Open Ballot: should distros license codecs?


So, Canonical has licensed H.264 for its partners. Is it a good thing? Should more distros strike deals that allow end users to play DVDs, watch Flash movies and more out of the box, or is it more important that we take a united stand in the name of Free Software and support free codecs like Theora?

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Stay on top ;)

Video is moving to H.264 compression and Canonical needs to keep up to date. To stay #1, we need to allow end users to play DVDs, watch Flash movies and more.

Sugar Land

Yes and No

Without having any contexts, then absolutely NOT! However, its not Ubuntu's fight right now. Google & Mozilla have way more leverage than Canonical given their market share. Google is rumored to release VP8, which could single-handedly bring us victory! Canonical is still too small to make a dent. So for the meantime, licensing H.264 will only improve Ubuntu's standings with non-geeks who want everything to "just work" & don't care about all these legal & geeky subjects.

So I say, let Google and Mozilla fight the good fight. And let Canonical expand on the desktop. If the the former wins, Ubuntu can stop paying licencing fees since nobody would want h.264. If not, Ubuntu will have a larger install


Most people are going to want functionality. we need to support free codecs, so that they can be as functional, but we will not (most of us) use them until they are.

in the name of freedom, I would pirate in the face of software patents.

have Distros, if they wish, endorse to whatever extent they can (legally), a meta-repo that users could add to get their needed functionality. Have it located in a country that does not respect copyright "X" or make it peer to peer. one repo could host the packages needed for many distros. In that way we would get to flip off the man and watch our dvd's


It is absolutely essential that Linux distros include codecs, otherwise people will stick to the outdated notion that Linux is hard to use and configure. What Canonical have done is a brave step, and it is 100% the correct one.


I think that if Canonical wants to pay ridiculous amounts of money to give people a great experience out of the box then fantastic. Some people may argue and say that, "This is not Open Source, you are now a capitalist herp, derp, derp" well I'm fairly sure that a lot of us use proprietary graphics drivers and wireless drivers so a little bit more proprietary won't hurt anyone. As long as Ubuntu stays a free (monetary wise) OS.

If you want to use complete OSS then use another distribution. If you don't even use Ubuntu don't even complain about the choices that Canonical have made. Yes that includes you Hurd fags.


Yes, all distros should follow mints example and include codecs by default for mp3 and DVD etc to make it a viable alternative to windows and mac as a full time all-round everyday os.

No! Of course not. If Apple

No! Of course not.

If Apple (one of the owners of H.264) want othe users they should pay for us. We have a number of very good codecs (Ogg Theora) and even more on they way (given Google's promise). It is like asking whether Canonical should license M$ Office. We don't need it.

Yes, but they should pass the cost on to us

I see no reason why we can't have distro's that cost money and others that don't. Mandriva power pack was a good example of this. You can have an all free version and a paid version with all the bells and whistles for the consumer who wants that. All the other OS makers do it, so why not Linux as well? Yesterday I bought the Fluendo media center with DVD and codecs for my 10.04 LTS. It was only $40 and works perfectly.

Do I think it is fair that I should have to pay for a DVD codec? Yes I do. If you don't want to pay, then use an open format. I get sick of all the complaining about the evils of IP and money making. When did free software turn into communism?

If you want to get angry at somebody, get angry at Hollywood for not releasing movies in an open format. If you buy DVD's and download MP3's, then be prepared to pay the cost of using them.


As the proverb goes: "Kiss the hand you cannot chop off." As long as proprietary drivers and codecs are dominating the market such concessions have to be made if one is aiming to attract more new users to the product. But demonstrating support for and development of open source alternatives should not be eclipsed by such commercial deals. And when we have a working open source codec with a hefty market-share we start chopping the hands...

How can it encorage delevolpement?

How can the development of opensource codecs be improved by caving to the use of proprietary codecs and code?
Is the opensource community getting lazy or just looking for market share?
Doesn't sound like an opensource philosophy to me.

Of course!

Canonical has made the right decision to stay on top. The more codecs work out of the box, the better the experience. I don't care if the codecs are free or open, let's face it, theora is inferior to h.264 why push it?

Ubuntu is about giving a good experience to it's users out of the box, I would love to see Ubuntu ship with DVD, BD and MP3 playback out of the box, but that's another story.

@carlobrown174 I don't know much about mint, and I want to be cleared about something. Does Mint actually ships those codecs legally?

Probably not

For one thing, what is more important is the stuff that's out there now, not future stuff. Supporting free codecs is more important than bundling something that may not help with much existing content & paying to license commercial code is not a good plan for what purports to be a Free OS.

Mint includes freeware codecs for lots of stuff, which are legal in most of the world; that's a good plan. Make it clear on the download site in which countries you're legally not allowed to use them - increase people's awareness.

Even Debian does better out of the box than Ubuntu, as it includes a Free Flash player. That's a good plan - just include an enhanced version of the Hardware Drivers tool to optionally replace the Free but not-quite-there-yet plugins with commercial, non-Free ones.

