Open source DS software starting to bubble up

July 21, 2009 by Dave Haynes

I’ve written a few times about so-called free DS software and how these offers tend to be free with limitations or free with things like nag notes or ads. There are a few of them out there, and in some respects they are more aptly called freemium products.

I’ve been curious, for a long time, about when truly free open source software would start dribbling on to the DS marketplace. I describe them as truly free because there would be no upsell, but I totally agree with the sentiment that open source software is not free when you consider a skilled IT-type has to be put against the project to make it work and keep it running.

There are at least a couple of projects around, Concerto and Xibo.


The newer, and probably more interesting of the two, is Concerto — interesting because it comes out of one of the better known and respected engineering schools in the US, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The project is the work of a skunkworks tech group associated with RPI’s Student Union, and has been in development for more than a year. I don’t test software so I can’t tell you whether the platform is brilliant or a slug, but the 10 or so guys behind it have invested the time to give it a polished, friendly user experience and provide a lot of the documentation required to make the thing run.<

It only runs still images, not video or Flash, but does include support for RSS feeds. The target user base is other university campuses and institutions.

Users will need a server running mySQL and PHP to make this go (meaning, as noted earlier, you need a propeller-head).

The other platform I have come across actually does more but doesn’t present itself anywhere near as nicely. Called Xibo, it is a UK-based project that appears to support most media formats, including video and SWFs, and has things like a browser UI and muilti-zone support.

It DEFINITELY has the “propellerhead-needed” look about it, but for a company that has technical people on staff and looking to put together a basic project, this might interest them.

I doubt any of this stuff would cause the heads of real software companies to toss and turn, except maybe those that are going after the bottom end of the market (and why?). But there are all kinds of schools and libraries and government departments with IT staff who might take this on just to try it, and to prove they don’t need to pay someone when they can do it themselves.

I saw a post the other day on the John Ryan blog about a library using a Nintendo Wii channel as its DS platform. I know guys who were looking at the Xbox as a great DS engine.

If you are a media-focused startup company or private network operator with limited or no real IT resources, don’t even think about going down this path. Same holds, probabl;y, if your network will have any real scale. There are commercial solutions, usually hosted, that will give you a very reasonable cost and provide real support.

This stuff is really much more about non-commercial efforts, where the IT guys get some time to play in the sandbox. To their credit, the Concerto guys have set up a pretty tidy little box already.  


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