In the past Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales has been quite vocal about using exclusively free and open codecs for Wikipedia. One would think that this extends to media storage and broadcast as well: The previous Wikimania was broadcast online in Ogg Theora+Vorbis (a free and open video and audio codec playable on all platforms through a variety of players including VideoLAN Client, Totem, Helix Player, mplayer, and Xine). The recordings were archived in this format as well. One could play these files without bumping into patent encumberances or using proprietary software.
Not so today; apparently, Wikimania ’06 will be broadcast exclusively in RealMedia. RealMedia is a proprietary format one must use proprietary software to play. This encourages users to give up their software freedom—the freedom to run, share, and modify their software for any purpose at any time. Regardless of which front-end one uses (mplayer, “Real Alternative”, etc.) one cannot escape installing and running proprietary software to see this conference.
For Wikimania, sharing ideas about FLOSS requires using proprietary software. This might not be a big deal for the Open Source movement which isn’t very critical of proprietary software, but for the Free Software movement which eschews non-free software, this is remarkable.
What happened in the intervening year? Is Wikipedia giving up on using exclusively free and open codecs and formats?
Update 2006-09-11: No, Wikimania isn’t entirely giving up on free formats and codecs, they’re just treating freedom as a second-class citizen; an option to consider when a proprietary and/or patent-encumbered file isn’t available first.
Check out the Wikimania 2006 archives now and you’ll see a clear majority of the audio in MP3 format and video in some proprietary codec with a QuickTime wrapper. Ogg Vorbis audio and Ogg Vorbis+Theora audio+video files are few and far between. Jimbo’s essay (above) would give you the idea that Wikipedia would either focus exclusively on free codecs, formats, and files, or possibly offer proprietary and encumbered files as an alternative only where a free version existed.