Despite the success of the streaming version of the BBC iPlayer which was introduced in order to allow Mac & linux users access to the BBC’s TV & radio catch up content the BBC was still under pressure to level the playing field with a version that allowed downloading of content such as was available to Windows users.
On the same day that Adobe announced that Adobe Air for linux was to move out of beta we find a decidedly low key introduction of an Adobe Air based download service for Mac users (and presumably linux and Windows users too as Air is a cross platform technology).
The first challenge is to actually find the download link for the air application which is deeply hidden within the iPlayer labs section of the iPlayer site (you must be signed up to iPlayer labs to use this new download application). You then have to set an appropriate download location and allocate some of your hard drive space. I allocated 5GB which apparently reserves me up to 22.5 hours of download content.
Hide And Seek
The next trick is to actually find content that is available to download. We still use the web browser based iPlayer but keep our eyes peeled for an additional ‘download’ option next to an individual programmes iPlayer page.
Picture Quality Impressions
The slightly disappointing first impression of two programmes downloaded is that the quality appears to be inferior to the streaming version. Certainly a download equivalent of the high quality streaming option does not currently seem to be available which makes full screen playback of downloaded content a huge let down (is rubbish quality the ultimate DRM?)
Help For ISPs
Meanwhile the BBC is taking steps to head off continuing disquiet from British ISPs concerning their worries over how much the iPlayer is putting a strain on their available infrastructure as the popularity of the Internet service increases. The BBC has offered to make available specific iPlayer content caching servers to be installed by the ISPs into their own distribution networks. Whether this will quell some ISPs demands for payment subsidy for carrying the bandwidth intensive content remains to be seen.
The BBC iPlayer Air application can be downloaded here
Spotify is an application for Windows, Mac and Linux (via Wine only) that lets you search from a library of online streaming music that you can organise into your own playlists that can then be shared online with other Spotify users. It’s free to use save for the odd audio advert (which are very infrequent) which can be removed either by paying $0.99 for a day pass or £9.99 for a monthly clearance.
I’ve been surprised at how much non mainstream material is available in the library and at how easy it was to install and use on a Linux netbook using only a basic configuration of Wine.
I’ve amused myself greatly messing around with a free application called Poladroid which is available for Apple Mac (Windows coming shortly apparently) that gives your existing pictures and photos that certain Polaroid instant camera look.
A large move-able virtual Polaroid instant camera appears on your desktop and you just drag and drop you pictures onto it and a virtual Polaroid print slowly develops before you eyes. Each of these Polaroid prints can be moved around the desktop and stacked.You can choose which treatments to keep and there are some basic preference parameters that can be adjusted. Completed photo treatments are labelled with a virtual chinagraph pencil type marking .
This Polaroid look could no doubt be achieved with any graphic programme of merit but Poladroid is just plain fun to use and has a very straightforward and easy to understand interface and should be applauded for that.
The BBC iPlayer is to be extended beyond the boundaries of UK license payers at some point in the future as well as extending its current availablity to even more platforms.
Eric Huggers, Director of BBC Future Media and Technology revealed that iPlayer availability will be extended to more platforms with the long awaited download version for Mac users expected some time before the end of 2008. Downloads will be able to be pre-booked up to 7 days in advance.
Currently iPlayer content is not avilable outside the UK in much the same way that much US television on-line content is unavailable to Internet users outside the US (BBC programming is funded through a license fee that UK television viewers are required to pay). There seems to be no mention of how overseas viewers will eventually avail themselves of content or whether (presumably) this would be charged for.
Whilst I’m happy to wait around until Google release a Mac version of their Google Chrome browser I am curious as to ways to achieve the browsing speed increase that many Chrome users on Windows report.
Webkit is the technology that Google Chrome is built on, itself originating in the open source world of Linux and developed by Apple for its Safari Internet browser. Webkit is also used by Google’s Android platform for mobile phones.
So when I heard that Webkit had made great strides in improving its Java engine interpreter technology called squirrelfish extreme (I know, great name) I thought I’d give it a spin.
The Webkit download gives me a second version of my Safari browser which although still in development and in need of user feedback gives me probably the fastest rendering web browser experience currently on my Mac.
I did have to disable a couple of Safari plugins in order for it to operate unhindered but its speed shows how quickly the competition will perhaps be able to keep up with Google Chrome in a number of key areas.
Certainly the increased number of web browser options is causing the kind of competition that reaps benefits for the average Internet surfing user.
Owning a modern Intel based Mac allows a great degree of flexibility as you can run almost any operating system aside from OS X (I know, why would you want to? But some of us have such a need if only for support reasons). You can dual boot into Windows or run another OS via virtualisation (Parallels, VMware or Virtual box) which I often do for Linux and unix variants but dual and triple booting can become a problem with many Linux variants as the Mac doesn’t have a bios and uses the more cutting edge EFI (attempting to use GRUB after a linux installation can seriously mess up your Mac’s ability to boot anything).
EFI Boot Manager
So it’s been a boon to find a free EFI management program that allows Mac users to delve into the workings of EFI and allow dual and triple boot various installations including Boot camp and linux.Boot menu icons are able to be customised easily.
rEFIt is that program, a boot menu and maintenance tool kit and is written by Christoph Pfisterer.
The BBC has announced that a download version of its iPlayer software will be available for Mac users by the end of 2008. Currently only Windows users can use the download version whilst a hastily launched by more widely used streaming service became available in November 2007 which enabled Mac and Linux and Windows users to watch streamed content on-line.
This may or may not open the door to downloadable HD content or at least slightly better quality than the flash encoded streaming content that Mac users currently have access to.
There’s no word on whether this will leave Linux users left using the streaming option of whether the new solution will be available to them also or at a later date.
It is possible that the Mac download content would be available the separate Apple TV unit also with on demand access for cable customers and via new enabled Freeview boxes with Internet connection in the future.
The current download version is based around Windows media player and uses point to point technology to speed up downloads to users who typically have 7 days to watch the content on their computers.