In 2011, India emerged as top downloader of VLC player - slicker, faster, format-and operating system-independent and, of course, free.

It's the newest kid on the block, and it's code-named ‘TwoFlower.' In its freshest avatar, the popular media player, VLC, offers you a slice of the VideoLan way of life — slicker, faster, cross-platform, operating system-independent and, of course, free.

In a world where format incompatibilities, caught in proprietary tangles, have made user experiences tiresome, this third-party standalone software has been a testament to miracles that a Free and Open environment can work. Over the years, as companies looked inwards and got caught in digital rights management (DRM) and related tangles, this community project has, indeed, become a rage among users.

Yes, for the user, the magic lies in the fuss-free way, in which the software (with pre-installed codecs) plays just about any format thrown at it. And for the geek, VLC represents the best of the world of Free Software, where cutting-edge software is created and owned by communities — not corporations — and is released under the GNU public licence.

Indeed, VLC had its humble beginnings in an academic project started by students of École Centrale Paris in the late 1990s. Today, with a coder base of around 160 volunteers worldwide, working part-time on this project — including hackers, doctors, aerospace engineers and students — VLC has been downloaded by 485 million users before it hit version 2.0 last month. Incidentally, in 2011, India climbed atop the list of maximum downloads, surpassing the United States, France and Germany, the VLC team informed The Hindu in an email interaction.

However, contributions from here still leave a lot to be desired, both in terms of code and translators, to increase support for Indian languages.

So what's TwoFlower all about? The new release keeps the simple, minimalist VLC interface intact, except for the Mac OS Version, which presents a complete overhaul in the lay-out of features.

However, the more significant changes are all under the hood: starting with the ability to open a plethora of new video formats (notably, professional ones such as Apple's ProRes422 and 4444 and Panasonic's AVC/Intra) to new features that allow it to open many more picture formats.

VLC now provides experimental support to Blu-Ray discs, though menus for these are not fully active yet. There has also been a major upgrade in its ability to handle 10-bit codecs. Technically, a notable advancement here is TwoFlower's ability to perform faster, multi-threaded decoding in multi-core systems. This is critical today, given the increased pervasiveness of high-definition media.

What's next?

Even as reports of an unofficial release of a version for the Android platform (for mobiles) did the rounds on Saturday, the VLC team says an official Beta release for Android is “just a few weeks away.”

In an email interaction, Jean-Baptiste Kempf, chairman of the VideoLan board, said that besides mobile portability, the VideoLan team was focussing on improving video and audio quality and user interface.

Asked about competition, Mr. Kempf said: “I think the competition is behind us...because they focus on some niche. VLC plays everything, is simple and answers everyone's needs.” He conceded that DRM issues were a “huge problem” for a community initiative like VLC. “DRM is a huge problem. Playback of Blu-Ray in VLC is still very hard because of that. We will try to improve, but this is complex, technically and legally. There is not one DRM that has not been broken, and therefore DRM ares only hurting nice and legal people.”

This article has been corrected for clarity.