Monday, May 21, 2007

Interview with MPlayer's dev's

I requested an interview from the MPlayer team, and today I got a reply mail: "We're ready!", and few hours later I was talking about their award-winning software with
  • Alex Beregszaszi - Project Maintainer

  • Diego Biurrun - Project Maintainer, Server Admin

  • Oded Shimon - General MPlayer Developer, mainly MEncoder

Me: How was MPlayer born? In case of many programs there are serious things (in most cases the lack of something) which inspire the developers. What was that for MPlayer?

Alex: As none of us was who started it, we can only share our viewpoints of this. First Arpi just hacked xmmp (x multimedia player), but later decided to write his own, based on some libraries. The real shot was FFmpeg, however. The project was started in 2000.
Diego: It was the lack of a good multimedia player for Linux, Arpi found the players at the time to be buggy, feature-lacking, or all of the above.
Oded: I'm a general developer. I have little bits in most major components
in MPlayer and MEncoder. I don't maintain many parts.

Me: What's your post at the MPlayer team?

Alex: I'm just a developer, trying to maintain it, but unfortunately I don't have enough time resources to do it fine. In the past MPlayer was maintained by Arpi, but nowadays it's just a bunch of people looking over certain areas.
Diego: I'm the server admin, and another maintainer as well.

Me: Is it hard to get all those awards? I mean, does it require hard-core marketing, or it just comes, thanks to the amazing quality of MPlayer?

Alex: It just comes with reputation and quality.
Diego: We don't do much marketing at all. We just put out releases every now and then. The rest is word of mouth, I guess. Nowadays we have a booth at LinuxTag every year, and some of us can be found at conferences. Marketing is not something we focus energy on.

Me: What do you think, how much percent of the users use the Windows, FreeBSD and other ports? As I understood, Arpi just wanted a quality video player for Linux, though today you have several ports.

Diego: Measuring the popularity of an open source program is quite hard - I have no idea which of the big three multimedia players is the most popular. We do seem to win all the awards, though ;)
Oded: I think in a very obvious way MPlayer is most popular in GNU/Linux, while VLC is most popular (of the 3) in Windows.
Alex: Yes, as I see all the awards come from Linux sites, and not from "Windows PC magazine". Long time ago Arpi "measured" popularity using the Freshmeat TOP100 page.
Oded: All I remember is when I asked about video in Linux I was told purely MPlayer.. maybe that's changed or I am wrong, that was 2 years ago.
Diego: I expect MPlayer to be more popular on the BSD derivatives than the other players because it's more command line oriented and BSD nerds tend to be more command line oriented.
Diego: The Windows port will probably get popular once we commit the Windows GUI, which should happen soon; already some people seem to use the command line version on Windows. MPlayer OS X is popular as well.

Me: What do you think about the small multimedia distros using MPlayer as their engine, like GeexBox, which is 6.3 mb?

Diego: I think it's the natural choice; MPlayer is still the smallest player. You don't need to install all the GUI overhead. I don't know if they modify the build, but if you leave out the fringe codecs I expect you can shrink the size considerably. It's been some time since I experimented with creating a minimal build. My stripped binary is 5.8MB, I think I managed to push that down to 2-4MB!
Oded: I actually played with creating a maximal build; got upto 73mb for single MPlayer binary, it was just debugging stuff, after strip it was back to 6mb.

Me: Are you in any ways affiliated with projects like GeexBox? So do they ask for exclusive supports sometimes, for example?

Diego: No. We're only affiliated with FFmpeg, since many developers are shared.
Oded: However, GeexBox did send us some patches.

Me: How about the backend? Users see just comedy, horror, and all kinds of movies.. How many developers do you have? Do you organise coding meetings, or such? What systems do you use for coding?

Oded: Mostly mailing lists. As for developers, it's extremely hard to count.
Alex: "Coding meetings" happen on LinuxTags.
Diego: We have a small group of active maintainers and many outside contributors that send in a few patches. Some of them continue contributing and after some time we make them developers with write access to the repository.

Me: Do you get money prizes with the awards? How do you pay for the hosting, etc.? Do you have sponsors?

Diego: No money with the awards. We get the hosting donated, so we have sponsors. (

Me: About versions.. You are working on 1.0pre* releases since 2003. Is it going to be something like wine, where the alpha stadium took around 10 years?

Diego: It's not alpha, what we put out are releases. And CVS is stable as well.
Alex: We have flames about the naming schemes. Some propose 1.0.9 instead of 1.0pre9, though I'm in favor of 2006.04 or 6.4.

Me: So when will 1.0 final come out (will it)?

Diego: To clarify this: our releases are not even beta, they are perfectly stable. But I suppose we will have to give in eventually and change the naming scheme to be more in line with people's expectations.
Alex: The problem is that a version of 1.0 can't be reached as new and new formats come every now and then. But the silly number still matters for users!

Me: How about version*pre*try*? Are the "try" releases stable too?

Diego: Yes, the tryX versions are the releases with just security fixes applied.
Oded: If a (serious) security exploit is found, we patch only it to the last release and re-release as 'try'.

Me: Do you offer any kinds of support? Or you let more experienced users to do that if they want?

Oded: There's an extensive man page and HTML docs which Diego insist we update with every single new feature.
Diego: We have user support mailing lists and IRC channels. We keep these separate from the development lists and channels, to keep the noise down. I personally don't follow the user lists/channel - I don't have time, so I don't know who gives support nowadays. I assume it's users helping out users.

Me: Do you support bundled editions? So those which are bundled into a distro, and might have edited code by the developers of that distro?

Diego: No. We only support self-compiled releases from latest CVS. We just don't have the manpower for anything else.
Oded: We prefer all edited code to be sent back to us.

Me: What should users expect in the upcoming releases? What'd be the most serious upgrade?
Diego: What we have in the pipe is a Windows GUI and DVD menus.

Me: What would you like to transmit to the readers of this interview?

Alex: Meet us at LinuxTag.
Diego: Try out MPlayer. Trust me, it's great! If you like it, contribute back, we always welcome more people on the team and have use for helping hands.

Me: What other projects do your developers work for?

Diego: It depends :) I think most devs have contributed odd bits of code all over the map. Probably Alex has the most diverse collection in his "portfolio". Many MPlayer developers - like we three - also work on FFmpeg.

Me: What do you think most important for the MPlayer developers coder community to remain integral?

Diego: Hmm, tricky question. More maintainers, I think.
Alex: Or just get someone to who employs one or more MPlayer devs in full time, even for just like 3 months, or so.

Me: Wouldn't you want better publicity, so more people would start using MPlayer? That inspires the developers well.

Diego: Users are great; they give you that warm and fuzzy feeling. But it really is developers that move projects forward and keep them alive. Or more maintainers to be precise.

Me: Thanks for the interview.

Diego: Thank you.
Alex: Thanks.
Oded: Thank you!