oct 2004 10:52:31 +0100

On Wed, 2004-10-13 at 10:24 +0100, MJ Ray wrote:
> > [...] streaming and scripting are the two
> > main features that you might reasonably need in an online course that
> > these tools don't support.
> How are these carried out? Are they both Flash-specific methods, or do 
> they pull in better-known standards?

Scripting is Flash-specific; it has some language called ActionScript
IIRC. Streaming is done in many ways; I think there is both built-in and
the possibility of using other codecs. mp3 is most popular for audio;
Sorensen for video IIRC.

> > Flash is installed on 99% of home machines (Flash 5+, IIRC); SMIL is
> > installed on a lower base, isn't as capable and doesn't have the same
> > tools.
> Is that "99%" a figure from a study, or your estimate?

If you look at studies of usage, the installed base comes out at 97-99%.
Depends whether you're looking at home users, business users, European,
etc. Macromedia's NPD survey says 98.3% across European users.
Commercial experience bears that out; I don't think you'll find anyone
seriously disputing Flash's installed base.

> I'm aware SMIL is a few years behind in terms of installations and 
> applications, but they're not show-stoppers for a long-term direction. 
> How isn't it as capable?

SMIL isn't even close to the same feature set. 

SMIL is just a multimedia content delivery system. It's not interactive
in the same way Flash can be; you could replace it with a Quicktime
plugin for mpeg files or something, the user experience is roughly the
same. It's a completely different kettle of fish to Flash (if it was
competitive, Flash player certainly wouldn't support it). You certainly
can't do something that is as entertainingly interactive as you can in

SMIL doesn't specify content encoding either, as far as I know. You can
deliver JPEG images with SMIL as easily as you can deliver Flash. Saying
"must be SMIL" is as useful as saying "must be Quicktime", and has as
much relevance to whether something is usable in free software. So, if
the person doing the SMIL is using RealPlayer, they're likely to deliver
the content as .rm files. That's not going to work with the SMIL support
in QT, etc.

Scripted SVG is much closer to the mainstay of Flash's features, but I
don't know of anything which supports that. Free software support for
SVG appears to be going backwards at the moment too (e.g., Mozilla
losing interest in supporting it).

The major problem, though, isn't really the technology per se; it's the
authoring tools. Web animators are used to using Flash director in the
same way they're used to using Photoshop. 



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