Saturday, August 20, 2005

Cleaning up the dirty file formats

A couple of days ago I was discussing with a friend the problems of closed file formats like MP3. Now the awareness of these problems is increasing and most of the free alternatives exist, it is time to actively encourage the use of free file formats like PNG, OGG and OGM.

So how can we do this? Most of us get their content through file sharing programs. In return we distribute these files again to other people. If there was an easy tool with which one could select directories and free all the content in these directories, then we could participate in cleaning up the file sharing network of dirty file formats and spend practically no time at this. Maybe this program should be scheduled to run on a daily basis? By the nature of closed formats such a program would ofcourse be non-free (or maybe even illegal) itself, but I guess that can't be helped. Maybe it is a good idea to write a plugin for programs like Amule, Kazaa etc. to automatically convert dirty file formats into free formats?

And while we're at it, maybe file sharing clients can play a more active role in restoring meta data of the downloaded files. This will become especially important when desktops abandon the hierarchical tree structure for a searchable web of context (something that is done on a large scale already by multimedia applications).

Comments anyone?

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At 3:31 PM, Anonymous Nanne said...

could you expand, possibly on some forum ( :) ) of just email, or make a big post here, what your conclusions are about the 'evil closed formats'. Why is e.g. mp3 a Bad Thing(tm) and OGG not? What should i want to be able to do with mp3 that i cannot? i'm not saying i don't agree, but i'm saying that you leave a lot untold, and do the good old "this is bad because -the community- says so" .. .

and i aint falling for it anymore dammit! waanzin! ...

so, ok, that was overdoing it a bit..

At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Mark IJbema said...

there is a mp32ogg, and probably there is conversion software for the other conversions as well, so it's just a matter of a bit of bash and find magic to convert all your files.

At 5:30 PM, Blogger Georg Muntingh said...

@Nanne: lol, yes there's indeed a hidden premise here: closed formats are (in many cases) not what we (consumers) want. The problem is power. Controlling the format, means controlling the content. In the case of MP3 one has for example in countries acknowledging software patents to obtain a license to "distribute and/or sell decoders and/or encoders" (see Thomson's site for this). Some of the consequences are:

* Microsoft had to develop their own audio format (WMA) to keep their Media Player and therefor Windows independent. (Ofcourse there were more reasons to develop another format, one of them is probably to create a position of power themselves.)

* In countries acknowledging software patents free software media players are automatically illegal (at least for commercial use), so this makes it difficult to get access to the content in those cases. Content which has `an sich' nothing to do with data formats.

More generally, some companies use non-free formats as a strategy to obtain power. The most famous proof for this is probably the Halloween documents of Microsoft, which are really worth reading!

In other words, using free formats saves us a lot of trouble at the cost of nothing. This is why I think we should avoid using non-free formats: it gives power to people / institutions / companies, taking away my freedom as a result.

@Mark: you're right that (probably most of) the components of such a program are already there. Still it is not happening at a large scale. You also don't convert WMA and MP3 to OGG (I'm streaming MP3's from you computer as I write this :) ). This is maybe because you think it is not important (in which case I would disagree with you) or because it's too much work. The latter is the reason I don't do it, and this probably holds for many more people. There's just to high a threshold. My point is to lower this threshold to almost zero.

At 11:03 PM, Anonymous Tjaard said...

No matter how good an open format is, it is all about user acceptance. I know someone who cannot play ogg, even if I hand the codec to her directly. A vanilla Windows system doesn't play ogg. Hardware mp3 players usually don't. People tend to be xenophobic and unless there's a real edge to using ogg I don't think many people will switch. What the edge may be is a better quality using fewer bits, but most people won't hear the difference anyway. It's not like Firefox that hit the spot of frustrated IE users or something... sadly.

(Reminds me of something similar I wrote about a while ago: I think flash sucks too. To wrap it up: I think it is a very bad idea to offer online content in a format that is controlled by one single company. Oh, and please don't mind the quite emotional way I wrote that...)

On the other hand, what Nanne says can actually be a good thing. Many people think open source is cool because of Firefox, perhaps that's something to think about when doing persuasive talk...

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At 3:22 PM, Blogger Georg Muntingh said...

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At 10:26 PM, Anonymous Nanne said...

congrats met je eerste spamthingy!
wil je er nog een?

bezoek nu mijn site! :P

@open formats: closed formats zijn dus niet bad(tm) an sich, maar kunnen makkelijker bad(tm) zijn op meta niveau. los van hoe goed ze zijn in performen..rite?

At 4:10 AM, Blogger Steve Westphal said...

What a good blog. You should check this out. mp3 and free and download


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