RealNetworks frees code on Helix server

Multimedia network vendor RealNetworks has announced it will release elements of the core code for its new Helix servers, allowing the multimedia community to build upon it in much the same way as the Linux platform.

The Helix server is touted as being unique in that it supports multiple formats from one infrastructure, thus allowing different types of content to flow to the myriad of devices in the marketplace.

The server is not a converter, stressed RealNetworks managing director Tom Freed, as it does not translate one media format into another. Rather, it is a transport mechanism for all types of multimedia content to all types of hardware devices.

"To reach all media you need a hugely complex structure," said Freed. "This spaghetti junction is holding back convergence.

"Every manufacturer makes a decision about which format they're going to support and every consumer makes a decision about what device they're going to buy. The Helix supports all formats to all devices over any infrastructure, including IP (Internet Protocol), wireless and digital spectrum."

The manufacturer intends to release the media serving engine to its developer community of between 4,000 and 5,000 members. The DNA for the Client, the most important element of the technology, according to Freed, will be available before the end of this month. It will be followed by the Encoder and the Server at the end of the year.

To avoid the fragmentation of the Helix code into several different proprietary forms - as has occurred with Linux - any modifications to the Helix DNA must be licensed back to the community. However, applications built on top of the Helix APIs (application programming interfaces) are owned by the licensee and may be sold commercially.

Freed admits that by making the code freely available, RealNetworks may be laying the foundation for a competitor to establish itself. "We're banking on our expertise," he said. "Besides, there is little alternative with the multimedia industry currently stagnating."

Despite all the talk about multimedia solutions for businesses, Freed said it is likely that the first solutions to market will be targeted at consumers.