To say that things have turned around dramatically over the last six years would be putting it mildly. These days, some of the applications that come with GNU/Linux distributions for handling media are far superior to those on other platforms.
The applications are generally marked by one characteristic - they appear very simple, but in terms of what they can do, they are very powerful.
A classic case is the program DeVeDe. It can be used to create DVDs or CDs suitable for home players, from any number of media files. The author (pic below), Sergio Costas Rodriguez, who hails from Vigo in Spain, goes by the name Raster.
"When I was 18, I started to use the old Fidonet BBS network, and everybody had an alias. At that time I was also investigating 3D graphics, and had an article about the history of graphical devices, which talked about 'vectorial' v.s. 'raster scan' devices. I liked the word 'raster', so I took it as my alias," he told iTWire in an interview.
DeVeDe processes video files which are loaded and then creates an ISO image which can be burnt to a DVD or CD; this will work on any home DVD player. DeVeDe handles every format supported by FFmpeg (or Mencoder), because it uses them as backends to do the conversion. This includes avi, mp4, mkv and many more.
He says that in the case of DeVeDe, "I wrote it due to my mother and a famous Spanish chef called Karlos Arguiñano: this chef had a TV program where he explained his recipes.
"He is a showman, and my mother loves him. One of my sisters and I wanted to give her a collection of DVDs with the best recipes published in the program.
"Unfortunately, the program's producer never launched a DVD recompilation; it doesn't exist, so we decided to do it ourselves. And there came the big problem: all the tools to do that with Linux were for command line, there was no GUI utility to easily author a video DVD. So I decided to write it, in order to simplify the work of creating that present."
The road Raster took to programming also sounds familiar. "I always loved electricity and electronics, and when (I was a) child I enjoyed making things with lights, motors and electromagnets," he said.
"Then, when I was 9, my grandfather bought a Sinclair Spectrum for my brother, and it was love at first sight. It was like magic when my brother typed some commands and the screen changed slowly its colour, or text moved across the old TV set.
"I took the manual and started to use it in secret, when my brother was outside, writing my first programs in BASIC. I suppose that the risk of being discovered made it even more exciting and fun. Four years later, my brother bough a Sinclair QL and I inherited the Spectrum, so I was able to use it more freely. At that point I was quite good with BASIC, so I started to learn Assembler to exploit to the limit that old microcomputer and see what was it able to do. It was pure fun."
His interest in Linux was kindled by a friend at university who gave a talk about Slackware GNU/Linux.
"It was 1994, or maybe 1995. He explained that it was free, and was being distributed that month in a magazine, so it was easy to obtain. At that time I was using OS/2, because DOS and Windows 3.11 were quite underpowered, but I decided to give it a try.
"When I started to play with it I got surprised, because Linux offered to me a powerful and stable operating system, much like OS/2, but it also had the big advantage of being free: I could modify it, adapt it to my needs. If something did not work, I could fix it... It was something really new for me, and really exciting.
"It came with free development tools, in contrast to Windows or OS/2, where you have to pay for them; for an amateur programmer, it was much like heaven. So, slowly, I started to learn how to use it and to migrate all my system, and finally, in 1999, I deleted the OS/2 partition."
Raster said the very first version of DeVeDe took about two or three weeks, but it was very simple. He released it on January 14, 2006.
"I also made some refactoring work at several stages to be able to keep it growing. This was a must because some people was sending patches to me to add some new options, like Peter Gill, who made it work with Windows. I usually work alone, but accept patches from other people."
He says all the programs he writes in his spare time are distributed mainly under the GPL licence (originally, version 2; now version 3). "The reason is because I think it's a licence which gives a good balance of rights and responsibilities to the receiver of the code, allowing other people to enhance the programs, but not to take control of them. I think that collaborative work always gives better results than reinventing the wheel over and over again."
Though he has always done it as a hobby, "obviously they helped because thanks to them I practised several techniques and skills that I needed, and learned a lot of things that were useful later. They also helped me to find a job (or so says my boss). "
Asked if he had ever considered making his programs proprietary and selling them, Raster modestly replied: "No, I don't think so. My programs are quite small, I don't think people would pay for them. Also, doing that would add pressure to this (you know: if people pays, they have right to demand things). For me, this is a hobby."
He said that he currently had no new ideas in mind, only bugfixes and little new capabilities for the current ones (mainly DeVeDe and Cronopete, the latter a clone of Apple's Time Machine for Linux). "But if tomorrow I find myself with an unresolved problem, probably I'll create a new program to solve it."
Raster currently uses Ubuntu, "mainly to use the same distribution as the majority of my users. Unfortunately, recently Canonical has been doing some things that I dislike (mainly the Unity desktop, the bloated daemons, and removing the word 'Linux' in everything), so now I'm evaluating to return to Debian, or use another Debian-based distribution like Aptosid."