Patently troublesome

Saw another article today where Balmer talks about the Novell/Microsoft deal. Once again he demonstrates in my opinion how extremely broken the whole patent system around software is and how companies are trying to abuse that brokenness.

While I have little love for organisations like MPEG LA at least they clearly define what they license out. If you take a license for MPEG4 for instance you will get a full list of patent numbers and nations which they apply to. If one would like to challenge or work around those patents one would at least be able to figure out what one are up against.

In the Microsoft case they are not licensing something concrete for a specific amount of money. Instead they are basically saying ‘we have a thicket of patents and we think a unquantified subset of them applies to you, pay a fee or you risk a lawsuit’. So if you want to do a risk assesment or try to work around these patents your only option is to dig through the global (primarily US) patent office databases for anything concerning Microsoft or companies bought by Microsoft and try to figure out if any of those patents apply to anything you do or have. The cost of such a move is probably prohibitive. Of course if you do find some patents which could apply to something you do, then the question of wether they should have been granted in the first place comes up. You then have the option to spend lots of money on trying to find prior art to invalidate the patent(s) in question. But the problem here is that most companies who do patent blackmail tend to make sure that their licensing fees are lower than the expected cost of getting their patents invalidated, so you are stuck in a lose/lose situation. You can give in to their crocked ways and license their patents no matter how bogus, or you can try to fight them and end up spending even more money. One could dream of a situation where the cost of any patent prior art research and litigation should be covered by the US patent office, as they are the ones who are primarily to blame for the current mess.

Not sure this situation can be fully remedied without the US doing a full rehaul of their patent system, but maybe a stopgap measure would be a law that forbids the claim of patents against a competitor without being specific about which patent and which application implementing it at least. That would put much more of cost on the would be attacker instead of the defendant.

Two movies based on the Hobbit

I have been waiting for a long time for some concrete news about when a movie based on the Hobbit would be made. As most know the movie is stuck in negotiations between two studios who have the rights for production and distribution respectivly. Seems people are expecting those hurdles to be passable now, as they have gone as far as making plans for not one, but two movies made based on Tolkiens ‘The Hobbit’, according to this article in Variety . Looks like Peter Jackson will be back and judging by this interview with Howard Shore the composer behind the music in the LOTR movies, is likely to be back to. Cool stuff! Thanks to for the links.

New release of Elisa

While I was away at UDS in Mountainview the Elisa team did a new release of our Elisa mediacenter solution. At the same time the website got a facelift making it look a little closer to the new default theme for Elisa. As mentioned this release do not add a big amount of new features compared to the previous one as it has mostly been about remodeling the internals of Elisa to enable us to take it where we want to. We are now however again going to be moving forward with feature additions and usability improvements. On the top of my personal wishlist is trickmodes and stronger upnp support. Coming up with some clever UI ideas for how we handle music collections and huge video collections is another important todo.

We need more people!

Things are moving fast here at Fluendo and we are continously looking to add more developers to our staff. The Elisa team is looking for a new member and I am looking for someone interested in working on various solutions around our codecs, especially some installation and upgrade tools to integrate with our webshop solution. Something a little more advanced that loki_setup/loki_update, yet less ambitious than Red Carpet or RHN. Longer term this person would probably be involved in other projects here too, like the DVD/BlueRay player and general codec development. If you are interested in any of these two and Barcelona sounds like a tempting place to live please mail me (christian-at-fluendo-.-com) for more information.

The Curse of a Semi-Free Press

Scanning through a scandinavian newspaper I saw a story about an Iranian acctress called Zahra Amir Ebrahimi who risks multiple years in prison and getting publically whipped after an old camcorder recording of her and a former boyfriend appeared on the internet. Her former boyfriend had according to the article managed to flee to the emirates.

Stories from Iran about young girls, often minors, getting jailed, hanged or physically maimed by the Iranian court system due to both voluntary and forced sexual acts are not a rare occurence in scandinavian media.

What struck me this time though is the fact that all these reports come from Iran, and only Iran. While it could mean that these kind of acts by the government only happens in Iran I do find it a bit unplausible. For instance I would be very suprised if wahabist Saudi Arabia doesn’t have as harsh rules against ‘immorality’ for example.

