Is there any multimedia software that Linux users love to hate more than RealPlayer? RealPlayer's bad interface, proprietary and poor-sounding codecs, and overall poor support for Linux have irked many a Penguinista.
Is there any multimedia software that Linux users love to hate more than RealPlayer? RealPlayer’s bad interface, proprietary and poor-sounding codecs, and overall poor support for Linux have irked many a Penguinista.
But in an effort to appease and appeal to the growing horde of Linux users, Real open sourced its server software in 2002, followed by its client software, RealPlayer. Today, after several years of work by developers, Real’s open source code — provided under the umbrella of Real’s Helix DNA platform — has actually turned into a nice piece of software, and is now available for adventuresome users to play with. Be aware, though, that the software is still in beta. The code isn’t supposed to “go gold” until later this summer, so you may experience problems. You know the drill: download early and often, and file bugs to help make it better.
Figure One: Godzilla? Mozilla? No, just RealVideo
To download the software, go to https://player.helixcommunity.org/2004/unix. Confusingly, once you get there, you’ll find you can download either Helix Player or RealPlayer. What’s the difference? Helix Player is all open source: its license is open source and it plays open source formats, such as OGG. RealPlayer, on the other hand, adds non-open source components to Helix Player, such as RealAudio, RealVideo, and MP3.
Let’s focus on RealPlayer, since it offers more features. (By the way, you can keep your current version of RealPlayer and install the new Helix-based RealPlayer on the same machine.)
To get started, head over to https://player.helixcommunity.org/2004/unix and select “Download Info.” You can download RealPlayer in a variety of formats, including RPM, binary installer, tarball, or source.
Let’s use the installer. After downloading it, change to the download directory and make the binary executable with
In some cases, you may be warned that you don’t have certain libraries installed, but the installer may be incorrect. Check to make sure you have everything, but don’t necessarily worry if the installer says you don’t.
When prompted, specify where you want to place the software. /opt/RealPlayer/ or /usr/local/RealPlayer/ are good places to choose. Let the installer create system links for you.
If you use Mozilla, the installer copies the appropriate plug-in files for you, but if you use Firefox, you must copy nphelix.so and nphelix.xpt manually from the install directory (such as /opt/RealPlayer/mozilla/) to your Firefox plug-ins directory. (If you need help getting the Mozilla plug-in to work, check out Question 21 on the Helix Unix General FAQ. It contains some good advice.)
Before trying out the software, you should fix one annoyance: because of the way URLs interact with the software, RealPlayer is going to constantly try to open your web browser. To prevent this, open RealPlayer, choose “Preferences,” then the “Internet” tab, and then uncheck “Allow content to link automatically to web pages.”
Now try out your new toy. Open an OGG file on your computer and play it, and then try the same thing with an MP3. Next, test RealVideo and RealAudio. Head over to http://service.real.com/test/ and open the test clips. You can see the results in the screenshot above. You gotta love lizards.
RealPlayer and Helix Player still have a long way to go, but it’s good to know that Real’s decision to go open source has started to pay off. Now let’s hope that other companies follow Real’s lead.
Apple and the QuickTime team, are you listening?
R. Scott Granneman teaches at Washington University, consults for Bryan Consulting, and writes for Security Focus and Linux Magazine. You can reach him at email@example.com. Do you have an idea for a project we should feature? Drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.
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