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Open Media Now launched to boost digital freedom

By Bruce Byfield on April 03, 2008 (9:00:00 PM)

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Already known for its development of a free Flash player, the Gnash project is now the nucleus of a much larger effort. Called the Open Media Now Foundation (OMNF), the group's goal is to encourage the development "of an open media infrastructure," according its home page. Registered as a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization in the United States, the new organization is actively seeking corporate members, although it accepts donations from individuals as well.

Explaining the reason for the new foundation, Rob Savoye, lead Gnash developer and CTO at OMNF, says, "We're not going to get the sort of digital freedom that we all need unless we make it all happen. We've found with the Gnash project that a handful of developers cold make slow but steady progress. But we thought that if we could scale up our resources in a sensible manner, we could accomplish a lot more."

For now, the foundation's main focus will be on developing the software needed for an open media structure. "We have our sights on other things in the long, long run," says executive director Lauren Riggin, a long-time public policy activist. "But right now we're focused on the tools that make the vision happen." To that end, one of the pages on the foundation's site is devoted to the priorities for Gnash and Cygnal, the first projects to join the foundation.

Savoye suggests that OMNF will initially have more in common with organizations such as the GNOME Foundation rather than more issue-oriented organizations such as the Free Software Foundation (FSF). "I know it sounds funny," he says, "but sometimes the best way to protect freedom is by writing code. We're trying to accomplish the same things [as groups like the FSF], but we're doing it through different means."

Initial resources

The new foundation's goal is to formalize the loose set of associations that Gnash has been become a part of over the years, which include free software projects such as Miro Player, Edubuntu, and One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) as well as larger activist organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation whose interests overlap with Gnash's.

All these projects share the common experience of being "heavily under-funded, if funded at all," Savoye says. He hopes that, through the new foundation, all of them can accelerate their development or advance their own advocacy work.

Savoye says that while free software for digital media is making advances on all sorts of fronts, "There's not really a complete system that hangs all together yet. We have all the beginning pieces of the technology that we need, but the trick now is to evolve them into a more grand infrastructure."

The Foundation's officers hope to benefit from the attention paid to Gnash by companies focused on educational and embedded products, as well as manufacturers who use non-Intel processors, who have never had a choice of Flash players because neither Adobe nor Macromedia, the previous owner of Flash, ever developed for their platforms. "But without the Foundation, we really didn't have a way to take funding from these people," Savoye says.

OMNG's use of Gnash connections is also visible in its board of directors. Bob Young, the founder of Red Hat and free content provider Lulu Enterprises, who has funded Gnash development in the last few years, is on the board, as well as free software activist and entrepreneur John Gilmore, who was one of the founders of both the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Cygnus Solutions. Although both Young and Gilmore are funding OMNF's initial efforts, Savoye says the organization must find additional income if the foundation is going to grow.

The foundation is still developing plans to encourage participation by projects, companies, and entrepreneurs, but the main strategy appears to be to attract them through common interests. Rather than the foundation launching a targeted campaign to attract members, "the technology is the campaign," says director of business relations MaryBeth Panagos, a former Internet radio station broadcaster and OLPC contributor. She says that the fact that the foundation's development efforts will be cross-platform should help encourage investment. Eventually, the foundation organizers hope that members will form an advisory council to help determine future directions.

All code from foundation-supported projects will have copyright assigned to the FSF, most likely under the third version of the GNU General Public License. "I've been developing GNU software for 20 years," Savoye says, "and donating my copyright to the FSF is what I've always done. I like the idea of knowing that if we donate Gnash to the FSF, it will stay free forever."

Future plans

For now, coding and fund-raising will be OMNF's chief concerns. However, in the long run, the foundation executive also hopes the organization will be in the position to expand its efforts.

One area that the foundation would like to expand into is funding other projects. "If we succeed in figuring out how to raise sufficient money, it's an important part of our responsibility to help the other small groups doing much the same things," Savoye says. "I know that many of these people are supported out of their own pockets, so, if we have the resources, I would like to help them."

Possibly, too, the foundation may need to fund other projects to realize its visions. For instance, Savoye suggests that a long-term goal may be the development of a free Flash media server, complete with videoconferencing capabilities.

