What does the traffic cone mean in VLC?

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What does the traffic cone mean in VLC?
The VLC logo is based on Parisian traffic cones. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

VLC stands for “VideoLAN Client” It is generally called the VLC Media Player and is a popular, free media player available for download over the Internet. The distribution of the program is managed by Sourceforge, where it is consistently the most downloaded program each week. By January 2013, more than 750 million copies had been downloaded, making it the most downloaded program of all time from Sourceforge


The quirky use of the traffic cone as an emblem for VLC can only be explained by first revealing the history of the produce. The VideoLAN project was first begun as an academic exercise at the Ecole Centrale in Paris. The initial team of teachers and students intended to create a network for video streaming and VLC was designed to be the viewer through which the videos would be watched. The team was so pleased with their work that they decided to make it available to the general public as an open source project. This means that not only is the program available for download by anybody, but so is the source code. Enthusiasts around the world are encouraged to join the team in developing new versions of VLC and also new programs to offer to the public. One of the downsides of working on an open source project, however, is that no one gets paid.

A drunken prank

Before VLC existed, the Student's Networking Association, called the VIA, came back to the lab at the Ecole Centrale in a drunken state following a liquid lunch. As is the habit of inebriated students, they picked up a traffic cone along the way and brought it back with them. This started a group tradition and soon the networking lab at ECP filled up with traffic cones collected over the years.

An icon

When the students began work on the VideoLAN project in 1996, they needed to decide on an emblem for the player. Sitting in the networking lab, there was only one thing anyone could think of – the shelves of the room were filled with traffic cones. Hence VLC carries the traffic cone as its icon.


When the player became available to the public in 2001, the VIA’s inside joke spread the cone symbol all over the work, mystifying millions of users. The truth was revealed by Jon Lech Johansen, one of the development team, on his blog in 2005.


There have been many versions of the cone icon over the years of the project. This is because the team periodically updated the image, but also because of festive variations. The project website includes a gallery of all the past versions of the cone (see Resources). The current icon was designed by Richard Øiestad.

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