Open Ballot - proprietary codecs


We're just about to record the TuxRadar podcast #4, and this episode our Open Ballot question is: should distros make it easy for users to install proprietary codecs/drivers/apps on Linux? Please give a yes or no answer, and show your workings to get all the marks available for this question. Oh, and Anonymous Penguin, please provide a name that we can reference alongside your comment in the podcast. Gracias!

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Your comments

Requiring registration

Why would you require people to register to get their questions accepted? Is the name behind more important than the question asked? I started reading TuxRadar a short while ago, but that kind of attitude is anything but open, and I don't know if I want to follow this blog anymore.

Registration keeps out good posters.

Re: registration

We want to be able to put names alongside comments in the podcast, instead of just calling everyone 'Anonymous Penguin'. Fair enough that registration shouldn't be required to get your thoughts in the podcast though -- just give a name and that'll be good enough!

proprietary codecs/apps/drivers


"and show your workings to get all the marks available for this question", pardon me, I did not understand that part!

Yes, they should. But they

Yes, they should.
But they should inform the user about the problems with proprietary software, and what this means at all, and why its no good thing.




A big NO as a GNU/Linux user.

Depends on the distro

That's the whole point about having a surfeit of distro's, they cater for different needs, preferences and philosophical standpoints. For 'consumer' distro's (I'm looking at you Mr Ubuntu), especially during install, proprietary drivers should be installed without fuss. Once the install has completed, a message should be displayed explaining that for the user's convenience, these blobs have been installed, and also explaining the badness. If the user is of pure mind and spirit they can click on a link (assuming their foobarcom wireless driver works) to register their dislike to the vendor via Foobuntu's website.
Slackware/Gentoo will know how to create their own drivers anyway, and Hurd users can compile their own home spun drivers out of sheeps wool and string.

Love, Light and Peace, Crispibits

yes, and I have the same

yes, and I have the same question as onaogh.

RE: Registration

Registration has never been required here, and they aren't asking you to register now. All they want is for you to change Anonymous Penguin to something else because it must sound a bit stupid saying "And Anonymous Penguin thinks..." five times in a row.

As for "show your workings" it just means explain your answer - say WHY you answered Yes or No.


We have to make compromises in the free software world, without codec support no one would buy netbooks with linux. I myself would prefer to use a completely free system but I watch as much YouTube as anyone else and listen to mp3s.

Just out of interest how many download the mp3 version compared to ogg, I would imagine it's at least 80% mp3, I download the mp3 because my Nokia phone doesn't support Ogg.

Ubuntu has it about right in my opinion, it doesn't ship with any restricted codecs but the codec buddy makes it easy for you to install them whilst at the same time making you aware of the problem of restricted codecs.


Yes. We may not be fans of proprietary anything, but the beauty of linux is choice. If a person feels the need to install proprietary drivers or codecs, who are we to stop them? Freedom of choice means just that...freedom to choose for the better or for the worse.


I would second Crispibits i use fedrora with there policies SELinux and all but there is RPMFusion non-free that provides most of the forbidden fruit all but libcssdvd it's a bit of an orphan still in the Livna repo we have all done various workarounds to get what we want running.
Enjoy the Choice


If you want to move more people over to Linux than it is a must.

Want new users? Then YES

If it weren't for the restricted drivers scanner on Ubuntu, I'd never have gotten my parents, wife, brother, and an Indian maniac in Australia via Ireland switched over. And even then it was a little painful.

If you want to get more people using Linux, there's really no question -- make those restricted drivers known at installation and upgrades, and be sure to give the users a choice along with a description of what's going on:

"You're running an NVidia GForce 8600 GT graphics card. You can use either the proprietary driver P, or the open source driver Q. The differences are X and Y when it comes to video rendering (YouTube, Movies), 3D acceleration (gaming), etc. If you use the proprietary driver, any questions you have must be asked of the community or the company; Your Funky Distro can not support the proprietary driver because the source code is closed."

If you want to keep Linux sequestered from the hoi polloi, ghettoized in Geekistan where the Balmers, Jobs's, and Big Box Store Clerks of the world can snort and make sure none of their customers ever hear of that hard distribution based on piracy, just be sure to not let people know that their hardware requires restricted drivers to run properly, and let them struggle with the results.

The word of mouth alone will work wonders.

Depends on the aim of the distro

Surely whether a distro should support proprietry software depends wholly on the aim of that distro. If the aim of the distro is to promote only free and open software then of course the answer is no. But if the aim is to appeal to as many users as possible, then it's yes.

I'm personally still on the fence about whether all software should be open and free, however, I'm glad I have the choice to decide.