The executive acknowledges that, sooner or later, coding efforts will undoubtedly force the foundation into a more activist role. Any free media efforts are going to run up against the problem of using proprietary codecs like MP3, and Savoye avows that the encouragement of free formats is essential. "We're all going to keep playing catch-up with the proprietary stuff unless we can create a body of audio and visual free formats," he says. "So we're talking a lot about getting into more campaigns."

In the immediate future, however, the foundation's efforts are likely to be restricted to a free media conference, perhaps in the fall -- although it, like the rest of the foundation's plans, is dependent on funding.

The new foundation has large goals, but OMNF's executives are optimistic about implementing them. Panagos points out that "a lot of community support" exists that the foundation can hope to draw upon.

Similarly, Riggin says, "There are a lot of companies and product manufacturers out there that stand to gain a lot from this technology and who have, one way or the other, voiced their wish that this was available yesterday. But we need the resources to do that. We have a ways to go with this technology -- we never claimed that we are there yet. But the point of the foundation is to harness those resources out there to help us get there sooner rather than later."

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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Open Media Now launched to boost digital freedom

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.167.166.254] on April 03, 2008 10:17 PM
"I know it sounds funny," he says, "but sometimes the best way to protect freedom is by writing code. We're trying to accomplish the same things [as groups like the FSF], but we're doing it through different means."

It doesn't sound funny. It's actually perfectly normal, and it is good that Open Media Now understands the situation accurately. Do you honestly think the Free Software Foundation started with legal and philosophical aspects? No, the FSF was originally formed in 1985 to fund, sponsor, etc. the free software movement (in effect the GNU Project, which had been established in 1984). It is obvious that the GNU Project has many philosophical goals, but they tried to accomplish these by writing code, and I would say that they are pretty successful, though plenty of issues remain, and the battle is far from over.

Creative Commons was a different story, but I think that it could work with free culture, but not as well with free software.

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Open Media Now launched to boost digital freedom

Posted by: toronto on April 05, 2008 01:04 AM
The problem for many new groups is the lack of <a href="http://www.charmehosting.com" target="_blank">SEO hosting</a> resources and by that I mean lack of available <a href="http://www.alancoxonachip.com" target="_blank">developer</a> hours. Sometimes people have to realize things are going to happen slowly because of people other commitments.
[Modified by: toronto on April 29, 2008 03:25 AM]

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Open Media Now launched to boost digital freedom

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.55.88.109] on April 07, 2008 12:43 AM
hmm Why is it that many yankees answer to a sertain problem is goin out and starting an Foundation\NGO\Association?!
There are so many that you can't remember all of them. It would better serve the community if more effort could be done together sharing resources and funding not increasing adminstrative duties and costs. I also guess that this is a move just for some of the devs to get a payed job. Hey geeks get a life and start working for a real company instead. Why is it that all devs focus on trivial tasks for work done on servers or workstations when will the end users get the same attention? And when will open realy mean open for everyone, today most disabled people are shut out of using linux or any other quirky nix version. Sure open source have good intentions but discriminates as much if not even more than proprietary software at this time. But maybe its to much to hope for that free software should be diffrent from proprietary since its the same kinds of people creating the software (devs) just they do it without pay and no boss looking\demanding a usable product in the end. Yes u may think Iam bitter windows loving commandline hating design demanding person and your right at least I know Iam right and that usability increases use and productivity something devs never think of if not forced to. So before you start gnome kde apache fsf eef osi sflc lf or any other stupid named foundation think why why and why first before you do it maybe theres a better way already in place that you can join or it might even be solved. Dont tell me to try any other dist i have done many such tests and none can match win or os x period. saying anything else is a lie and shows how little you know. This isn't a flame just fact. Just look at mysql the companys database server runs on most webservers and many others as well all over the world even though they just made 40 milj in revenues. If an NGO is the only solution or if you make profits in the range of pocket change then no company will take risks with linux. Through just letting die hard server devs from server comapnies work on for example the kernel linus torvalds makes the community a big bad favour since no usability is adressed only enterprise or things he thinks is funny goes into it. He's got it all wrong FOSS isn't a dictatorship like his its a collaboration if you talk about the fsf's philosophy about it. Also why is people so pleased with using linux when it undermines the meaning of FOSS so much We need to start talking about whats wrong with foss and not only talk about it as if everything about it is good and okay.
Come on when linux is easy, has voice and handrecognition thats industry leading and is accessible to everyone and also has a functioning buisness model.

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