Happy GPL Birthday VLC!

The ever-popular VLC turned 15 a few days ago--that's 15 years since the project was GPLed and released to the world. If we were pedants, we might point out that the project actually came into existence in 1996, but that was a different lifetime.

VLC originally was a very different application. For one thing, it was a closed-source project, and its original purpose was to stream videos from a satellite receiver to a computer science lab.

With that background in mind, the name makes sense (VLC stands for Video LAN Client). The VLC player was truly a "client" in those days, and there was a separate server component.

Many users have wondered why the project's logo is a traffic cone. Surely there must be some deep significance. But actually, there isn't. The cone was chosen merely because the students who developed VLC used to collect traffic cones--such fun.

VLC has changed a lot since its inception. Today, it's a fully fledged media player with server capabilities. Power users can use it as a media server. You even can stream video from a DVD onto a remote Android phone with a little networking magic.

VLC is one of the most popular media players on any platform. With more than two billion downloads, there are hundreds of millions of users. It's available on most platforms, from Windows to Linux, Mac to Android. There are more than 700 contributors today, with more than 70,000 commits. The project has grown into a major undertaking from its humble beginnings.

So why is it so popular? After all, there are plenty of media players on the market, both free and proprietary. What makes VLC stand out?

For one thing, VLC supports a lot of different video formats. Thanks to its modular architecture, it's relatively easy for contributors to extend the range of supported formats without hacking at the core code. Right now, there are more than 380 modules. This means if you can't play a video with another player, VLC probably can handle it.

VLC also offers fancy features that you usually wouldn't expect with a media player. For instance, you can record or stream your desktop, which is very useful if you're recording tutorials.

VLC also can download videos from streaming sources, including popular video hosting sites. That's not to advocate illegal video piracy, but there are plenty of legitimate uses for downloading videos for off-line viewing.

VLC is a great DVD player, and it can bypass region encoding with some DVD drives. But, some DVD drives enforce regional encoding at the chip level, so there's little that VLC can do about that.

Although cosmetics aren't everything, VLC has a pleasing and skin-able interface. All told, VLC is a great example of free software and is a vital component of many modern distros. So please join me in wishing the VLC project a happy birthday and many more to come!