From Slashdot this morning comes news that Real Networks has completed an agreement with Red Hat and Novell in order to expand their Linux presence. Real will license their Helix Player under the GPL, and Red Hat and Novell will include the Linux version of Real Player 10 in the enterprise versions of their software.

At first glance, this would seem like a good event for Linux; multimedia support is one of the areas where Linux is at a disadvantage versus other operating systems. Some insight comes from Slashdot user kforeman, also known as Kevin Foreman, General Manager of Helix. An regular submitter of Real-related stories to Slashdot (and a regular commenter to the various inquiries and flames that follow), he responds to questions about the fact that the RealAudio and RealVideo codecs are not going to be licensed under the GPL.

Guys, there are two important messages/audiences here: developers and users.

1) Developers are looking for a standard GPL'd AV framework to built their applications. By adding the GPL to our Helix Player and with Red Hat, Novell, Sun and Turbolinux's support, we hope to catalyze the linux desktop industry to bring our better and faster time to market AV-based applications. We want to avoid a KDE/GNOME fracturing of the industry.

2) Users get the best of both worlds. Besides the 100% GPL'd Helix Player (which plays Vorbis and Theora), the distros will ship a no-cost upgrade the RealPlayer 10 for Linux. The RealPlayer includes the non-open sourced component of MP3, Flash, RealAudio 10 and RealVideo 10.

As Deusy notes in a reply, this allows Real to expand into the Linux desktop with little benefit to actual Linux developers & users. There are a plethora of media players for Linux, and many of them are able to run RealMedia files. Despite their claim of preventing a "fracturing" by KDE or Gnome, it is obvious that they seek to prevent the dominant media player on Linux-based platforms. KDE and Gnome are both "window managers," which makes them similar to Explorer (the entire graphical system, not just the filemanager) in Windows. While they come with default media players, there are external players (like mplayer, xine, and VLC) that do a much better job. Alas, they do not have deals with Linux enterprise companies.

It is not surprising that many people are skeptical of Real Network's intentions. Besides their lack of integrity regarding their free player and user privacy with their Windows client, they treated their player for "Unix" for many years like a red-headed stepchild.

Luckily for Real, their management realized a few years ago that being hated by the public was not a good way to make money. Thus began an attempt to get back in the good graces of the computing community; a struggle that used to be confined to Windows.

I have tried to make the above relatively clear even if one is not familiar with Linux or the "Codec Wars." If anyone wants more clarification, feel free to comment.