So I started wondering if the reason why these things do get reported out of Iran is because compared to for instance Saudi Arabia, Iran might actually have freer press and political opposition?

One trait of modern democracy is that the public focus tend to be led by current news stories. News stories are being done as a combination of what is available and what the readers are interested in. So in one sense the countries getting the harshest treatment in international media is the ones who are not totalitarian enough to have destroyed all internal opposition as opposed to those who successfully silences all independent reporting and internal criticism.

So while I in no way defend the acts of the Iranian regime on these issues, it do strike me that maybe they get painted as the worst offender in the region not because they are the worst, but because they actually are the best, in the sense that they at least allow some political discourse and reporting on the subjects. Of course being ‘the best’ in this case is still not very good, but it do put the ‘axis of evil’ in a funny light.

Thanks to Sun for GPL Java

As everyone is aware of by now Sun is releasing Java under the GPL, which is great news. One thing did strike me as a little weird though,
when visiting the page with video’s with testimonials from people like RMS and Mark Shuttleworth they use Flash video (which for me almost never plays in sync). Considering this is an announcement of GPL Java it would have been cool if they instead used Cortado which is a 100% Java GPL licensed solution using the Free Vorbis and Theora codecs. And as you can see from this demo page for our stream hosting service the quality of Cortado these days is pretty good and we are continuing to invest more resources into it to make it more powerful.

So get into the groove Sun and go 100% Java with your internet video, no need to use an expensive proprietary solution when you can get something just as good based on 100% GPL Java :)

Dirac and MPEG TS

Ok, so I finally managed to push the long promised release of Dirac of the door thanks to the hard work for David Schleef. Not only that I was able to release our new MPEG Transport Stream muxer today including a written specification for how that is done, in order to allow other projects to implement it in a compatible way.

The new version of the decoder includes a heavily updated encoder and decoder compared to our previous code drop. This release encodes files that are very close to the latest Dirac specification in terms of conformance. The decoder should also be able to handle the files generated by the Dirac library from BBC.

You find the released files for both projects on the Schrodinger SourceForge project page.

The documentation for mapping Dirac into both Ogg and MPEG TS have now been added to the new Schrodinger documentation page.

And last but not least a GStreamer plugin using the new MPEG TS muxing library can be downloaded from the Fluendo file repository, the same repository holding our MPEG demuxer plugin which able to deal with the produced MPEG transport file which holds Dirac. Direct download from here

Questions, feedback patches etc. should go to the schrodinger-devel mailing list.

UDS Mountainview

So Wim, Tim and myself are back from attending the Ubuntu Developers Summit in Mountainview, California. It was a great conference and it was good to see how the Ubuntu community works up close. While I did attend an earlier UDS in Mataro outside Barcelona for a few days this one was a very different experience as multimedia was at the top of the agenda.

The specification for easy codec installation will hopefully help move things forward in userfriendliness quite a bit. Tim wrote the GStreamer
part of with input and help from Wim during the conference. The whole spec is not really tied to Ubuntu so our hope is that the various distro’s will hook their own systems into it just like Ubuntu plans to. My thinking at this point is that we will also hook our commerical plugin offerings from Fluendo into this setup.

Another specification which got a lot of discussion was the audio jumble one where
basically PulseAudio was basically chosen as the way forward. The plans in this area coincides well with the plans of other distro’s as well for example the work and plans of Monty for Red Hat/Fedora. A topic that came up a bit both in the meetings and also in private conversations aftwards was about the relation between pulse audio and GStreamer and the ‘border’ between the two. In regards to the first the answer is pretty straight forward, GStreamer is no sound server and thanks to Lennart we have a good Pulse Audio GStreamer output plugin. When it comes to the ‘border’ I think the broad lines are drawn already, but the finer details will have to be measured out over time. My general answer when asked about it was that I thought Lennart wanted PulseAudio to do more than what we in the GStreamer camp would have it do, but since he was the one doing the coding on Pulseaudio and not us, it wasn’t our place to critisize his choices.

