It’s an advent calendar for tech-savvy people. In the fully commercialized digital world, almost everything is owned by a large internet company. Their software is neither open nor free. As an alternative, there is this small island of the open source world: software whose code is publicly visible and can be independently verified for possible security breaches and backdoors. Software that can be freely used, distributed and improved. Often the motivation for work is simply the joy of providing something useful to the company.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1 to 24. These are the functions of the respective software, pitfalls, history, context, and funding. Some projects are supported by an individual, others by a loosely organized community, a tightly managed foundation with full-time staff, or a consortium. The work is done entirely on a voluntary basis, or it is funded through donations, cooperation with internet companies, government funding, or an open source business model. Whether it is a single application or a complex ecosystem, whether it is a PC program, an application or an operating system, the diversity of open source is overwhelming.


Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1 to 24. These are the functions of the respective software, pitfalls, history, context, and funding.

VLC has gigantic usage numbers. The old student project has stuck to its purposeful “hippie style” and has consistently turned down immoral offers.

VLC is a multimedia player for playing movies, series and music, whether as a file, DVD, CD or Blu-Ray. Other handy functions are: You can convert files to other formats, record screencasts from your own screen and stream videos from YouTube and other sources via network streaming function. (However, accessing Youtube does not always work).

With around 200 extensions, additional functions can be added and other layouts selected. VLC is a PC program and is also available as an iOS and Android app (for Android also in the open source F-Droid store). The software is licensed under the GNU GPL v2.

Jean-Baptiste Kempf, president of the VideoLAN association, estimates that 300 to 400 million people use VLC on their PC each month, and 50 to 100 million use applications. The Android app ranks in the Google Play Store in the 100,000,000+ installs category.

In February 2021, the media player celebrated its 20th anniversary open source. However, the story started again five years earlier, VLC started in 1995 as a student project at the French engineering school École Centrale Paris. In 1998, the code was completely revised. In 2001, the management of the engineering school authorized the release of the software. The project opened up to the external IT community and has not been part of École Centrale Paris since 2009.

The organization took charge of the development VideoLAN. Their legal form is comparable to that of the German association, explains Jean-Baptiste Kempf to heise online. Kempf chairs a four-person council. VideoLAN is also currently working on a second program for end users: the video editing software. VideoLAN Movie Creator, which so far is only available in source code version. To the Wallet also include various professional video applications and software solutions for developers, such as the multi-platform multimedia framework called libVLC.

VideoLAN has no employees and only paid freelancers in exceptional cases, says Kempf. The work is done almost exclusively by the community of volunteers: in the development of the code there is a hard core of eight to ten people who contribute a lot, and another 15 to 20 who contribute regularly. He estimates the size of the entire VideoLAN community to be 150. This includes people who contribute individual code elements, work on translations or design or im VLC Forum moderate.

As with many open source projects, VideoLAN is also an indirect sponsor of Google: through its “Summer of Code” program, in which students paid by Google work for three months in the open source community. VideoLAN is funded, according to Kempf, exclusively through donations. In 2020, around 70,000 euros were raised, mainly from the United States, Germany and Austria. The money is used to pay for the costs of the server and the necessary hardware for the VideoLAN project, as well as for attending events such as the FOSDEM free software conference. VideoLAN does not receive funding from government programs or civil society organizations.

VideoLAN President Jean-Baptiste Kempf received the French Order of Merit for his commitment to VideoLAN 2018 excellent. He finances himself and some members of the community via a classic open source economic model: his company, founded in 2012 VideoLABS sells support services for VLC and offers additional products, such as VLC plug-in for video games.

Like Kempf in a video said the project has repeatedly received immoral offers. For example, for a deal to link the download of VLC to the installation of a toolbar or to the installation of Google Chrome. In doing so, “crazy sums” were offered, which made you think, “How the hell can I say no to that? But they always refused. This is why, according to Kempf, VLC is still today operated in “hippie style” by a community of volunteers.

The work on the article series is based in part on a grant “Neustart Kultur” from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media, awarded by VG Wort.


(mhh)

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