July 22, 2002

Open Source Helix by RealNetworks will play all media files, even Windows

- by Tina Gasperson -
RealNetworks, the company that brings us the Real Player, announced today that it is launching Helix, an open standard for multimedia application development and deployment. The Helix platform brings with it standardized APIs that will allow playback of most multimedia formats, including .wmf (Windows Media Player), .mov (Quicktime), and .rm (Real).In a press conference staged at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention and broadcast live on the Internet, RealNetworks CEO and founder Rob Glaser talked about the Helix OS-independent platform, the Helix development community, and Helix application development. Brad Hefta-Gaub, v.p. of product development, performed a live demonstration of a Helix Universal Server running all three of the "big" media file formats simultaneously, along with an IP-enabled handheld device running mpeg4, and a Nokia cellular phone streaming radio over the Net.

The company trotted out Open Source luminaries Bruce Perens (HP/Compaq), Brian Behlendorf (CollabNet), and Eric Raymond, as well as several industry partners, in support of its licensing schemes. Glaser said that Helix is being released under two licenses; the RealNetworks Public Source License (RPSL) and the RealNetworks Community Source License (RCSL). According to the CEO, the entire system will be released under the community source license, and various portions of the Helix system will also be available under the RPSL, which follows the Free Software Foundation's copyleft philosophy more closely.

The licenses are 0.9 drafts and have not been submitted to the Open Source Institute for approval yet, but Glaser says the company is waiting on more feedback from the community and industry before doing so.

Glaser admits the company is working to "change the rules" of the industry, and it does appears that Real is battling against Microsoft's planned dominance in the Internet multimedia arena. Real says that Helix has created standard APIs that are licensable to OEM partners and community members.

Glaser says the project will probably include Ogg Vorbis support.

Perens mentioned what he called a reverse-engineered Microsoft codec, with regard to the Windows Media Player compatibility, and asked if Real could release the source code for that. Glaser was quick to point out that he didn't consider it reverse-engineered, but "clean room" engineered. He was non-committal about releasing the source code for that particular codec, but didn't rule it out.

The Helix Universal Server is being released today by RealNetworks, with support from Boeing Corporation, Deutsche Telekom, Exodus, HP, IBM, J-Stream, NASA, Network Appliance, Northwestern University, Speedera Networks, Sun Microsystems, and Volera.

Other products are scheduled for release in the coming year, including the Helix DNA client, which will play all media formats, which should be available within 90 days.

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