A New Breed of Free Desktop Companies

In the past two years, GNOME and the GTK+ projects have inspired many enterprising hackers to start companies and risk investing capital into a market that surprisingly has shown to be robust, providing not only adequate funding for these companies but room enough to expand operations. Sri will discuss where Fluendo has been and where they are going.

Introduction

In the past two years, GNOME and the GTK+ projects have inspired many enterprising hackers to start companies and risk investing capital into a market that surprisingly has shown to be robust. This market has shown to provide not only adequate funding for these companies, but room enough to expand operations.

I want to find out how successful these companies are and to really discover if there is a market out there for GNOME and free software desktops in general. I will be profiling various companies who have shown an affiliation with the GNOME free desktop and it’s underlying components in a series of interviews over the next couple issues.

I had the honor of attending GUADEC 2006 at Villanova, Spain, the main GNOME developer conference. I was able to take advantage of the fact that I would be able to meet many of the people who started these companies in person.

Fluendo Inc.

I met Thomas Vander Stichele at GUADEC, and was able to sit down with him for a brief chat about his company Fluendo. Thomas, an unassuming hacker with a relaxed air about him had plenty to say about Fluendo, which he started with Julien Moutte and Pascal Pegaz three years ago. Thomas, Julien, and Pascal had envisioned to start a company around the popular GStreamer. GStreamer is the common audio and video infrastructure that is in use today by the major free software desktops KDE, GNOME and others. The idea is to be able to have a small core multimedia system with the ability to extend multimedia capabilities with plugins. GStreamer is quickly becoming the standard multimedia subsystem everywhere.

Fluendo started with building a business model around a streaming server product called Flumotion. Flumotion is a highly scalable multimedia streaming server capable of streaming to hundreds of clients. This makes it an invaluable tool for those who wish to view videos from remote. The initial idea was to allow two to three years to let the technology mature before releasing as a product. In addition, Fluendo planned to do some consultancy on GStreamer on the side.

Thomas was candid that he didn’t think the consultancy would have gone anywhere. Much to his surprise, the consultancy actually was successful with business relationships formed with BBC, Nokia and Intel amongst others. Fluendo received a lot more success than it anticipated.

Fluendo currently has three different strategies. Consultancy on GStreamer along with developing and selling codecs for multimedia hardware, a streaming server using clustering hardware, and finally the Elisa project, a free software DVR project similar to MythTV.

One of the more controversial things that Fluendo is working on is enabling distributions to legally play music and video with legal codecs. Fluendo plans on talking with ISVs and Linux distributors about the distribution of codecs, like MP3, in a legal manner. The hope for this plan is that regular users will be able to play protected media content if they so desire. Fluendo has recently allowed users to buy these codecs at http://shop.fluendo.com/.

That said, Thomas is careful to note that he cares about the free solution. Fluendo funds the Xiph.Org Foundation to pursue free multimedia solutions unencumbered by DRM and patents like Theora for video and RTP for VOIP. Fluendo’s streaming server works with free codecs out of the box without additional codecs. Thomas thinks that this is what you need to do in order to enjoy community support.

For Thomas, the biggest concern is that Fluendo has a good standing with the Free and Open Source community and hopes that conflicts with work on DRM and proprietary codecs will be balanced by strong advocacy for the open multimedia solution.

Today, Fluendo seems to have filled a needed gap for companies who need to stay legal, want to use proprietary codecs, and are in need of a good extensible multimedia infrastructure. Fluendo has gained the attention of big corporations like Intel and Nokia and are working with them to improve the multimedia support for Linux as well. Fluendo is one of many Linux desktop technology companies that is creating a new market and succeeding in it.

Discuss this story with other readers on the GNOME forums.

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Posted on March 4, 2007, in March 2007. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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