If you've ever burned or copied CDs from under a Linux distribution, chances are you've used K3b (http://www.k3b.org/). Put simply, K3b is a CD and DVD burning application. It allows creating Audio CDs, Data collection CD/DVDs, Video CDs, and Movix CD/DVDs. It can also copy CD/DVDs, rip audio tracks and transcode them into various formats like OGG or MP3, rip Video DVD titles and transcode them into formats like xvid, and do lots more. Packt Columnist, Mayank Sharma, interviews Sebastian Trueg (Maintainer and Lead Developer of K3b) to find out how K3b has survived competition and discusses the importance of the community around it.
Burn Baby Burn
If you've ever burned or copied CDs from under a Linux distribution, chances are you've used K3b (http://www.k3b.org/). Put simply, K3b is a CD and DVD burning application. It allows creating Audio CDs, Data collection CD/DVDs, Video CDs, and Movix CD/DVDs. It can also copy CD/DVDs, rip audio tracks and transcode them into various formats like OGG or MP3, rip Video DVD titles and transcode them into formats like xvid, and do lots more.
Other than being a super-cool application, K3b has all the ingredients for being the poster child of the Open Source development methodology. Several years ago, a young student installed his first Linux distribution and wondered if he could use it for everything he did in his Windows box. When he couldn't find a CD burning application, in true Open Source spirit, he decides to write one himself. Eight years on, Sebastian Trueg, encouraged by the initial response to his "fun" project, continues to spend time developing and improving it.
So, in this month's chat with Sebastian Trueg, Maintainer and Lead Developer of K3B, he explains how K3b has survived competition and improved over the years, and the importance of the community around it.
Mayank Sharma: Tell us a little about yourself. How you got started with computers in general and FLOSS in particular? What do you when not on a computer?
Sebastian Trueg: Well, when I was still quite little my father gave me my first computer. It was an x86 with a monochrome display. Back then I did nothing more than playing Prince of Persia (I was no good at it though ;) and writing table of contents for some books on Q&A (some old office application on DOS). Then came the 286 with color display, followed by a 386, and with it the first access to the Internet. On the 386, I played a lot with DOS batches and stuff. But I never did any real programming. That actually started when I came to Freiburg to start my studies in computer science (which I finally finished successfully this year).
I installed my first Linux (some SuSE version), deinstalled it, reinstalled some newer SuSE version some month later and tried if I could do all the things with it that I was used to doing under Windows. Actually there weren't many things. One of them, though, was CD burning and in particular Audio CDs directly from MP3 files. No chance of doing this on Linux back then. That was when I asked myself: why don't you do it yourself. This started my first big programming project ever: K3b.
After I released some version on SourceForge just for the fun of it, the feedback was so positive that I just kept going until... well, here we are, after nearly 8 years 1.0 is in close reach. :)
Well, so much for my computer and K3b background. What do I do when I am not in front of the display? I like to do a lot of sports. Apart from the basic stuff like running, swimming, and lifting weights, I started rock climbing at the beginning of this year. Awesome sport!! Especially since here, in the back forest, you can find lots of rocks that have been prepared for guys like me.
Then there are the other, more calm hobbies, like comics. I love comics, especially the French ones. The Germans don't like comics in general and think it's something for children. But not the French. That's one of the reasons I like France that much (that and the fact that my girlfriend and my employee are French ;)
MS: Couldn't I use K3b under the GNOME or XFce desktop environments?
ST: K3b is a kdelibs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kdelibs) based application. However, this does not mean that it cannot be used with other desktop environments like Gnome or XFce, it simply is optimized for KDE. That means it uses KDE widgets and dialogs, fonts and colors, and so on.
MS: How has K3b grown over the years?
ST: K3b 1.0 supports the ripping of Audio tracks from audio CDs with on-the-fly transcoding to various formats such as Ogg-Vorbis or MP3 supplied through plug-ins. You can also rip Video DVD titles directly to xvid. The K3b Audio project allows the conversion to each audio format supported instead of writing it to a CD. You may even use K3b as a CD player by dragging all tracks from an Audio CD to an audio project and listen to them with the preview player. But in the end the CD/DVD creation part is and will always be the most important.
MS: How does K3b stack up against other similar burner applications? Has Nero taken away a few users with NeroLinux?
ST: I honestly don't know. NeroLinux does by far not offer the comfort of Nero for Windows or K3b and under the hood it also uses a version of cdrecord. So for now NeroLinux is no real problem. In the end no Linux distributor ships Nero. Thus, people only tend to use it if k3b fails. With 1.0 I hope to get it rock stable.
MS: Are you the sole developer?
ST: Not completely. There have been some contributors over the years, but only one is still left: Christian Kvasny, who does the VideoCD project and VideoCD ripping. Apart from that, basically, all the code was written by me since most of the things other people contributed over the years have been re-implemented.
I am not completely sure why it is that K3b has so few developers. Maybe because it is hard to work with me on K3b. I am quite protective of my code and the K3b design. I think I've scared some away. ;)
MS: How important do you think is a community for an applications' success? How has K3b community helped it grow over the years?
ST: Without the backup of the community there would be no K3b. I would not have kept going for all this time without all the encouraging mails and the nice donations. The community is the only reason guys like me do this in their spare time.
MS: Any strong areas that you feel particularly proud of in K3b?
ST: Yes, there are some things about K3b I like a lot. Some are in the code (good design) and some are in the features.
For example CD Copy: K3b copies multi session and especially Enhanced Audio CDs on-the-fly. I think it was one of the first applications to do that. I am quite proud of that.
Another feature would be the audio project where you can combine several audio files into one track, cut the files, merge tracks, split tracks, and so on. Maybe not many users actually need that, but I like the idea and especially the underlying design of the project.
And while we are at it; I think not many (if any) other burning applications provide that many "Auto" modes like K3b does. It has an automatic setting for the writing mode, for the data track mode, for the multisession mode, and with K3b 1.0 the project settings will again become simpler and easier to handle by newbies.
MS: And any weak ones that you are working (or planning to work) on to make K3b better?
ST: Video DVD creation. K3b does not support it at all. I have big plans here. ;)
MS: You've just released Preview 2 of K3b 1.0. What new and great about 1.0?
ST: K3b 1.0 now features the mediacache, which is a neat feature which allows K3b to always know which medium is inserted into which drive. Thus, dialogs can be changed according to the inserted medium. Take for example the CD Copy dialog. Now K3b knows it is copying a data CD and thus, hides all the audio options that would confuse the user. Another advantage is the automatic project size detection. Insert a double layer DVD and see how K3b automatically adjusts the size of the DVD project to the new medium. Features like these can be found all over K3b making life for the user way easier.
But then there also is the new Video DVD ripping which I think has come out very neat. It is quite simple, and does not offer all the options available in DVD::Rip, but it allows the average user to rip a DVD title to xvid with a few mouse clicks.
Well, apart from that you also have all the fixes, the little improvements that make K3b 1.0 worth the 1.0 release status in my eyes. :)
MS: Great work Sebastian! Best of luck with the 1.0 release.
Mayank Sharma is a freelance writer from New Delhi, India. He is blown away by the power of Free and Open Source Software and its usefulness to developing nations.
Check out his blog at <http://www.geekybodhi.net/