On Ease

I think focusing on the question is important: should distros make it **EASY** to install proprietary codes?

My answer would be in the same vein as those above, that freedom generally includes the freedom to restrict yourself through proprietary codecs. However, I would also argue that any distro should make anything they choose to do easy. Looking cryptic to outsiders is another issue... because if I can launch Folding at Home on startup with one distro (no adjustments needed) then that's easy... even if it never gets around to a GUI, which others may deem mandatory for "ease."


Purists don't have to install them so why make it unnecessarily hard for people who do want to?


It depends

For any distro that wants mainstream adoption, then it is a no-brainer to make it easy to install proprietary codecs, flash, etc. This would be best to do at setup, perhaps with a small explanation saying "This isn't Free Software, but you'll probably want it".
If the aim of your distro is to only support Free Software, then it's a clear NO.


Proprietary codecs, drivers and apps, while not very nice, are essential for certain usages:

* The ability to use/play MP3s is vital for any previous Windows user with a large music collection, or an MP3 player that can't play OGGs (and let's face it - how many do you know that can?)
* People who like using browsers that are good </shameless Opera plug>
* People who require OpenGL - basically anyone using Linux for gaming of any sort, or who love compiz, unless they have an Intel card, in which case they aren't likely to be a gamer anyway.
* People who use flash (probably 99% of those on the internet)

I would really love for these to be open-source (indeed, I think if you're clever, the NVIDIA driver is open-source, but modifying it would probably be illegal), but until they are, they work, they are very useful, and they don't on the whole cause any harm. I think this sums it up.

Odd question

While everyone really has a different slant on what these means, a Distro by definition is to make it easy to get software. Any method (legal) which makes it easier for me to get software onto my machine should be used, including packaging of proprietary codecs and commercial application packagers (Such as those that turn the data files on a Quake 4 CD into a deb for tracking).


Any good OS should be transparent. If it is that good the User shouldn't be aware of it. Now, if you need to search for drivers and codecs every time you need to attach a lump to your box or launch a file from an email then it isn't.

Mind you, if you need to run special programs, like Registry Cleaners and Disk Defragmenters, to keep the OS from slowing down to a crawl, that isn't transparent either.


Yes, explaining pros and cons. Offering alternatives. A informed yes, of course.


If we want to encourage windoze users to try linux, being able to play their rmvb, divx, xvid, etc. with a vanilla
install of linux is a major selling point.

I normally have to do this by hand before I hand the pc over
to them, so it would also make my job easier if this was the

Your average new user, couldnt care less about proprietary
codecs, all they want to know is that it just works!

People new to GNU/Linux need the help.

Yes, if the distro's intent is to attract, and keep, new users. Distros designed for new desktop users, especially users coming from OS X and Windows, will expect multimedia to work. People new to Linux haven't had time to learn, understand, or appreciate, the open source culture. I've had no success converting family, friends, or clients with distros that require the user to "do without" or use "alternative" media formats. When I introduce these same people to distros like PCLinuxOS and Mint, they use them, they want to know more about Linux and they stick with them. Some have even asked me to remove their Windows partition to free up more disk space.


Yes, for Linux to grow & prosper, new newbies (sic) are needed and ramming the high moral principles of the FSF down their throats from day one may just turn the majority off linux for good.
Get them on board first and then educate them in "free as in speech"


May be they should give it as an option during install. I usually end up doing it anyways, so it'll just make my life easier.


While proprietary codecs are still in mainstream use, us Linux-ers are going to need ways to decode them, so why make it hard for us? And if you don't want the codecs, why do you care whether the process is easy or not?


Should not be included automatically but should be easy to install.


It's no good trying to ignore the fact that the real world exists! I can understand the distro authors / vendors being cautious about installing pre-supplied but make it easy for the poor mortals who are trying to use the software

YES As a GNU/Linux user i


As a GNU/Linux user i would say that it is a consumer's choice to use whichever codecs they wish, and making things difficult for them will not win us any new users.

However saying this, I myself have my entire library in FLAC and OGG...



As a GNU/Linux user i would say that it is a consumer's choice to use whichever codecs they wish, and making things difficult for them will not win us any new users.

However saying this, I myself have my entire library in FLAC and OGG...

(woops no name :D)




Linux Mint has it right where the standard .iso has all the codecs pre-installed, but offers a lite version which those who live in a country where the codecs would be illegal (wink, wink) are encourged to download and use instead.

The average user needs to purchase a pc preloaded with a user friendly linux distro (with all codecs preinstalled.)

