Interview with CEO and co-founder of Fluendo, Julien Moutte

Today, we feature an interview with the CEO and co-founder of Fluendo, Julien Moutte, discussing their upcoming products and services based on Ogg/Theora. Also, make sure you check the live camera at Fluendo’s offices, served by GStreamer’s engine.

1. How can Fluendo compete with Apple’s, Microsoft’s and Real’s server streaming products? What’s the big selling point of Fluendo and who’s your biggest competitor?

Julien: Fluendo has two products to compete with those companies. Each of these is competing with a different approach to meet the user community’s needs in a flexible way.

First of all, our Free Software Streaming Server will be licensed using the GPL. That means that this streaming server will be available for the whole community like any other GPL application. It will support open formats like Ogg Vorbis/Theora, and probably Dirac as well in the near future. The goal is to provide a completely free streaming solution from the server, using codecs, to the player. In fact we are currently trying to provide a free software Ogg Vorbis/Theora player through a java applet which we think will raise some eyebrows in the streaming community judging by our tests so far.

So here we compete by supporting open and royalty-free formats and providing a free software solution to do multimedia streaming on Linux servers.

Second, our Advanced Streaming Server will add support for proprietary and patent-encumbered codecs, and provide a flexible and distributable all-in-one solution to do multimedia streaming. You’ll be able to acquire from any kind of media source: a live video feed, files stored on disk, and even importing and relaying streaming formats by the competitors. You’ll be able to compose the video stream in real time through a powerful control interface using all of GStreamer’s features and effects: picture in picture, dynamic text overlaying, etc…

And third, you’ll be able to stream to any kind of media player in a native codec, so the user doesn’t need to install an additional player.

And then we compete by providing complete end-to-end flexibility. Our architecture lets our customers do whatever they want with multimedia: relaying, recording, TV applications, streaming without having to worry about the format market shares, etc…

It is of course also a huge advantage for us that the Microsoft streaming solution, and to some degree the Apple one, are tied to platforms that the hosting community basically is not interested in.

2. Tell us a bit about the Ogg Vorbis/Theora codecs. How do they compare to the proprietary codecs technologically?

Julien: Well I am really impressed by the Xiph guys, they have done some great work. Recently we took care of the streaming of KDE’s aKademy developer conference in Stuttgart using Ogg Vorbis/Theora, and I must admit even after having been working for over 6 years with Internet video streaming I have never seen such a nice picture/sound quality/smoothness for only 40KB/s! I’m very confident in the fact that these open/royalty-free codecs can compare with proprietary ones, and I am really sure that as soon as Xiph does a first beta release, a lot of very good hackers will optimize those codecs to get them better than the others.

Our goal is that our effort, combined with those of the wider GStreamer community and the desktop projects will help spearhead the free formats into wider usage. To some degree we feel that for free codecs to really become important and dominant, the free desktops have to start making some serious inroads, because Microsoft and Apple do not have any interest in pushing free formats and codecs over their own.

Moreover we are actively funding the Xiph Foundation to help them making
that happen very soon !

3. Fluendo is building its business around GStreamer. However, GStreamer has seen a lot of criticism regarding its instability and immaturity as a multimedia framework, even after 4 years of development. How does this impact Fluendo?

Julien: First of all the stability of GStreamer is rather good these days and for most users it does what it should. There are some issues left to handle, but they are possible to handle and are mostly related to playback of some specific types of video files.

Fluendo is building its business around GStreamer because it is very stable and mature for the kind of products we are developing. Our streaming server is already in use at some places and we are very happy with its stability and performance.

We hired some of the best GStreamer hackers and we are working hard to make GStreamer the best solution for any kind of multimedia application. We started with the streaming server side, that’s true, but we are also planning to fix the playback issues.

We just launched a sister company of Fluendo and we are planning to hire Ronald Bultje, who has been working for a long time on improving the support for existing formats and adding new formats to GStreamer. For his first few months working for us, his task is simply to make playback close to perfect for all formats we currently support and maybe even add some new ones. So we ask that everyone who has one or more files that they have problems with to play under GStreamer applications, please file a bug on it so that Ronald has something to tackle when he starts. Our goal as a company is to make sure that Linux distributions have a way to legally add support for most of the common formats used today and allow them to make the support for these formats available in a truly integrated way across their desktops.

4. You will be sub-licensing to distros some decoder plugins for the proprietary formats you are licensing yourselves for Fluendo. Will these plugins be compatible with the GPL though, as Rhythmbox and Totem are GPL?

Julien: We have been discussing this issue a lot with both lawyers, the FSF, the maintainers of the two applications mentioned above and distribution makers. Our goal is to try and reach a consensus between everyone involved on how to interpret the GPL and copyright law in general regarding this, so we can advise people developing multimedia applications. Bastien Nocera and Colin Walters (authors of Rhythmbox and Totem) have expressed a will to relicense their applications if that is deemed necessary. We hope to shortly be able to publish a legal FAQ on the GStreamer website with some advice on how to license their applications etc., if they wish them to be usable together with proprietary plugins etc. Our advice will probably be for multimedia developers to use the LGPL for their applications instead of the GPL. Of course if a developer do not want their application to be distributed with non-free plugins then sticking with the GPL is of course the natural solution.

5. Tell us a bit about the legal DVD player you are preparing. Will it also be able to play VCD/SVCD? What’s its status?

Julien: Our US lawyers are finalizing the licensing for us as we speak, and after that the coding will start. The DVD player will probably be ready to ship sometime during the first half of next year. It could be faster, depending on the demands of our partners, but that is the current status.

6. Do you have any plans to offer players or software engines that are able to decode data streamed by Fluendo for PDA and Phones?

Julien: Our streaming server is flexible by nature, so streaming to PDA and phones is just a matter of format. We are already in the process of writing some plugins to stream using 3GPP, which most mobile phones will support in the future.

7. Do you plan to support FreeBSD and/or Solaris with Fluendo?

Julien: Well we haven’t really worked on those platforms yet, but that will probably be the case. GStreamer itself is already ported to all of the major Unix versions, including MacOSX and it has a Windows port. So it would for most things be and issue of recompiling. The server itself will be GPL so it will be available for any platform people decide to use it on. For our commercial server Linux will be our main platform, but depending on customer interest we will support other platforms as well, Solaris being the most likely one.

8. When a final/stable version of Fluendo Streaming Server is expected?

Julien: We expect a first public release of Flumotion in the beginning of october.


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