Open Source MP3 Player Hits the Net

In the world of computer operating systems, you've got commercial products from Microsoft, Apple, Be, Sun, and others in one corner, and open-source products like Linux in the other. The commercial products are released to the public as finished products (at least until the next "bug fix" is ready), usually for a fee, and their core software code is protected much like the recipe for Coca-Cola. If you don't work for the company producing the official version, then it's hands off.

Linux, on the other hand, is available as open-source code for developers all over the world to tinker with, as long as they share their tinkerings with the rest of the community. Among hard-core developers, this has made Linux the good guy in a field of greedy capitalists; computer industry analysts consider the open-source approach to be one of the few major threats Microsoft will face in the next few years.

What does this have to do with audio? In a similar fashion, the mainstream commercial encoding and decoding software packages for audio on the Internet are closed to outside developers, and are under the control of the companies who release the products. Companies such as RealNetworks and Liquid Audio are working hard to create viable businesses based in part on keeping their technologies off-limits to anyone who does not wear a company badge. But, as in the computer OS market, digital audio has seen the emergence of an open-source effort.

Last week, GoodNoise Corporation released the first client version of FreeAmp, a new MP3 player based on Xing Technology's decoder, which was created through an open-source development effort. FreeAmp, which is available for download, is being licensed to the MP3 community under the terms of the GNU General Public License, which guarantees the freedom of users to share and change the software and to make sure it is available free for all users. According to GoodNoise, to date, over 2000 developers have downloaded the FreeAmp source code; the product represents "the collective effort of the MP3 development community." FreeAmp was unveiled at the MusiCom '98 Conference, held last week in Los Angeles.

"The release of FreeAmp is a milestone in the evolution and growth of MP3 as a standard for downloadable music," said Brett Thomas, vice president of engineering for GoodNoise. "As other open-source development efforts such as the Linux operating system and Apache Web Server have proven, the collective knowledge and input of motivated developers results in feature-rich, high-quality products. The first version of FreeAmp was developed in record time and represents only a glimpse of the functionality that will be offered in future releases of the product."

"It's extremely important to the continued growth of the MP3 standard that consumers have access to enabling technology that is not controlled by any one company," said Hassan Miah, president and CEO of Xing. "Like other open-source development projects, FreeAmp will result in a product that incorporates the knowledge and experience of a whole community of developers. Xing is thrilled to support this effort."

Jason Woodward, project manager for FreeAmp, continues: "FreeAmp belongs to the user community. Because this is an open-source development effort, we can find out what features users want and quickly add new functionality to the product. The goal of the project is to fuel the growth of downloadable music---and the MP3 standard specifically---by creating the enabling technology that makes downloading music as easy as playing a CD."

FreeAmp 1.0 is available for Linux and Windows 95/98 and can be downloaded at www.freeamp.org. A Macintosh version of FreeAmp is under development and will be available in the near future. Developers interested in participating should go to the FreeAmp website for more information and to download the source code. Developers are encouraged to join the FreeAmp developer's list by sending an e-mail message with the word "subscribe" in the body to freeamp-dev-request@freeamp.org.

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