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A Free and Open Source Audio Player

I am proud to announce Radio New Zealand’s first free software project.

The project is a set of modular tools that we’ll be using to build new audio functionality for the Radio NZ website. The project is hosted on GitHub, which we will use to (we hope) embrace the open source development model.

The first module (available now) is an audio player plugin based on the jQuery JavaScript library, and version 0.1 already has some interesting features.

It can play Ogg files natively in Firefox 3.1 using the audio tag. It can also play MP3s using the same javascript API – you just load a different filename and the player works out what to do. The project includes a basic flash-based MP3 player, and some example code to get you started.

The audio timer and volume readouts for the player are updated via a common set of events, so they work for both types of audio, and you can swap freely between them.

At the moment there is limited error checking, and obviously lots of room for improvements and enhancements.

One of these will be a playlist module, and this is something we are going to fund for our own use.

An interesting angle to the project is that we’ve already started to talk with the blind community to ensure that the player is usable for people with screen readers. The first phase of this is to test the mark-up for the audio player page to ensure it makes sense.

Phase two will be checking that the basic functionality is simple to use using screen reader and browser hotkeys, and phase three will test playlist manipulation.

I am excited about the project for two reasons. Firstly, we use a lot of free and open source software at Radio NZ, but apart from some bug fixes and minor patches we’ve not yet been a contributor to the free software commons.

Secondly, I see this as a chance to lift the bar for accessible interface engineering using just HTML and JavaScript. We chose to not use a full flash-based interface – a common approach these days – because it simplifies the building and maintenance of the player to some extent. It also lowers the cost of development, while building on well-understood accessibility techniques.

Let’s see how it goes…

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