Real opens Helix server code

RealNetworks Inc. is releasing source code to the third component of its Helix platform, in a move that it says will create the industry’s first open-source media delivery system.

The release of the Helix DNA Server code, due to be announced at LinuxWorld in New York Wednesday, is the final step in a pledge the company made last July to offer its proprietary source code so that developers could build media-capable products that support a variety of media formats.

“The planets are aligning very nicely for this entire platform,” said Dan Sheeran, RealNetworks’ vice-president of Media Systems.

In October, Real released the code to its Helix DNA Client, which enables developers to build playback applications, and in December it released the code to Helix DNA Producer, allowing developers to encode applications.

The Helix server code will allow developers to stream digital media and provide live and on-demand broadcasting. It supports MP3, RealAudio and RealVideo formats and the company said that it intends to add support for MPEG-4 once the licensing terms for the format have been released by the MPEG-4 licensing body.

Additionally, developers using Helix DNA Server code can create extensions for other media types such as Windows Media and QuickTime, or they can license these extensions from Real or the Helix Community, the company said.

Helix DNA Server is available for AIX, HP-UX, Tru64, FreeBSD, Linux, Solaris, Windows NT and Windows 2000 operating systems. It also offers extensible industry standard APIs (application program interfaces), as well as administration, monitoring and authentication capabilities.

The server code is being licensed both as a public source license and a commercial community source license. Both licenses are free for research and development purposes, Real said. Although the public source license has no royalty for use or distribution, the community source license includes a US$500 per server royalty for commercial use.

Helix is both a platform and a community dedicated to open, multi-format digital media delivery. The Helix Community was formed when Real rolled out its Helix initiative last July, and has now swelled to over 10,000 developers who are able to use the Helix source code for the creation, delivery and playback of digital media.

“Ten thousand developers is way more than we ever thought there would be, more than we thought were working in digital media” Sheeran said.

With the release of the last component of Helix code, and the growth of the Helix Community, Real hopes to catapult its media delivery system into a whole new generation of products.

According to Sheeran, the first generation of products designed with the Helix code are likely to be PDAs and cell phones equipped with media players. Sheeran said, however, that the company has been pleasantly surprised by the variety of ways developers are planning to work with the Helix code, such as using the Helix DNA server code to turn home PCs into servers that stream media to other devices.

“People are using the code in ways we didn’t anticipate…it’s exciting,” Sheeran said.

The latest Helix release comes on the heels of news from rival Microsoft Corp. that it has licensed its Windows Media 9 Series software to digital music broadcaster Music Choice Europe PLC to use in a packaged broadband music subscription service aimed at European ISPs.

Real and Microsoft have been in an escalating battle on the digital media front in recent months, with Real trying to gain the lead with an open-source push. The Seattle, Wash., company released a Helix digital rights management (DRM) platform for securing media content earlier this month, only to be followed by the release Monday of new copyright protection tools from Microsoft.

However, Sheeran said he’s not worrying about the competition.

“Frankly, we don’t think there is competition for this in the market because our offering is so different from what else is available,” Sheeran said. “We are offering code for an end-to-end system, with the freedom and flexibility that provides, and others are offering a take it or leave it solution.”

Now that Real has released source code from all three components to its Helix platform, Sheeran said that the company will concentrate on helping its licensees bring products to market, as well as launching its own new products to support the Helix platform.