(I like the Linux Mint approach to codecs, but am an Ubuntu user.


of course they should. I's totally unrealistic that the average user only has Media files using open codecs - which are, because of patent issues, not as effective (e.g. Theora) as the common, non-free ones.
There are hardly other Devices (*mp3*Players, DVD Players, Cameras) that can handle those open formats - Linux Distributions shouldn't make it too hard to get things to work everyone expects to work this way.


Yes, if any type of content can't be read with free codecs.
Freedom to surf the web and to read all your material!

I Use proprietary codecs

I Use proprietary codecs because I choose to, so yes I think Distros should make it easy to install proprietary codecs like Ubuntu does


Freedom to the user ...



Linux should be a distro for the people to be enjoyed by all regardless of income,intelligence or free time. Linux satisfies the first criteria very well but falls down on the second two. A lot of people just haven't got the skills or time to search forums or tackle the command line in order to get the same level of functionality as Windows. They become frustrated and give up.

Ubuntu has taken a real bashing in Linux Format recently because it has become too popular. Well, people are voting with the keyboards and Ubuntu is what they want. For distros that hide behind patent laws and make functionality unnecessarily difficult (and therefore elitist) then you're getting what you deserve.


proprietary is theft.


I've obviously been using various Linuxes for too long as my first reaction was, "Easier? How?"
More realistically, what disappoints me is not the extra task of getting proprietary codec support on Linux, but the difficulty of getting Open Source codec support on other hardware. Even Linux based hardware, such as the Nokia N8xx web pads don't have ogg and flac support OOTB. Apple hardware is just as bad.
Now, if only I could afford one of those nice Cowon S9 players, they support both ogg and flac, so why can't everyone else?

old cretin

yes please


"...should distros make it easy for users to install proprietary codecs/drivers/apps on Linux?..."

"_Should_" implies an imperative, and I don't think that they necessarily _should_. I am very pleased that _some_ distros are doing, and more than happy that _some_ distros aren't. It is all about target audience.

If the distro is targeting newbies, or has the purpose of expanding Linux take-up to 'average joe' then they probably do have an imperative to include the proprietary stuff (especially where there is a benefit in doing so) ... 'average joe' neither understands nor cares (nor even cares to understand), about the pros and cons of proprietary vs opensource. What they want is to be able to do everything that they expect to be able to do on their computer, without any 'complicated' questions being asked of them, straight out of the box. If these distros do not want to alienate the purist then make it easy to remove/replace the proprietary software with free alternatives.

For other distros, like Debian for example, I do not think they have an imperative to include this software at all, let alone make it easy for users to install it


This is the main reason people I know run a mile from linux.

They try youtube, it doesn't work.
They plug in their ipod, it doesn't work.
They go back to windows and tell everyone Linux is broken.

The fact is most people don't even know what an operating system is, they just want their computers to work.


GNU users need to remember there is an ecosystem outside of free software, and that ecosystem drives the entertainment industry. Unless the entertainment industry changes tact, proprietary apps/codecs/plugins is necessary.

In terms of drivers, yes again as current proprietary driver performance outweighs the cost.

Ask me this again in a few years time and I may have a different anser.

Hell Yeah!

Yes! Distributions should of course make it easier to install proprietary codecs/drivers/apps. This is an annoyance for new users who migrate from Windows. Many Windows users get there machines bundled with PowerDVD and other proprietary applications, they know nothing about “proprietary codecs”, things just play, and thats the way they would want it with Linux.
How about an after install druid/assistant/wizard to enable the required repositories and download the required packages. This way they wouldn’t be distributing the proprietary software but would make it easier for end users to get it. It would also leave the decision to the end user, keep the distro fully free or make it useable in the real world?


Distros should provide proprietary drivers and codecs. There are pros and cons of it.

For example any user would want a full-screen high resolution rather than 800x600 as default and that's the first thing a user notices. But high resolution using proprietary drivers sometimes cost performance. Also, everyone needs to use multimedia capabilities of their computer.

I feel pros defeat the cons here. So distros should make proprietary drivers and codecs available.

Yes or maybe

Yes they should and maybe that's not good. But I admit it makes not happy to run against 'unknown formats' or some such. Whether I'll be angry at the distromakers, web page makers or myself depends.


"To disregard freedom for short-term convenience is the act of a fool", RMS.


I have an old Dell laptop with Broadcom wireless. I'd love to install Linux for security & good performance, but there are no (as in zero) non-proprietary Broadcom drivers for Linux. So my choices are (a) no Linux, (b) scrap the otherwise working computer, or (c) proprietary drivers.

Purists are welcome to take option (b), but I'd rather have a working Linux laptop.

proprietary codecs

"For other distros, like Debian for example, I do not think they have an imperative to include this software at all, let alone make it easy for users to install it"

Why would anyone want an OS that deliberately makes things difficult to install?

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