Whatever floats your boat

I'm generally very pragmatic about these things. OEMs clearly want these codecs and ultimately if companies choose Ubuntu because of these codecs and if Linux gains bigger market share and benefits as a result, I don't think many people will care about the patent issues.
There is the danger that this move is seen to legitamise those patents, but as has been previously mentioned, the decisions of companies like Google will have an infinitely greater impact on what formats are used than even Ubuntu ever could.
Ultimately it's about choice. As long as these codecs can be removed if required and the "freedom" (with a big and a small "F") of the OS is not affected, then it's a good thing.
Surely if the UK can have a LibDem/Tory coalition government, then we can accept Ubuntu with licensed H264 codecs. Fluendo has licensed various codecs before and the world didn't end, Richard Stallman didn't explode, Linux will survive!

It's Ubuntu

It's ubuntu, everything it does is correct.

Even if it serves porn LOL


While open solutions without patents should be promoted, certain codecs are so intertwined with society and available technology that new users would expect to be able to play back these mediums and to the common user, would be disappointed otherwise.

How many Linux users don't install proprietary codecs seconds after completing a fresh install?

Distros should do whatever

Distros should do whatever the heck they want. If some want proprietary codecs, that's fine. If others don't, that's also fine. Linux is about freedom, especially freedom of choice. If a particular user doesn't like a distros choices, then she is free to pick another distro.


Personally, I can't wait until there is a "Premium" version of Ubuntu that "just works" with DVD, Microsoft Office, Apple QuickTime, Flash and .Net applications. And I don't mind paying for a proper operating system that "just works" rather than all this stupid tinkering around in the command line.

(just joking)

I just want the freedom to use my computer

Should proprietary codecs be licensed? If doing so allows me to play DVD's, watch YouTube, listen to DVD's, etc "out of the box" then I'm all in favour of it!

It's not a case of if I use H264 then I can't use Ogg etc, any more than that my fingers will fall off when I launch OpenOffice if I've just been using MS-Office.

Leave the "pure" open source systems to zealots like Stallman and co I - like most out there I would guess - just want to be able to use our computers seamlessly.

The ability to include these required codecs "out of the box" is a necessary step to the hallowed day when a Linux Desktop is as acceptable as those nasty Windows ones for the general populace.

Up to the distro authors

Up to the authors, I just have to ask why hasn't anyone mentioned X.264 instead?

Why can't we have it both ways?

No matter where you go you have to deal with greedy people. In the proprietary would you have to deal with greedy developers and in the open source world you have to deal with greedy consumers.

"I don't care, as long as it works and they don't charge me for it. As long as I can go to pirates bay I'm set!"

We end up having to choose between a great OS and lousy software, or an terrible OS but better software.

Some projects benefit from being open source, but not all. You need a core group of talented professionals at the center of any project, open or not. After that, it comes down the choosing the between the benefits of being open (linus's law, broader support for hardware, browsers, etc), or having financing and central planning. One way or another, all software is paid for. I think most software is better off as open source, but not all.

OpenOffice is nice, and I use it everyday, but it is bloated and it does just seem to try and copy MS office. I believe in open formats because I believe that my data belongs to me. That doesn't mean OpenOffice is better than MS office, it just means it has less negatives.

If you don't want to pay, then don't use it. If you really care about "freedom", then don't watch DVD's at all. Stop insisting on having your cake and eating it to.

Ubuntu should, for sure

I believe that Ubuntu is going in the right direction by trying to include proprietary codes in their default installation. We in the Linux community who hope to see Linux become mainstream need to support a "flagship desktop distro" that shows what Linux can really do without requiring tinkering to do simple things like play a DVD. Ubuntu is filling the flagship role quite nicely.

It's a bit of a "necessary evil" type situation. I think that Canonical should still be pushing for adoption of free codecs even if they support restrictive codecs out of the box.

Support free codecs

I won't reject a licensed codec, but I strongly prefer the free ones.

OK but...

I see why this is happening. The end user should be able to play a DVD out of the box but this is Linux. We need to support free software. If Linux doesn't support open-source then who will Ubuntu has to make users aware of this. Ubuntu should use free software in preference but when it needs to I suppose it should use things like H.264. However there is a difficulty to this. If a user can't play a DVD they will think Linux doesn't work as well as windows this in a sense is true. If the majority has chosen a standard we will have to accept that to stay with the competition. It's a shame really but that's how the world works.

They shouldn't, but they should have the freedom to if they want

I think an important question to ask is: Do we see any similarities between this and Microsoft bundling Internet Explorer by default without any other browsers?

In some ways, I would say yes.

While documentation to install oneself should be easily available, an OS should ideally be neutral in my opinion. You should be able to easy install what you want, but not have any bias that promotes a proprietary codec with the OS itself.

I don't think they should

I don't think they should bundle closed software. If you are going to do h.264 you probably want the accelerated drivers to make playback better. What about bundling mp3 support so rhythmbox can playback downloaded mp3s from ubuntu one? how about flash? How about bundling proprietary software for kickbacks? Where does it end?

