May 1, 2002 4:40 PM PDT

Winamp glitch may benefit open source

A recently disclosed vulnerability in an old version of the popular Winamp media player could provide a boost for the royalty-free alternative to the MP3 format known as Ogg Vorbis.

AOL Time Warner's Nullsoft subsidiary has been encouraging people using its Winamp 2.79 player to upgrade to a new version as a fix for a security vulnerability discovered Friday. The new Winamp 2.80, released last week, is the first version of the player to include support for Ogg Vorbis.

Although the vulnerability is a setback for Nullsoft, it could help the team of programmers behind the Ogg Vorbis format. The group has been attempting to convince a crowd of online music fans to make Ogg Vorbis their format of choice instead of MP3 or other proprietary formats such as Microsoft's Windows Media. While MP3 is the best-known and most popular online music format, developers must pay royalty fees to patent holder the Fraunhofer Institute to include support for the technology in their products.

Emmett Plant, chief executive of the Philadelphia-based Xiph.org Foundation, a nonprofit that serves as a parent for open-source development efforts, said the Ogg Vorbis group was sorry to hear about Winamp's security vulnerability. However, he said if somebody gains access to the group's codec by way of an upgrade that happened because of a security vulnerability, "that's OK with us."

"This wouldn't be the first time in the universe that someone used an open-source solution in response to a security vulnerability," Plant said.

A Nullsoft representative was not immediately available for comment.

The group applauded the support for Ogg Vorbis in the new version of Winamp, saying it makes it easier for people to choose the kind of files they want to use when they're listening to music.

People can choose between full, standard and light versions of Winamp, all free services that do not include ads. Winamp Full includes support for MP3 audio, Shoutcast radio, Windows Media Audio, skins and plug-ins, and a Winamp visualization studio. The Standard version includes all those features except Windows Media Audio support; Winamp Lite also does not include the visualization studio.

"Having Ogg Vorbis work with the new version of Winamp out of the box is a tremendous boon because Ogg Vorbis is a patent-free and royalty-free codec, and that just puts that power directly in the hands of the user instead of having them jump through hoops to find something that will play Ogg Vorbis," Plant said.

 

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