Open Formats

After a little bit of research into the idea of recording my desktop to video for some tutorials I got to thinking. I expect this post will probably take a draft of an essay like feeling to it lol.

Some people are down right insane when it comes to the issue of open or closed in the software world, rightly so in some cases. The idea of which is ethically better MP3 or OGG is irrelevant to most people, they just want to listen to music.

When it comes to selecting or using a given file format for media I am generally indifferent to what it is in so far as it works without giving me headaches. I don’t care if it is a .wmv or a .gnu as long as it does what I need it to do. And often the user-perspective is what prevails when people look at file formats, just as it should be.

However the world is not so nice. One thing I like about the Open Source side of the software world is often things are developer centric, users second. Although a great deal of software is done with users in mind – developers should come first in my humble opinion. Because without developers there is no software.

Open Formats are by definition open, you can do what ever you like with them. One reason that OGG has gotten to be as common as it is with Game Developers is because it is essentially free. Need to read OGG Vorbis files and play them as audio? BINGO You can code it, want to create them? BINGO You can code it. Want to create an MP3 Encoder and all hell breaks lose !!!

Because the creators of proprietary formats generally own the format they can do any thing they want. With the proper patent, copyright, and intellectual property protection… Company Foo could create the BAR format for handling audio or video files. What if Company Foo says “Gee, every one seems to be listing to music on .bar files.” And decides you have to pay them $1 for every .bar file? Absurd but sadly it is not so far fetched in this wonderful age. Of course most people want their stuff to actually get used – that is one thing I tip my hat to the creator of the RAR Archive format. Any one can create a tool to extract .rar archive files and give it away for free, code included. But no one is basically allowed to do that with programs to create .rar files. Which I think is a fair compromise personally, any Joe can extract the .rar file but the programmer that owns the format gets to make some money off people wanting to create the files.

From the user perspective, who cares what the format is? You want to have the ability to read (listen/watch/extract) and write (create, encode, compress e.t.c.) files in a given format and without having to pay for software and bend to licensing terms just ‘because’ some one wants to control the format.

From a developer point of view put into users perspective… Developer Ham wants to create some thing to write .bar files out for a program he is using and wants to give away for free along with the code to do it. But Company Foo puts an end to it because they own the BAR format.

If all users were developers, they could create their own open formats — heck already done ;-). Developers write the programs that end users use. Without users who don’t code owning a format is useless because the customers being developers themselves could create their own open formats to share.

From a developer perspective, do you want to have to pay licensing fees to Company Foo to encode support for .bar files in your program whether or not you will be making money off your program? Using a different (free) format versus paying any thing they want to use .bar sounds like a good idea to me.

If there was 1 developer in the world and all the others were users, you could be a millionaire overnight or go flat broke selling closed software 😉

(mutters enough rambling)

Generally for multi-media formats all I care is that it does it’s job. Acceptable file size to content quality ratio – 200MB for life like quality of Audio and Video or 20MB for a pile of junk, gotta balance it for the task.

The one thing I do expect, is to be able to use the files fairly and without headaches. I don’t have problems with .WMV files because they are very easy to play with the right codecs. Now trying to create and edit WMV files can some times be a different story :o)