Interview: VideoLAN President Jean-Baptiste Kempf Talks to Us about the Win8 VLC App

VideoLAN President and VLC developer Jean-Baptiste Kempf, based in Paris, France, graciously agreed to talk to us about the recent release of the Windows 8 VLC application.  It has been a long journey for VideoLAN which originally started a KickStarter for the Win8 VLC project in late November of 2012.  Lately Mr. Kempf has been spearheading efforts to get VLC on mobile platforms such as iOS, Android, and even Windows Phone.  We had a very open and honest conservation about the WinRT development platform and the future of VLC.

1) Why did VideoLan feel it was important to make a WinRT VLC application for Windows 8/8.1? 

Well, VLC needs to be everywhere on all platforms.  Windows RT and Windows Phone are new platforms, and we need to support them.  Moreover, we never know how the platform will extend, so it is a good idea to try to reach all of them.

2) Did you hire new developers specifically for this project or re-use talent within the organization?  Did any developers donate their time to help with this project?

VideoLAN is a non-profit organization with no employees.  Most people work on their free time.  I have now a small consulting company to help the VLC community.  I spend a lot of time coding but also doing project management and all the boring non-coding things around VLC.

For this project, I hired some VLC developers and some other developers to work on it.  Some developers did it on their free time, but that was very rare, except me.

3) If we look at trends many consumers are streaming a lot of their content rather than playing local or physical media.  Do you think VLC will be as popular and widely used in the future let us say in the year 2025?

I hope for us that VLC will not be that popular in 2025 🙂 If it is, it means that the video world is still completely broken and complex.  VLC technologies should be there, but maybe less visible 🙂

4) The ports of VLC in iOS and Android seemed to be much quicker/easier than the port of VLC
for WinRT.

1.       First, is this true or a misperception?

2.       If true, why was it easier to get apps on the iOS and Android platforms?

3.       Can you compare and contrast some of the advantages/disadvantages on creating apps on iOS and Android compared to the WinRT platform? 

Well, this is very true.  The reason is the technical difficulties.

iOS port was probably the easiest, because it is quite close to the Mac OS APIs.  Android port was a bit long to start, but we got it nevertheless.  However, it is still a beta, after 2 years, since it is still not as good as we want it.  I have invested a lot of time on this part lately.

The WinRT development is very hard to do, notably on the low-level side.  There are no proper threads, there are no BSD sockets, there is no fopen, every opening of files or stream needs to be Async, and you cannot open a file without user interactions.

In other words, WinRT is different from every other platform, and not always for a good reason, but sometimes just for a broken ideology.

I think that is not a good idea for this platform, since developers may just skip it.

From a user point of view, this is very different, because then the platform looks very nice.

We spend a lot of time bridging the differences between WinRT and Win32 and this will help us in the future of having a close codebase.

5) If we look at the original Kickstarter project the timeline it seems that the hope was to finish this project in a much faster timeframe.  When did you realize this project was off schedule and how did you deal with this setback? 

Well, after a couple of month, we had just started to scratch the surface, so we knew this was going to be long.  When the money was gone, it made the progress very slow, but I have spent quite a bit of time on it, to get closer to a release.

6)  Will VLC always be free and open source software and why?

1.       Have you ever considered any business model other than donations, such as optional ads? 

Yes, VLC will always be free and open source.  Because that is what is morally right.  It is important; so that you know, you are not being spied on, or cheated on by your software.

We thought of many models, but so far, none of them was very good. We could get some paid “Support VLC” versions on the app store, though, with features parity, since it would be like donations.  Ads are much worse than the rest, because it tracks the users even more.

7) How much time until the desktop version and metro version of the app have feature parity?

I do not have a crystal ball, but I really doubt that Metro version will have features parity with the Desktop app.  But then again, maybe people do not need all those features.

8) Given the low sales of the Surface RT and Surface 2 why was the decision made to bring VLC to Windows RT first and Windows Phone second?

Because the issue with Windows Phone and Windows RT is the same for VLC: compiling VLC for ARM.  Once this is fixed, the Windows RT version can be out, the next day.  To have Windows Phone, you need this AND a new UI.

Therefore, for us, Windows RT version is a requirement of Windows Phone version.

9) Can we expect support for DLNA?  Will the metro app support Blu-Ray in the future?  What are the challenges in adding hardware acceleration support?

We have DLNA already; Blu-Ray will probably never come, because of DRM restrictions on the store.  Hardware acceleration needs a completely new decoding pipeline, but we will do it.

10)   In Kickstarter updates you blogged about having challenges with Symbols.  Many symbols are forbidden in metro applications.  First, could explain what symbols are, second why some symbols forbidden in metro mode and third why was it so challenging to remove them?

A symbol is a call to a Windows API.  WinRT only allows a very limited of those APIs to get on the store, because Microsoft decided so.  Sometimes, it makes sense, sometimes it is just very stupid, and was decided by managers for ideological reasons.  Every time you have one symbol, you need to find a work-around, emulate the API, recode the feature, or just plainly remove it.

11)  You stated in your release notes that the application is less stable on Windows 8.0 than compared Windows 8.1, why is this?

No, I said that an application designed for Windows 8.0 is less stable than one on 8.1.  First, many WinRT APIs are just plainly buggy on Windows 8.0.  Then, numerous XAML controls are missing or crashing in weird cases, and finally, MSVCRT 12.0 is much more stable.

12)   The design of the VLC metro app is quite impressive.  Some have commented that there are some similarities with the old Zune software; was this an inspiration for the design?

Yes, we like the old Zune a lot.

13)   Could you share with us any statistics about download numbers you after releasing the app?

I do not have any yet, but I do not really care about the numbers.  We had to release it, no matter what. (VideoLAN’s twitter account later revealed 38,000 downloads)

14)   What was your experience like submitting the app to the Windows 8 store?  You blogged having the app rejected many times.

The Windows 8 Store administration panel is horrible and soooo broken.  To give you an idea: a corporate account can have only one user.

15) The WinRT VLC app was partially developed in a way that is not officially recommended by Microsoft.  Wouldn’t it have been easier to rewrite a new application from scratch?

I think you do not realize that VLC is 10 million lines of code.  It is not possible to rewrite it.

Neowin also chatted with Mr. Kempf, see their interview here.

Please also visit Jean-Baptiste Kempf’s Blog (Image Credit: JBK)

We would like to congratulate VideoLAN on their release of the VLC Metro app and thank Mr. Kempf for answering our questions.