Originally Published: Sunday, 2 April 2000 Author: Nico Lumma
Published to: interact_articles_jobs_profiles/Job Profiles Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

Free Software and Free TV

Martin Springer is one of the founders of convergence integrated media, a German start-up that develops software for digital tv and broadband internet.

Martin Springer is one of the founders of convergence integrated media, a German start-up that develops software for digital TV and broadband internet. Among the many products convergence currently works on, the software for DVD and DVB decoder cards and the Linux-based set-top box certainly stand out. At this year's CeBIT, their demo-point was crowded with people gasping at the big tv screens that were powered by software running on Linux. All the software development is open source, except for their DVD-navigator due to license restraints.

Martin has a wide range of responsibilities at the company including "project management, corporate strategy and making tea for my employees". Since all of convergence's products are Linux-based, it is no surprise that Linux is used everywhere in the company, from desktop to server. As Martin explains: "We installed Linux on our machines and started coding right away. We never considered using another operating system." Convergence uses Linux primarily because of the short development cycles, its robustness and the open source licensing. Martin usually starts work at 11 am and stays until 8 pm. During the course of a day, he spends most of his time talking to employees, writing papers and dealing with email and news. Asked about the work atmosphere at convergence, Martin replies: "I don't know how to define work atmosphere. In our company people can come and go when they want as long as they do their job. The work atmosphere our company provides is therefore the atmosphere the employees bring in."

When asked about convergence's corporate philosophy, Martin reponds: "Our corporate philosophy can best be summarized like this: 'Stop bs'ing!' By that I mean, people should stop writing proprietary software for windows, because they kill themselves by doing so." Martin sees a big threat in the industry's big players trying to gain control of the consumer devices, in their specific case it's digital TV set-top box. Martin goes on: "In order to control the value chain from content to consumer, companies who mainly produce content are looking for alliences, for example with service providers, network providers and device manufacturers. This is exactly what happened with the AOL/TimeWarner merger. A lot of viewers will be fooled by simply telling them: this is the new magic box and a wonderful world of digital TV will jump out of it."

Convergence would prefer if the viewers keep control of their TV set, not only because of privacy issues. "Control means access to the source code of the set-top box' operating system - that's why we need Linux! With Linux, the viewers are in control of what they want to watch. The big question remains: will TV become as free as the internet or will the content be heavily censored by the industry? Will TV turn into a number of portal sites that are controlled by the industry? That would be a step back from the TV I know," Martin says.

Convergence also wants to enable the viewer to become a TV producer. "If you have a standard PC running Linux and our technology, you will soon be able to produce your own content. Linuxtv makes it possible to become your own broadcaster." Martin compares this to MP3 and the music industry: "MPEG2 is MP3 for your eyes!"

"Imagine a world with Linuxtv viewers and broadcasters and you can see what I am talking about: TV by all for all. Homevideo Channels for 1000 viewers. Why not?"

Martin sums it all up: "Convergence is about independence. In a convergence world devices are independent of services and of networks."

"I like going to work every morning because I feel we are doing something good for the world. We all have to rely more and more on digital communication and who controls the technology has a lot of power. With Linux we put the viewers back in charge. This allows for free and open TV, not a government or Microsoft controlled TV."

As far as coding projects go, Martin works on a Linux set-top box, a Linux based digital TV server, Multicast and also on open source cryptography. He enjoys writing code and talking to people, which he considers the best part of his job. Although Martin likes his job a lot, there are some aspects he doesn't like that much, for example "talking to boring people who are interested in our products but have no idea of the technology. This will change when we have a marketing guy."

Before founding convergence, Martin received a master in Physics and Philosophy, a combination he finds well suited for his job. While being at university, Martin worked on VAXen and programmed in Fortran. When he left university, he had to work with Windows PCs and from the start he had the feeling that those PCs were lacking something, but he didn't know what: "I was able to use the computer, but I couldn't make him do exactly what I wanted." Martin started using Linux sometime around 1994 and first installed it on his Laptop. He immediately knew what he had been missing: the command line interface. "The command line interface allows a much closer interaction with the computer than any colorful desktop-metaphor will ever do."

If you want to find out more about what Martin does, check out linuxtv.org for info about open source digital TV development.