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Bruce Perens on Real's Open Source gambit

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Real Networks is announcing plans to release some, but not all of its technology under an Open Source-friendly license within 90 days. Under pressure from Microsoft, and completely open formats, it's decided to meet the open source community halfway.

The first batch of technology to be released under a new "community license" is expected to include RTSP/RTP/RTCP/SDP network playback, UDP support, local file playback, data type interfaces, file format interfaces and some AV code support.

"We're getting some network protocols that go on top of IP and UDP, and do their best to provide continuous playback despite the fact that the Internet doesn't guarantee throughput or latency," OSI founder and former Debian project lead Bruce Perens told us.

"On top of that are file formats and data objects, and other pieces necessary to make an Open Source player for some already-open file formats."

Perens welcomed the move as a first-step from the Seattle company, and expressed the hope there would be more. He stopped short of describing his comments as an endorsement.

Perens said that he thought it likely that many of the client pieces will be applicable to servers and encoders as well, although RealNetworks is not placing their server and "encoder engine" in Open Source. Combining the Open Source player with RealNetworks proprietary codecs will produce "a player for the RealAudio and RealVideo formats on new platforms where no player existed before."

"RealNetworks may not be able to afford to be open enough - their revenue today depends on licensing fees for the use of their software, and unless they can change their business model somewhat, it will be difficult for them to achieve a real partnership with the Open Source community," he wrote in an email to The Register.

"That community has little to gain by replacing Microsoft's proprietary audio format with RealNetworks still-proprietary audio format. The Free Software folks will continue to develop Ogg Vorbis and other solutions, although perhaps in a way that is more compatible with RealNetworks proprietary software.

"The Ogg encoder and servers, not just the client, are available as Open Source. The addition of RealNetworks network protocols and other utilities might make Ogg even better, and might facilitate the inclusion of Ogg as an option in RealNetworks proprietary products."

"On behalf of the Open Source and Free Software developers, I hope to be able to help RealNetworks take those additional steps."

Perens told us that the RealNetworks "client engine", the code that lives in the desktop player of browser-plug in and that drives the client half of their codec, will be available under a license derived from the Apple Public Source License, but with goals much closer to the GNU General Public License. Both licenses are accepted as "Open Source", he says.

Real's license includes a patent grant.

"This license has yet to be approved by the Open Source Initiative board, or accepted by the Free Software Foundation, or even fully reviewed by yours truly. It may have to be modified before it is worthy of acceptance by the community," he notes..

Bootnote:An alert issued by Real Networks last week promised that one "Bruce Perrins" would be attending the press conference, which came as news to Bruce himself. We had hoped this would finally allow us to use the feeble pun on Open Sauce, but weightier matters have taken priority. ®

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