There where also some nice coding done during the conference. Wim implemented full RTP support for both Vorbis and Theora in GStreamer during the conference, meaning that we took a big step forward in being able to provide a free RTP based streaming solution. The next step in the process is to merge in the RTP branch into Flumotion head and get that working with the new RTP modules.

Wim also did a lot of work on Ogg trick modes during the conference and was able to play a vorbis file backwards before we left. Still some more work needed before this works perfectly and also for Theora, but having it supported in a free codec feels good as it has only been implemented in our commercial windows media codecs so far.

As Jono mentioned in his blog there was also quite a lot of buzz around Jokosher at UDS. The effort that has been put into helping out the Jokosher team with resolving bugs in GStreamer and Gnonlin I think is reaping great rewards through the great steps forward that Jokosher is taking. The work on Gnonlin will also yield great returns for Pitivi as most of the issues fixed would have popped up in Pitivi too. The plans for network instruments that where discussed in conjuction with the work done on telepathy was another highlight and something I think could be a real killer feature for both Jokosher and Telepathy.

There where of course many other important topics that was discussed and planned for during the summit. For my own part I found the great work done on improving Bluetooth support to be quite exiting. This was also an example of how Nokia’s increased involvement due to the Maemo and 770 projects continues to be a positive addition to the community and also shows how Nokia strives to be great community memembers be reaching out to the wider Linux/GNOME bluetooth community, like Marcel Holtmann who was present at the conference. The work that Marcel Holtmann is doing in this field is nothing short of amazing and will be a big step up from the current meager offerings of the gnome-bluetooth manager.

The conference also provided a opportunity to hang out with David Schleef again. We managed to squeeze in an evening in San Fransisco, seeing David’s abode, going out for some Japanese food and drinking some local brews and a nice bar called the Toronado. We have a new release of Schroedinger ready so I just need to update the webpage and send out a release announcement. Will get the MPEG Transport Stream muxer out at the same time.

Returned to Barcelona on Saturday, didn’t get much done for the remainder of the weekend apart from sleeping and catching up on the two episodes for Battlestar Galactica that I missed while away :)

Microsoft and Novell

Like most my initial reaction to the Microsoft/Novell deal was to wonder what it actually meant, and if could cause increased risk to the rest of the community. After reading various comments I have instead started to wonder if this deal is worth the paper isn’t written on in terms of the patent deals. Novell and Microsoft have tried to work around the GPL by signing a covenant not to sue over software patents instead of ‘licensing’ the patents in question. But if Microsoft use this deal indirectly as an excuse to sue Red Hat or Canonical I think Novell might find itself in hot water with GPL copyright holders, who probably will start taking them to court for violating section 7 of the GPL. So maybe Novell’s customer got peace of mind from MS patent lawsuits, but on the other hand I don’t think they feel the risk having their rights under the GPL nullified will be any less stress causing.

On ther other hand I would think Microsoft sees this risk and knows that taking down both Red Hat and Novell in one swoop would land them in deep water with anti-trust authorities again, so in essence this deal might mean nada.

On the other hand Novell might have handed Microsoft the best FUD tool since the SCO case. Time will tell.

Ubuntu Developers Summit
So Wim Taymans, Tim-Philipp Müller and myself will be attending the Ubuntu Developers Summit next with in Mountain View,California. We will be there to discuss issues and opportunities for improving
multimedia support in Ubuntu and friends. We will try to attend as many of the multimedia related tracks as possible.


Grabbed the subversion branch of Elisa yesterday in order to try to help out with cleaning up the licensing before release. The new default theme is looking really sweet and the ability of the new backend ‘pigment’ to run on any backend we want to will be a great advancement. Anyway before we release I need to go over both Elisa and Pigment and verify that all the files have a copyright header and that it is the correct ones :)

Cedega by NVidia
Discovered today that Nvidia are offering a download of Cedega
through the demo downloads site NZone. Hope its a sign that linux is becoming a gaming platform that commercial vendors have started to notice.

A Scanner Darkly
Saw the movie ‘A Scanner Darkly yesterday at the cinema. Well the animation effect was fun for the first 15 minutes, after that the fact that the movie was just extremely boring started to kick in. Considered leaving the cinema at mutiple times before it was done playing.