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VideoLAN's Piece de Resistance

Despite the dominance of proprietary computing in the U.S., a strong open-source movement exists in this country as well as across the globe. For many years, the adoption of open-source software and applications was a relative rarity in the enterprise environment; when push came to shove, open-source solutions just couldn’t compete with the features and power of proprietary software already on the market. Nonprofessional computer users were discouraged from attempting anything open source, as developers more interested in function than form often ignored concerns like usability and compatibility.

Recently, though, that paradigm has shifted dramatically, with the release of Linux-based OSes that mirror Windows’ interface and software that mimics the functionality of the Microsoft Office suite. Perhaps even more significant was the November release of Mozilla’s FireFox Internet browser. Built from of the ashes of Internet Explorer’s vanquished foe—Netscape Navigator—this browser has elevated the profile and credibility of open-source software significantly, primarily due to the growing public perception that FireFox is a more robust and easier-to-use (not to mention more secure) browser than IE, a significant accomplishment for software developed by an all-volunteer workforce.

Another open-source initiative that’s garnered rave reviews—albeit for its versatility and compatibility—is the VideoLAN project, which has produced the VideoLAN Client (VLC), a multimedia player and streaming server software in one. Here’s a look at the story behind VLC’s development and what VideoLAN hopes to do with the software in the future.

From the Halls of Academia…
Because they don’t suffer from the same pressure to produce high profit margins, institutes of higher learning are often the launching pads for open source projects. The VideoLAN project started in 1996 on the campus of École Centrale Paris, one of the Grand Écoles, the leading institutions for educating engineers and managers in France. Graduates of these schools are involved in the research and development of new technologies like the European Airbus, electro-nuclear power stations, and all forms of software.

"The students managing the campus network wanted to upgrade the network and thus began to investigate MPEG-2 streaming," says Antoine Cellerier, VideoLAN’s project leader. "The idea was to broadcast television programs so that students could watch TV in their rooms without having to buy a TV." After officially forming under the VideoLAN umbrella, "the VideoLAN team’s members began developing a custom client-server solution that worked part of the time by the end of 1997," says Cellerier. "In the next year, new project members started writing the VideoLAN Client and the VideoLAN Server. These were designed so they could be easily outsourced."

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