STARTUP TO WATCH

Bringing Up Open Source, Part 2: The Consumer Side

Part 1 of this three-part series examined startup companies offering open source software solutions on the enterprise market. Part 2 focuses on consumer-oriented products.

The expansion of open source into new markets is prompting consumers to notice alternatives to traditional computing habits. Personal computing power now puts so much opportunity into the hands of consumers that previously impossible activities are possible without exposure to proprietary software. Open source projects are finding their way into full-service business offerings at cost-saving levels for consumers and enterprise alike.

Consumers can select from a growing inventory of software in a wide variety of genres. Open source is feeding afrenzy in two key areas like never before. Game-playing aficionadosare joining home entertainment fans in using more than justoff-the-shelf proprietary solutions.

Game developers themselves are relying more prominently on open sourcecomponents to drive their creations. Just as developers ofenterprise products now must decide among marketing strategies thatinclude open source models, so too do game makers and videoservice providers. Some very successful start-ups in the consumermarketplace got their businesses launched with the lower entry coststhat open source provides.

“I think consumer acceptance of open source in the gaming market willbe big. With any open source technology, there is always a niche. Aswith anything in the software realm, you are always going to have anemergence of the open source model,” Scott Testa, professor ofmarketing at Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s University, toldLinuxInsider.

In this second installment of a three-part series on open sourcestart-ups to watch, LinuxInsider spotlights three relative newcomersto the consumer sector. We spotlight independent video game makerWolfire, digital home and connected small businessenvironment developer Prodea Systems and videocollaboration platform developer Kaltura.

Unaware Users

Perhaps more consumer education will be needed to push betterawareness of open source as a viable alternative to commercialproducts. The open source movement was fostered in part by the creatorof the Linux operating system, who started out looking for a cheaperversion of Unix, noted Testa.

Some of the greatest ideas started in some of those out-of-the-wayplaces by programmers, he explained. Testa views open sourceprogrammers by nature as artists who work outside the box trying tosolve problems.

“The typical consumer doesn’t understand the strength of open source.They are so inundated with brands like Microsoft and Apple. Thatdoesn’t make them bad products. The typical consumer is almostprogrammed to turn to products from these manufacturers. There is apreconceived notion that open source is not good or is unprofessionalor is built by people who don’t know what they are doing,” Testa said.

Sometimes that perception of consumer-grade products may be true. Someopen source products do not have as good an interface or do not offerwell-defined support, he explained.

Testa is no naysayer about open source, however. As a consumer, heprobably uses more open source products than proprietary ones, hesaid.

Birth of a Game Plan

Wolfire in many ways depicts the traditional route independentsoftware makers used for years. The company was started in 2003 byDavid Rosen. A high school student at the time who had been writing codesince he was 6, David created a Web site to display his sharewarevideo game contest entries.

His twin brother, Jeff, and three friends came on board some fiveyears later to grow the company into an open source entity. The firstgame to carry the company logo was “Lugaru.” Its sequel, called”Overgrowth,” is now being nurtured through various alpha stages vividlytracked and distributed from the Web site.

“‘Lugaru’ was made in a matter of months. ‘Overgrowth’ has a professionalartist and several programmers developing the code,” Jeff Rosen,cofounder and president of Wolfire, told LinuxInsider.

Open Source Intro

The Rosen brothers made the leap from shareware game writers to opensource developers quickly out of necessity. A hardcore Mac OS 9 user,they found few games for that platform. To make it more marketable,the game had to attract a wider base of players.

“I support open source because it’s good business. We didn’t have todo anything to get the games ported to Linux. Volunteer coders did itfor us,” Rosen said.

He turned into what he describes as a hardcore entrepreneur afterbeing involved in several other small startups. Thinking about seekingangel financiers down the road, he is concentrating now making headwaywith his “bootstrap model” for growing the businesses.

So far he has very low expenses. The only real cost for now is rent.He pays for other company needs by working out deals for futureroyalties on the company’s games and relying on community volunteers.

Joining In

“Another cool thing we do with open source is using Google Chrome forthe UI (user interface) of ‘Overgrowth.’ We contributed to itsdevelopment from within the community,” Rosen said.

Some of the functions in ‘Overgrowth’ performed by open standards are theinventory screen, a cool widgets display and the main menu.

“My ideal scenario is to finish ‘Overgrowth’ this year and enter it inthe Independent Games Festival. That will open more doors for us. Iwant to catapult from a small indie company to a national brand,”Rosen said about his plans to grow Wolfire.

He also plans to start a major open source project and will issue acall to arms for volunteers to form a support community around theproject.

Joining Forces

Open source is also gathering the attention of movie-viewing consumers.Part of the drum-beating for this growing acceptance might well be theresult of Prodea Systems and its success with the Digital Life CommandCenter platform.

The company offers an innovative approach to dealing with complexdigital home and connected small-business environments. Its videoplatform creates a foundation for a video network in the home with aCommunity Engine, which allows users to share content, experiences andapplications among peer subscribers.

Prodea Systems earlier this month announced a partnership with CinemaNow to bring premium digital entertainment to Prodea’s platform.The partnership gives the company the ability to deliver services tothe three-screen ecosystem formed by the TV, the PC and mobile devices andprovide management infrastructure for transparency into the digitalhome environment.

What It Does

Prodea’s system is based on the notion that if they build it,consumers will come. It provides users with a carrier-grade experiencein a variety of services delivered to a range of fixed appliances inthe home or automobile, as well as mobile lifestyle devices includingsmartphones, portable media players and laptops.

Part of this delivery system comes from a partnership Prodea announcedin early January with Pandora Internet Radio. The arrangement bringspersonalized music services to the Digital Life Command Center.

Pandora is a personalized Internet radio and musicdiscovery service available anytime and anywhere on the PC, in thehome, and on mobile devices via partnerships with AT&T, Apple andSprint. Pandora’s service is based on the Music Genome Project begun in 2000. Each song in this massivecollection is analyzed by more than 30 trained musicians and assessedagainst nearly 400 distinct musical attributes such as melody, harmonyand rhythm to capture its unique musical identity.

Using this information to build playlists based on musical similarity,listeners can simply enter a favorite song or artist and instantlylaunch a personalized listening experience, which includes discovery ofnew bands, artists and songs.

Another Delivery Approach

Kaltura offers one of the first open source platforms for videocreation, management, interaction and collaboration. The companypublicly launched in September 2007.

Kaltura’s open source platform enables any site to seamlessly andcost–effectively integrate advanced interactive rich-mediafunctionalities, including video searching, uploading, importing,editing, annotating, remixing and sharing.

The company inked a partnership recently with the WikimediaFoundation. This expanded Kaltura’s reach to Wikipedia’s 207 millionvisitors. Other customers integrating the platform include mediacompanies, social networks, UGC sites, video sharing sites, majorbrands, non-profits, bloggers and enterprises.

How It Works

Much like a meshing of the Wiki technology with YouTube concept,Kaltura’s approach includes collaboration features that allow users tocreate and consume rich media together. It adds a social element tothe online video experience and creates enhanced monetization andadvertising opportunities for authors and publishers.

The company’s network gathers content from its member sites into arepository of sharable and remixable rich-media content. Publishersbig and small can use the network for new syndication opportunitiesand gain access to third-party Web services that include DVD burning,professional video editing and advertising opportunities.

Kaltura’s video platform is based on a modular combination ofcustomizable building blocks called “Kaltura Widgets.” These Widgets canbe customized, skinned and combined using simple workflows to formKaltura applications.

Bringing Up Open Source, Part 1: Enterprise Edition

Bringing Up Open Source, Part 3: The Mobile Movement

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