The road from Free and Open Source Software to a single, fit for purpose solution.
When I first started out investigating video within the police service I had very little knowledge and understanding of some of the complexities involved.
The requirement to learn was born out of necessity.
How could I get a better image from an old VHS tape and get it disseminated to other officers quicker?
I had no method to digitize the footage so, in order to figure this out, I started the great internet hunt. In 2003, that was a challenge in itself!
I had no budget, and literally had to beg, borrow and ‘acquire’ equipment. The first computer was one of my old ones from home!
I would read somewhere of how to do something, and then I would research what was required. This led me to the wonderful world of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), and further down the road to the delights of the Linux operating system.
Spreadys.com was built on posts detailing my adventures with this type of software and how to complete certain tasks with them.
I built Spreadys Software Pack… and I still see this in use on people’s computers today!
I trained people in various packages such as Scalpel, FFmpeg, Mencoder and Virtualdub.
Later, I showed how people can create their own FVA Toolbar, with all their little software packages and applications.
I have this toolbar – Here is the one on my desktop!
It is a quick way to reach some of the many tools in my toolbox. Some of the tools are designed with a single function, some more powerful with multiple uses. All can be great fun to use and learn.
BUT, I don’t use them every day…I may not use them for a few weeks. However, I still, on occasion like to check something and need to utilize one or a few of them.
The move away from FOSS was again born out of necessity.
As an example, let’s look at the classic Non-Linear-Editor (NLE), used for cutting and editing video.
I started with Windows Movie Maker! I can hear the laughter now!!!
It was free, it came with XP (and previously with Windows ME – where I started with it), and it could do some of the things I wanted… although not very well!
What did I do when it didn’t do something? – I searched and found other small programs… either free or very cheap.
It was not long before this process of using 4-5 different programs started to cause problems. I need one program that was easy to learn, and easy to train others in…. This was a key requirement as our video unit was growing.
Consequently, we received funding for some professional NLE licences.
I no longer needed multiple small applications and move from one to the other – I could do all, and more, from within a single application.
It was much easier also to train others…as the single application had a much easier learning curve.
We can now Fast Forward >>>>> Circa 2012/13
I had built a good knowledge base around various applications and even started a little batch scripting, (my level of programming knowledge!!!), to link various Command Line Interfaces together.
But… things were getting complicated, and in more ways than encountered during the NLE example.
- Identifying the correct application to use, and the version number was becoming tricky. Research, testing and validation was required, especially on the applications that were getting updated a lot. Version 7.2 would work, but 7.3 would not…but that may work with something else!
- Many applications utilized other components that were developed by 3rd parties. Finding the correct match would ensure a successful processing requirement, but it was always a case of trial and error….and it was up to me to do the testing.
- Reporting on the use of multiple applications was very time consuming. Screen grabs, text files… any method to retain what settings were used. More difficult was the validation process to ensure that what was output from one application, was read correctly by another. I had many examples where XXX frames were output, but only XX frames were read by another!
- Half of my time was being spent on research, testing, process-flow…rather than actually doing! Yes…. I enjoyed the challenge, and the results, but ultimately it affected how much I could get done.
- Training and teaching others in the applications and methods was the next challenge. There are just so many variables when using multiple packages that it was impossible to account for all circumstances.
- Validation of each application, each plug-in, each version and each configuration were extremely difficult and had to be done on a case by case basis due to the different variables involved.
- I was the support. I would often spend hours researching blogs and forums to identify issues and solve problems.
- Identifying problems was hard, and even more time consuming. Missing frames, missing data, corrupted frames, changes in colour and light. What was the software doing to my evidence?
- I needed more. I had over 80 applications in my FOSS collection. Ranging from a small utility to hash a file, to an application to stack astronomy images for frame integration. However, I needed to do more, faster… and with evidential integrity.
I had built an extensive knowledge and toolset – but I needed a single solution.
I needed everything in one application, I needed the Swiss Army Knife, and the Leatherman multi-tool together… I also needed the support system. Importantly, I also needed it to be built for what I do – not another product made to fit but built fit for purpose.
I then discovered Amped FIVE, an application that had everything I needed and utilized some of the applications and libraries I was familiar with. It automated many processing tasks thereby removing user error and importantly, these processes were tested and controlled. The bonus was that it contained functions and enhancement powers that I never realized existed!
……. And the rest, as they say, is history.