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RealNetworks Announces Helix Platform, Open-Source Universal Media Content Project

Jul 22, 2002, 18:55 (4 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

Mozilla, then OpenOffice.org, and now... Helix.

In a press conference today on the West Coast, RealNetworks has announced its intentions to join the open source community by launching the Helix Platform, an open-source set of solutions that promises to deliver a variety of media formats.

The Helix Platform contains the source code for three major components: the Helix DNA client, server, and encoder. The source for all related APIs will also be made available.

The announcement was made by RealNetworks founder and CEO Rob Glaser. Also in attendance as the conference were open source luminaries Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens.

Based on information found at the Helix Community Web site, the model for the Helix Platform seems very similar to other commercial open-source models. The Helix Platform will act as the central development engine for various spin-off products, in much the way Mozilla is the central locus of several browser and Internet-related products. Another similar model is OpenOffice.org's relationship to Sun's StarOffice. Already RealNetworks has plans in the works for a variety of Helix-based products.

As a product, Helix's main push appears to be the ability to host a variety of media formats in a single solution, thereby eliminating the need for a media provider to purchase and maintain several different media servers.

This solution is encapsulated in the Helix Universal Server, which will provide not only RealMedia files, but will also simultaneously deliver QuickTime and Windows Media format files.

Helix Universal Server will run on eleven different opertating systems, including Linux 2.4.18 with glibc 2.2.4. In fact, Glaser went out of his way to mention that when comparing delivery of simultaneous Windows Media files between Helix and Windows Media Server 8, Helix's performance was four times the amount on WMS 8 while Helix was running on Linux.

Because of the open source nature of the Helix code and APIs, media content can adapted to push out to PCs, handhelds, and embedded mobile phone platforms, as shown in the demonstrations at the press conference.

The Helix source code will not follow a strict GPL licence, but instead will be made available under two modified open source licenses that are being submitted to the Open Source Initiative for approval now, Glaser explained.

The first license is the RealNetworks Public Source License (RPSL). According to Helix, "We believe [RPSL] follows the Open Source Definition. It contains some 'copyleft' provisions along the lines of the GPL, but also clears up patent issues and allows contributed changes to be put back into the pool for the entire community."

Commercial users of Helix technology can also opt to use a less-open form of the license: the RealNetworks Community Source License (RCSL).

"For those who need a more traditional commercial license, RealNetworks is making Helix available under the RCSL. This license contains both R&D/academic terms (free) and standard commercial distribution terms (with royalties). Modifications to Helix itself are required to be granted back to the community, but applications built on top of Helix, or otherwise incoporating Helix source code, do not," according to a statement made on the Helix Community site.

Glaser indicated that these are just drafts of the licenses, and that he is looking forward to getting feedback from OSI on the exact wording of the licenses and to get them OSI-certified.

Development of Helix will be managed at the Helix Community site, which is in turn managed by CollabNet's SourceCast software.

Glaser summed up RealNetwork's committment to open source development as he wrapped up the presentation:

"The philosophy of open versus closed is not only superior for political systems but also for software development," Glaser said. He cited the sucesses of Linux, Apache, and J2E as examples of how well open source development works.

As for the apparent presence of a Windows Media codec in the Universal Server product, Glaser dismissed concerns of legal problems from Microsoft, as he indicated that the codec was not reverse-engineered but rather developed in a clean-room environment that emulated the performance of the Windows Media Player.

Glaser was also asked if this code would ultimately be open-sourced. While he did not rule out such a possibility in the future, he explained that for now the code for the client and server applications would be enough to release to the Helix Community.

Helix Universal Server, along with its sister product, Helix Producer, are available today.

The source code won't be ready for a while, however. According to the Helix Community site, the code for the Helix DNA client will be available in 90 days, while the server and encoder code won't be made available until December 31, 2002.

Related Story:
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: RealNetworks Revamps; Embraces Open Source, Other Media Formats(Jul 22, 2002)