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Bringing Up Open Source, Part 2: The Consumer Side

Bringing Up Open Source, Part 2: The Consumer Side

Too many technology consumers see the software world in black and white -- in other words, Windows and Mac. However, some startups are leaning on open source software to power their products, often regardless of the platform the user is standing on.

By Jack M. Germain
01/21/09 4:00 AM PT

Part 1 of this three-part series examined startup companies offering open source software solutions on the enterprise market. Part 2 focuses on consumer-oriented products.

The expansion of open source into new markets is prompting consumers to notice alternatives to traditional computing habits. Personal computing power now puts so much opportunity into the hands of consumers that previously impossible activities are possible without exposure to proprietary software. Open source projects are finding their way into full-service business offerings at cost-saving levels for consumers and enterprise alike.

Consumers can select from a growing inventory of software in a wide variety of genres. Open source is feeding a frenzy in two key areas like never before. Game-playing aficionados are joining home entertainment fans in using more than just off-the-shelf proprietary solutions.

Game developers themselves are relying more prominently on open source components to drive their creations. Just as developers of enterprise products now must decide among marketing strategies that include open source models, so too do game makers and video service providers. Some very successful start-ups in the consumer marketplace got their businesses launched with the lower entry costs that open source provides.

"I think consumer acceptance of open source in the gaming market will be big. With any open source technology, there is always a niche. As with anything in the software realm, you are always going to have an emergence of the open source model," Scott Testa, professor of marketing at Philadelphia's St. Joseph's University, told LinuxInsider.

In this second installment of a three-part series on open source start-ups to watch, LinuxInsider spotlights three relative newcomers to the consumer sector. We spotlight independent video game maker Wolfire, digital home and connected small business environment developer Prodea Systems and video collaboration platform developer Kaltura.

Unaware Users

Perhaps more consumer education will be needed to push better awareness of open source as a viable alternative to commercial products. The open source movement was fostered in part by the creator of the Linux operating system, who started out looking for a cheaper version of Unix, noted Testa.

Some of the greatest ideas started in some of those out-of-the-way places by programmers, he explained. Testa views open source programmers by nature as artists who work outside the box trying to solve problems.

"The typical consumer doesn't understand the strength of open source. They are so inundated with brands like Microsoft and Apple. That doesn't make them bad products. The typical consumer is almost programmed to turn to products from these manufacturers. There is a preconceived notion that open source is not good or is unprofessional or is built by people who don't know what they are doing," Testa said.

Sometimes that perception of consumer-grade products may be true. Some open source products do not have as good an interface or do not offer well-defined support, he explained.

Testa is no naysayer about open source, however. As a consumer, he probably uses more open source products than proprietary ones, he said.

Birth of a Game Plan

Wolfire in many ways depicts the traditional route independent software makers used for years. The company was started in 2003 by David Rosen. A high school student at the time who had been writing code since he was 6, David created a Web site to display his shareware video game contest entries.

His twin brother, Jeff, and three friends came on board some five years later to grow the company into an open source entity. The first game to carry the company logo was "Lugaru." Its sequel, called "Overgrowth," is now being nurtured through various alpha stages vividly tracked and distributed from the Web site.

"'Lugaru' was made in a matter of months. 'Overgrowth' has a professional artist and several programmers developing the code," Jeff Rosen, cofounder and president of Wolfire, told LinuxInsider.

Open Source Intro

The Rosen brothers made the leap from shareware game writers to open source developers quickly out of necessity. A hardcore Mac OS 9 user, they found few games for that platform. To make it more marketable, the game had to attract a wider base of players.

"I support open source because it's good business. We didn't have to do anything to get the games ported to Linux. Volunteer coders did it for us," Rosen said.

He turned into what he describes as a hardcore entrepreneur after being involved in several other small startups. Thinking about seeking angel financiers down the road, he is concentrating now making headway with his "bootstrap model" for growing the businesses.

So far he has very low expenses. The only real cost for now is rent. He pays for other company needs by working out deals for future royalties on the company's games and relying on community volunteers.

Joining In

"Another cool thing we do with open source is using Google Chrome for the UI (user interface) of 'Overgrowth.' We contributed to its development from within the community," Rosen said.

Some of the functions in 'Overgrowth' performed by open standards are the inventory screen, a cool widgets display and the main menu.

"My ideal scenario is to finish 'Overgrowth' this year and enter it in the Independent Games Festival. That will open more doors for us. I want to catapult from a small indie company to a national brand," Rosen said about his plans to grow Wolfire.

He also plans to start a major open source project and will issue a call to arms for volunteers to form a support community around the project.

Joining Forces

Open source is also gathering the attention of movie-viewing consumers. Part of the drum-beating for this growing acceptance might well be the result of Prodea Systems and its success with the Digital Life Command Center platform.

The company offers an innovative approach to dealing with complex digital home and connected small-business environments. Its video platform creates a foundation for a video network in the home with a Community Engine, which allows users to share content, experiences and applications among peer subscribers.

Prodea Systems earlier this month announced a partnership with CinemaNow to bring premium digital entertainment to Prodea's platform. The partnership gives the company the ability to deliver services to the three-screen ecosystem formed by the TV, the PC and mobile devices and provide management infrastructure for transparency into the digital home environment.

What It Does

Prodea's system is based on the notion that if they build it, consumers will come. It provides users with a carrier-grade experience in a variety of services delivered to a range of fixed appliances in the home or automobile, as well as mobile lifestyle devices including smartphones, portable media players and laptops.

Part of this delivery system comes from a partnership Prodea announced in early January with Pandora Internet Radio. The arrangement brings personalized music services to the Digital Life Command Center.

Pandora is a personalized Internet radio and music discovery service available anytime and anywhere on the PC, in the home, and on mobile devices via partnerships with AT&T, Apple and Sprint. Pandora's service is based on the Music Genome Project begun in 2000. Each song in this massive collection is analyzed by more than 30 trained musicians and assessed against nearly 400 distinct musical attributes such as melody, harmony and rhythm to capture its unique musical identity.

Using this information to build playlists based on musical similarity, listeners can simply enter a favorite song or artist and instantly launch a personalized listening experience, which includes discovery of new bands, artists and songs.

Another Delivery Approach

Kaltura offers one of the first open source platforms for video creation, management, interaction and collaboration. The company publicly launched in September 2007.

Kaltura's open source platform enables any site to seamlessly and cost--effectively integrate advanced interactive rich-media functionalities, including video searching, uploading, importing, editing, annotating, remixing and sharing.

The company inked a partnership recently with the Wikimedia Foundation. This expanded Kaltura's reach to Wikipedia's 207 million visitors. Other customers integrating the platform include media companies, social networks, UGC sites, video sharing sites, major brands, non-profits, bloggers and enterprises.

How It Works

Much like a meshing of the Wiki technology with YouTube concept, Kaltura's approach includes collaboration features that allow users to create and consume rich media together. It adds a social element to the online video experience and creates enhanced monetization and advertising opportunities for authors and publishers.

The company's network gathers content from its member sites into a repository of sharable and remixable rich-media content. Publishers big and small can use the network for new syndication opportunities and gain access to third-party Web services that include DVD burning, professional video editing and advertising opportunities.

Kaltura's video platform is based on a modular combination of customizable building blocks called "Kaltura Widgets." These Widgets can be customized, skinned and combined using simple workflows to form Kaltura applications.

Bringing Up Open Source, Part 1: Enterprise Edition

Bringing Up Open Source, Part 3: The Mobile Movement


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