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Software

Why I Like: Democracy Player

Pixels for the people as open source meets freedom fighters in a battle to keep video free on the Internet

Internet TV is here, and what a mess it is. Players, formats, sites, feeds -- people talk about an explosion in online video. It certainly looks like one.

Which is one reason why Democracy Player is such a good idea. It's based on VLC media player, but with some crucial additions. By adding a smart file manager and an RSS feed reader, bolting on an open-programme guide, and wiring up BitTorrent, it converts the online video experience to something much more like ordinary TV through a personal video recorder. What's more, you can get the tools to broadcast your own videos. It all looks great, too.

Another reason why I like it is the people behind the player -- the rather spookily named but golden-hearted Participatory Culture Foundation, an American group of hacktivists. They're committed to keeping Net TV out of the hands of the big corporations by building easy-to-use, free, open-source software that does everything that Man does -- but better. They're happy for you to use what you like how you like; they're happier if you make a donation, but are happiest if you get involved.

Back at the player, installation is quick and sane -- you get to pick the file types you want it to handle and off it goes. You can browse available videos by stream or from the programme guide, and as you pick ones you like, it starts downloading them in the background. On a decent broadband connection, this doesn't take long -- usually, by the time you've finished watching the first, a couple of others have arrived. It also watches your hard-disk space, retiring watched videos after a few days, unless you decide to keep them.

The software is still in beta, but works well and is good enough for daily use, although it occasionally displays a file in odd colours. The programme guide and lists of streams are also of mixed quality, with the content being the same mix of hilarious, dire, professional and amateur clips that you find all over the Web. But there's tonnes to watch and as more people get going, the quality of the streams can only improve -- a process aided by the PCF's Video Bomb Web site, which helps you find the good stuff.

So why are you still reading this? Get out there and get democratic: you have nothing to lose but your DRM. -Rupert Goodwins