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