October 2015, “Community Choice” Project of the Month – fre:ac

For our October “Community Choice” Project of the Month, the community elected fre:ac, an audio converter and CD ripper for various formats and encoders. Robert Kausch, fre:ac’s Lead Developer, shared his thoughts about the project’s history, purpose, and direction.

SourceForge (SF): Tell me about the fre:ac project please.
Robert Kausch (Kausch): fre:ac is an audio converter and CD ripper that tries to provide a simple and intuitive interface without sacrificing features. It scales all way the from converting CD tracks to MP3 files with a single click to replicating whole music libraries in a different format while preserving folder and file name structure.

SF: What made you start this?
Kausch: Back in the days I just couldn’t find a free and easy to use CD ripper, so I decided to write my own. Around the same time, someone came up with the Bonk audio format which I added support for as a distinguishing feature. That provided for the original project name BonkEnc Audio Encoder. The project was finished quite soon, but after publishing it on SourceForge, people started requesting more features and it developed its own momentum.

SF: Has the original vision been achieved?
Kausch: Yes, absolutely! This project was supposed to be a simple CD to MP3/Bonk ripper to be used by maybe a few dozens of people. Today, it’s one of the most popular audio converters with tens or hundreds of thousands of users from all around the world.

SF: Who can benefit the most from your project?
Kausch: Anyone who needs some kind of audio format conversion.

SF: What core need does fre:ac fulfill?
Kausch: Any kind of audio format conversion. Whether you need to rip CDs to FLAC files for archival, convert to MP3 for your mobile device or create audio books with chapter marks, fre:ac should be the tool of choice.

SF: What’s the best way to get the most out of using fre:ac?
Kausch: Users should first explore the interface, which is designed to be intuitive and self-explanatory. A quick tutorial for ripping CD tracks to MP3 files as well as some “How to” style questions and answers are included with fre:ac. In addition, lots of more advanced community made tutorials are available on the Internet.

SF: What has your project team done to help build and nurture your community?
Kausch: I am the only developer and provide most of the support, so there is no real project team. The SourceForge forums and tracker are of great help for keeping in touch with the community and I use email to talk to individual users. In addition, releases and other news are posted on Twitter and since about two years ago. I have also been writing regular blog posts to talk about everything that’s going on in fre:ac development. I got inspired to doing this when reading the regular blog posts of the Haiku and ReactOS operating system projects, which give insight of what’s going on behind the scenes between releases.

SF: Have you all found that more frequent releases help build up your community of users?
Kausch: While new releases always spark a lot of interest, I try not to release too often or too early. As my resources are limited, it’s crucial that releases are stable and do not trigger too many bug reports. This leaves more time for implementing new features.

SF: What was the first big thing that happened for your project?
Kausch: The name change from BonkEnc to fre:ac. It was a lot of work to update the site and software and notify everyone about the new name, and it kind of felt like a restart of the whole project.

SF: What helped make that happen?
Kausch: A few years after starting the project, I didn’t really like the old name anymore. Especially as it turned out that the eponymous Bonk format had become obsolete. At some point I started looking for a new name and ultimately ended up with fre:ac, a contraction of free audio converter.

SF: What was the net result for that event?
Kausch: I like the new name much better but, that aside, I don’t think it had a major impact on the fate of the project.

SF: What is the next big thing for fre:ac?
Kausch: The upcoming 1.1 release will be an almost complete rewrite of fre:ac’s core based on a modular architecture providing lots of new features and support for alternative operating systems. People can already try the preview releases dubbed snapshots that are released every few weeks. With so many changes, you might expect this to be released as version 2.0, but I decided to stick to 1.1 as I think this is what fre:ac 1.0 should have been originally.

SF: How long do you think that will take?
Kausch: I hope to be able to make a 1.1 beta release at the end of this year or in early 2016. The final 1.1 release should then be finished within half a year after the beta.

SF: Do you have the resources you need to make that happen?
Kausch: I hope so. The most important resource is time and I’m a little limited on it. I’m working on fre:ac in my free time besides doing a regular 9 to 5 job as a software engineer.

SF: If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently for fre:ac
Kausch: If I started a project like this now, I would use a modular architecture from the start. The original project was never meant to become this big, though, so having a monolithic architecture seemed sufficient back then.

SF: Why?
Kausch: A modular architecture makes it much easier to add new codecs and other features. It also helps when it comes to porting the software to other platforms.

SF: Any reason you can’t do that now?
Kausch: I’m doing that in the ongoing fre:ac 1.1 development effort.

SF: Is there anything else we should know?
Kausch: I’d like to thank everyone who helped getting the project this far. Translators, regular testers and especially the users who report bugs and make feature requests. The project would never have grown this big without you!

[ Download fre:ac ]

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