With a fair amount of hype, RealNetworks announced
on July 22, its new "Helix" platform. Helix, it is said, is an open
platform for the management, delivery and playback of streaming media in
multiple formats. As a way of showing how open the platform is,
RealNetworks pulled in Eric Raymond to endorse the new scheme:
"It's great to see RealNetworks recognizing the power of open
source," said Eric S. Raymond, president of the Open Source
Initiative. "They'll get the reliability and security benefits of
peer review, and they are contributing an important capability to
the Internet infrastructure."
This all sounds good. A closer look turns up a lower degree of openness
than one might wish for, though there is an open source component to this
There are three components to the Helix system, being the "Helix DNA
Encoder," "Helix DNA Server," and the "Helix DNA Client." The client, of
course, is the code that sits on a desktop (or within a web browser, or
elsewhere) and receives and plays back a media stream. This code will be
released (in 90 days) under the RealNetworks Public
Source License (RPSL). The RPSL is GPLish, in that it includes the
usual copyleft provisions: if you distribute a modified version of the
code, you must distribute source under the same license. The RPSL does
have a couple of features not found in the GPL, however:
- The license explicitly excludes "runtime libraries," which are
dynamicly linked into the client, from the copyleft provisions. This
exclusion is there, of course, to allow the distribution of
- When you release modifications under the RPSL, RealNetworks gets the
right to use your code in any way it wants, including incorporation
into proprietary products.
This license will eventually be submitted to the Open Source Initiative for
certification as "open source." It may require some modification first:
there are claims, for example, that the jurisdiction and export provisions
in section 13.7 make the software non-free. Users are, among other things,
unable to distribute the software to the "Taliban controlled areas of
The client code has not actually been released yet, so it is difficult to
say for sure what will be in it. One thing that will not be there,
however, is a codec for the proprietary RealAudio and RealVideo formats.
So there will still be no completely free player for these formats for
Linux. It will be possible, however, to use the client to make a (nice,
presumably) 100% free player for Ogg Vorbis streams. In fact, RealNetworks
is working with Xiph.Org to do
The Encoder product (which creates media streams) and the Server (which
manages the whole thing) will not be open source; instead, they will be
available under the RealNetworks
Community Source License (RCSL). This license provides access to the
source, but does not allow redistribution without the payment of
royalties. It is a "shared source" license which will be useful to those
building products with RealNetworks code, but it is not particularly
exciting for the free software community. Free software hackers working on
streaming media projects may, in fact, want to stay away from RCSL-licensed
code entirely to avoid any risk of "contaminating" their code with
RealNetworks' intellectual property.
The end result is that the free software community will have more code than
it did, and that is a good thing. With luck, RealNetworks will be
successful with its new strategy, and will open more code in the future.
(For more information, see the
"Helix Community" web site).
Comments (2 posted)
For a view into just how weird our world is becoming, have a look at this News.com article
by Declan McCullagh. Mr. McCullagh got a chance to read a draft law by
U.S. Representatives Howard Berman and Howard Coble that would legalize
attacks against P2P networks:
The legislation would immunize groups such as the Motion Picture
Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of
America from all state and federal laws if they disable, block or
otherwise impair a "publicly accessible peer-to-peer network."
Anyone whose computer was damaged in the process must receive the
permission of the U.S. attorney general before filing a lawsuit,
and a suit could be filed only if the actual monetary loss was more
This is worth stating again: somebody who claims that you might be
violating their copyright will be legally allowed to attack your systems.
You can not challenge the attacker in court without getting permission from
a federal bureaucrat - who, one assumes, may not be particularly
sympathetic to your cause.
For added fun, any "copyright holder" will be authorized to act in
this fashion. As soon as, say, a copyrighted article is posted to Usenet,
the owner of that article will have the right to take the whole thing
down. If one makes the reasonable assumption that some people might just
feel the need to retaliate against an attack of this nature, whether or not
they are protected by federal law, it is not hard to foresee a time when
the net is a rather more violent and unpleasant place than it is now.
It is hard to imagine this law actually passing - though it is dangerous to
assume reasonable behavior in Washington these days. But the proposal is a
clear sign of the sort of power grab that is underway. Not only do they
want control over every bit that passes through your computer; they also
want the ability to take justice into their own hands if they don't like
your behavior. Stallman's The Right To
Read looks more prophetic all the time.
Comments (2 posted)
Over the last several months we at LWN have looked at numerous ways of
funding this operation. It takes people to write LWN, and it takes a lot
of their time; it is not something that is easily handled on "off hours."
Those people really would like to be paid for their time, and that is
something which has not happened here for quite a while. Various
approaches to bringing in money have been tried; the most successful of all
was simply asking LWN readers for donations to keep the operation going.
But we have not succeeded in raising even a fraction of the required
Other options (such as subscriptions) have been considered in depth, but
there is little promise (and much aggravation) to be found in that
So the time has come to face the reality of the situation: what LWN is
offering is not what the market is willing to pay for at this time. It's
time to find something else to do.
The end result is that next week's LWN Weekly Edition (August 1) will
be the last. This has not been an easy decision to make, to say the
least. But, barring some sort of last minute miracle (do contact us if you
have one, please!), we do not see any alternative.
We'll have more information next week on things like content tarballs and
releasing the site source. Some parts of LWN may yet go on in a different
form as well. But this particular journey is coming to an end. It has
been a great ride.
Comments (127 posted)
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