The Controversial History of Xvid

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The video codec library known as Xvid has a controversial history. For those of you who didn’t know, Xvid in actuality is DivX backwards. A primary competitor of DivX Pro Codec, Xvid tends to win often because it is a free program, which falls under distribution terms set by GNU General Public License. And let's face it—when most of us type in a search engine term, we often type in the word "free" first. Unlike the DivX codec, which only provides capabilities to a few operating system platforms, Xvid can be used across all operating systems and platforms. Take that, DivX!

Xvid have had to overcome hurdle after hurdle of controversial issues to be the success they are today. From patent problems to copyright issues, to fighting the continuous battle of Free vs. Paid Software on the internet. Despite a minefield of complications, Xvid is now stronger than ever.

How the Controversy Began

DivX began as a program created to be open source with the intention of remaining an open source, free program permanently. The controversy started when programmers at DivX decided their codec should come at a price. It agitated other members of the team, who had dedicated time to what they believed would be an open source program, so they threw in their mouse pads and stormed out. Were the programmers at DivX prepared for rogue coders to run off and make a better program? Probably not.

Those who felt DivX had made a bad choice by charging for their program began their own team, planned to create a similar program that would remain free forever, and showed their support for the free software movement. This modern day Robin Hood story has the power to warm the heart of any genuine geek, gamer, coder, nerd, or programmer.

The Controversy Continues for Xvid.

When Sigma Designs released their own MPEG-4 codec in 2002, those who were testing it discovered it seemed to have noticeably large amounts of Xvid's coding. A representative was contacted, and shared that Sigma Designs had in fact based their program on Xvid, but also assured them that all of the GPL code would be substituted with fresh code to avoid causing copyright issues.

However, when Sigma Designs released their final version, the Xvid coders immediately dissected it and determined that not only did it still contain much of the Xvid code, but that their code had been feebly disguised to hide its presence. Xvid developers demanded that Sigma respect the terms of the GPL, and by August of 2002, Sigma Designs released their source code to the public.

Geographical Patent Issues

Xvid does use patented technology, including those of MPEG-4, Part 2. This caused previous versions of Xvid to be refused licenses where those software patents were observed. Later versions GNU v. 2 license include no specific geographical limitations, but may still be subject to the restrictions of local laws.

Seems kind of wild when you consider that a bunch of truly genuine guys and gals would fight so hard to make sure that not only does their software remain free for the masses, but also that it is accessible to anyone, anywhere on the globe, so long as they have an internet connection to download the program.

Due to these very concerns over patent issues, the Xvid site will not supply the binary versions of their codec, but they do link to other sites that supply codecs for Video for Windows, as well as Windows DirectShow, filters for decoding. Well, if that isn't a virtual "Take that!" I'm not quite sure what is. Seriously, who doesn't like to see the good guys win?

Free Software vs. Paid Software

Those who advocate for free software do so for a very good reason. They state that all software should be available to any user without the restrictions that arise when it comes at a price. Even the Internet needs freedom fighters.

The freedom fighters would see the desire to charge for software as a decision to focus on keeping down those without resources. Restricting communal access to all forms of software is seen as a controlling maneuver which promotes restriction on tools that should be available to any who want to use them.

This is not limited to software only, but also ongoing work with the GNU Project. Their aim is to provide a complete operating system which is licensed as free, open source software. Surely, we are all looking forward to complaining about every rendition of open source OS, too.

Of course, the flip side is also understandable. Having the man power to create this type of software isn’t cheap. Someone has to pay creators, and it seems acceptable that because of that, the software they create should come at a price. It is a business old as time; providing a product or service for a fee.


Oddly, for most users, whether they choose DivX or Xvid, their arguments over which product is better are rarely about the price, or the controversy; more often, they are focused on capabilities and ease of use. Overall, most users find themselves leaning hard towards Xvid for its cross-platform capabilities, reliability, history of hasty bug fixes, and codec updates that keep users up and running.







Comments (4)Add Comment
It's not about price, but Freedom
written by markit, September 26, 2011
Is not an issue between free (no cost) and paid software, but software that puts the user in control (Free, Libre) and the one that controls the user. This is especially true on the multimedia field, where DRM and patented codecs want to OWN also YOUR content, the one you produce with your (patented) software in your camcoder (MPEG consortium "pirates", affirm that the video you produce is subject to their condition too).
So first thing to do is ABOLISH SOFTWARE PATENTS, that prevent people from create the sw they want, and also produce program with Libre code that can play the content format they decided and imposed to the market. Remember, SW patents are evil, and kill innovation and competition, not only freedom.
Totally missed out on
written by TGM, September 26, 2011
the OpenDivX project which became DivX 4.
"Free Software" not about price, but rather freedom
written by Sum Yung Gai, September 27, 2011
Yes, we do like to see the "good guys" win, but there is an issue with the description of "free software". That issue is that it has anything to do with money. It doesn't.

Years ago, shortly after Richard Stallman wrote Emacs, he needed a way to make an income. His method was to sell tapes with Emacs on it for $150 (this was before the Internet was as widespread as it had become by the 1990's). Those tapes, of course, included full source code per the GPL, and he sold plenty of 'em. This enabled him to continue development of more GPL'd software. He also worked as a consultant on software that he wrote and made money from support gigs.

Today, Red Hat uses the same model. Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is Free Software. The source code is published on the Internet, hence several clones, e. g. CentOS. You don't have to buy Red Hat's set of binaries + support contract. But people do, because they like the support that RH gives 'em. Red Hat Directory Server (formerly Netscape Directory Server, and now GPL'd) runs on many distros, including Debian and Slackware. You can pay for it and support for it, or you can compile the source code and support it yourself; it's your choice. And you can hack on it to make it better and share those (hopefully!) improvements.

You see? It has nothing to do with price. It has *EVERYTHING* to do with *FREEDOM*.

missing the real history
written by the Goat, September 29, 2011
DivX ;-) was not started as an open source project at all. DivX ;-) was original a hacked version of microsoft's proprietary mpeg-4 codec for windows media video (WMV).

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