Pitivi’s fundraiser: out of the NLE hell on Linux?

Developers of Pitivi are trying to raise 35,000 euro to complete the stable release of this non-linear video editor. What are the benefits of supporting them?

There are a few concerns about this initiative,, such as that we already have too many free video editors, that Pitivi is based on the wrong kind of toolkit etc. So what’s up with that?

Why do they need your support?

If you are a moviemaker or even a cautious screencaster such as myself, chances are, you don’t need gazillions of effects, blend modes, and various flavors of fancy. You need decent cutting tools, fades, color grading filters, titles, and reliable output. That would fit the bill for a lot of people who get stuff done rather than mess around with bling.

Pitivi is quite close to the description above (it even has autoalignment for multicam setups) with some unfortunate exceptions, such as:

  • not stable enough;
  • both cutting and color grading has to be done properly.

So the Pitivi team is basically trying to address all of that (and much more) step by step with the help from the community.

Step 1 is to collect 35,000 euro to hire Thibault Saunier and Mathieu Duponchelle, both being active developers in the project, for full-time work on Pitivi and release v1.0.

Step 2 is to continue raising money and give backers the right to vote what features will be worked on next. The fundraiser page lists a few dozens of small projects. A similar social agreement seems to be working for Synfig so far.

If you are wondering, whether Pitivi actually matters to people who make serios work or whether it ends up in the “video editor for grannies” department", on the content makers side the project is backed by Bassam Kurdali and Fateh Slavitskaya, producers of the Tube animation movie. They’ve been using Pitivi for their internal work despite of the fact that Bassam is among the most avid supporters of Blender VSE.

What’s the longterm plan?

Another natural question here is how far this is planned, and whether the team has a longterm strategy for paid-by-community development. After all, people tend to treat donations as investment today.

In a conversation on #pitivi the team admitted that it is something they still need to discuss. It’s worth noting though, that implementing all of the features from step 2 is going to keep them busy long enough to work on the longterm plans.

“One more video editor fundraiser? But why?”

There’s another major topic worth discussing here. Pitivi is not the first project whose developers attempted to raise funds to support development of a non-linear video editor:

  • Novacut team raised $28,276 in 2011. They used the money to create and polish serious foundation for collaborative editing, but haven’t had the chance to apply the same amount of attention to the actual editor yet.
  • Kdenlive developers raised $7,419 in 2012 to sponsor massive refactoring of the app. A lot of work was done, but the outcome is still in an unreleasable state.
  • OpenShot team raised $45,028 in 2013 to fund development of the new engine, port the editor to it, and then release OpenShot for Windows and Mac as well.

Even though Novacut arguably delivered what they intended to (the back-end), and the OpenShot team claims to be an inch away from the release, strictly in terms of Kickstarter/IndieGoGo deliverables, none of the three have provided software for end-users yet.

So where does Pitivi come into this picture?

First of all, they don’t need to write a new back-end (Novacut, OpenShot), and they don’t need to do refactoring of old code (Kdenlive). A lot of design/implementation work on the core is already done. There’s just a lot of bugfixing ahead for v1.0. That is not to say that they are going to have a lazy time moving bits around, but achieving the goal in step one looks realistic.

However step two suggests a lot of design work where tough decisions will have to be made, such as where you draw the line between being applicable to both newbies and professionals.

Easy or pro?

It’s going to be difficult to find a perfect balance between being easy to master by new users and being actually usable by professionals. Pitivi developers appear to be going for both, and this is shaping up like a real challenge.

The conventional wisdom is that tools that are easy to master are only applicable for solving a limited amount of tasks, while software for professionals needs getting used to, but is sophisticated enough for doing many things.

Apple developers already tried to do both with Final Cut Pro X, and it wasn’t entirely successful, to put it mildly. Released in April 2011, new major update of the popular hi-end non-linear video editor from Apple caused an outrage in the professional community who called it “iPhoto Pro”.

Further updates of FCPX brought back many features that were missing in the original release. However evidence suggests that the industry started losing interest in the product:

Pitivi approaches this from the other end, since today it appears to be more in the iPhoto-like range of editors in terms of both feature set and UI decisions. Making the concept of easy+pro actually work is likely to become the single most difficult task for the Pitivi team to accomplish.

Putting it into the ecosystem context

Pitivi is commonly referred to as video editor for GNOME, same as Kdenlive being called a video editor for KDE. Neither is not exactly true, and it’s going to be even less so, since the plan for Pitivi is to become available for Windows and Mac users (something that the OpenShot team made a prominent feature of their own Kickstarter campaign). What if it was true, though? What difference would it make?

Currently GNOME developers deliver kickass support for graphic tablets and color management on top of a both praised and hated desktop environment. Even David Revoy runs KDE-centric apps like Krita and Kdenlive from GNOME 3.10 now and loves it.

But let’s face it: in terms of content authoring the GNOME and GStreamer ecosystems are pretty much nowhere. It wasn’t much better in the past, but with Jokosher balancing on the edge of survival and BEAST still being of interest to very few people, Pitivi is probably the last major GNOME-affiliated app of that kind that could prove that GNOME is an appealing platform for developing software for creative minds.

But this is where things go strange. While GNOME today seems to be shaping into a (mostly) content consumption environment, a lot of of 3D artists, designers, engineers, musicians, and even programmers still choose it over other solutions. So the “GNOME is not for creating stuff” point is, in fact, moot, although hundreds of MATE, Cinnamon, XFCE, and KDE users will still claim otherwise.

Making Pitivi a successful example of content authoring software that is affiliated with GNOME could send a certain message to the overall community. And this could be one of the reasons why GNOME Foundation participated in organizing the fundraiser.

So why would one donate to support Pitivi?

It’s an interesting question. If you divide the NLE for Linux biota into classes, tools like Pitivi and OpenShot would end up in the lower range of tools, Kdenlive and Blender VSE would be in the prosumer department, and Cinelerra would be an odd and curious case of a pro solution (we are still waiting for EditShare to be done with Mac release and proceed with opening the source code of Lightworks).

The glorious history of FLOSS video editors

Hence supporting either OpenShot or Pitivi (or both) would basically mean that a) we want this software to become more capable, and, interestingly enough, 2) we are so unhappy with Kdenlive and Blender VSE that we want other guys to have a go. This puzzle wouldn’t be complete without Shotcut which recently got a multitrack timeline, and with GPU-side color grading and upcoming animation it’s too on its way towards the prosumer market.

Is it a huge mess or a “healthy environment for friendly competition” (or both)? It’s up to you to decide.

My feeling is that the decision, whether to support Pitivi developers, depends a great deal on the level of sustainability they can realistically achieve. Or, since Blender Foundation is such a handy reference standard, how much BF-like the Pitivi project can become. Over to the Pitivi team, then?