I think a much better and elegant solution would be a oobe (out of box experience) type wizard to set up your location, wifi, email, chat accounts and broadcast accounts. They could also offer the option then to install drivers and media codecs. And fight for flac and ogg support from ubuntu ones partners so people can use better and free codecs.


Rather than promoting healthy, innovation-led competition, it basically means the people with the most money get the most downloads. This is not what the FLOSS community is all about - that is a very Microsoft way of working.

It should just work

If I buy a DVD I expect it to work when I slot it into my player, be it bespoke or a personal computer. Under the UK's Sales of Goods Act one wouldn't buy buy a car without fuel to initially move it so why should DVDs (and codecs) be any different?

I think the problem isn't with the closed or open codecs but with the legal systems which restrict their use. If left to a lawyer, we would still be sitting in a cave arguing over types of wheels and banging rocks together.

The real issue

Many good points in this discussion, but the real issue in my opinion is the fact that the codec licensing, whether it be open source or commercial is the responsibility of the end user. The ones who should pay any and all fees for codecs if they are not open source, are those who create the media in the first place.
As this is not a perfect world however, I applaud Canonical for doing what they always do: taking the Linux community by the hand (albeit while kicking and screaming), and dragging them out of their cubicles, coffee shops, and grandmothers' basements, and into the real world. I'm sure the goal here is to garner more market share, as Linux is poised on the cusp of being accepted by the mainstream more so than at any other time in its history.

If I were marketing Ubuntu, I would do exactly what Canonical is doing right now, which is making a distro that looks slick and just works out of the box to get people to use it and increase the market share. Worry about trifles like codecs later.

Recordings/Playback DVD/whatever

Recordings purchased with whatever coding is used should be playable by virtue of the inclusive content, including any de-ciphering required independent of the equipment used for playing it.

Yes. I would hope when


I would hope when MikeOS becomes mainstream it will also license codecs.

Yes, we should have all the codecs we can get

Linux would be more widely accepted if it always came with a decent set of codecs, rather than leaving new users baffled as to how to play a music file or a video.
I recently discovered that a friend of mine (not known him long) who is younger than me is also using Ubuntu (not many people I know even know about Linux), and he is into music a lot.
If a new user wants to play music, and their distro does not have the codec or even the ability to install the right codec, then that user will find another OS/distro to use.
There should always be the "pure" distro options with no proprietary software whatsoever, but most people just want to Get Things Done, and with an OS that works, works well, does not cost a lot of money, and is legally free to use. And if it plays music and videos without any hassle then so much the better.

It's all or nothing isn't it?

How much have any of you donated to Ubuntu, in time or money? I would wager the average person has done absolutely nothing. Not only are you willing to gobble up everything that is open without contributing your fair share, but you have the audacity to demand that EVERYTHING be open and free of charge and that you should have it without paying one thin dime!

It doesn't matter who works on it, whether or not they intend it to be open or free, or how much it costs, you all think it should be free for you to use and the source should be available as well, even though you won't do a damn thing to contribute to the code.

You don't deserve DVD playback, or Flash, or anything else for that matter. Why don't you all put up or shut up.

Yes: Choice, Choice, Choice

Yes distro's should strike deals, Linux will be easier for *people* to use and grow its install base, when that war is won, then we can phase them out.

It's all down to choice. If your average user can't figure it out straight out of the box, then that doesn't give them choice not to spend hours on trying to figure out why they can't get their Celine Dion MP3s to play.

@Andrew Cole

Andrew - Can I suggest you go back and read all the comments before sounding off - you'll realise that some of us have indeed paid for (yes paid for, i.e. with real money) codecs, and DVD playback software. I respectfully refuse therefore to 'put up and shut up' as you suggest.

yes. Ubuntu should

Other wise its quite useless to most people that just want to play files and use the internet etc..

You just hope that one fine day very things going to be fine with the codec situation.
I eagerly await the "ONE CODEC TO RULE THEM ALL" I only hope that when it arrives its open source.

Of course not,,,

When Canonical licenses the codec and gives it away to all their users, they are not going to suffer the lose of money. They are a corporation in it for the money, so they will find a way to pass the cost on to their users --all their users.
Why should the users that don't want the codec suffer for the users that do. Whether it be through ads or whatever.

Instead Canonical should offer the codec as a purchase for those who want it, 5 euros at the Canonical store.

Better yet, they shhopuld not sell the codec, merely rent it.
For 1 euro you get to use it ten times.

Of course since the "I want it without paying for it" crowd will be attacking it, they will need DRM. Which means at some point the codec is going to have to escalate it privilege to work. Which means that those who use the codec get to suffer from the extra viruses from the extra holes the DRM creates.

Hell Yeah

Hell Yeah, canonical has to be competitive they are a business and free software can co exist with commercial software ubuntu is proof soon we will have video games built for ubuntu and all that other good sh!t and with the backing of the free software community a stable and hopefully malware free o.s. I mean why shouldnt we have proper sound, codecs, games, I dont mind pay R50 bucks for some codecs then ubuntu one remembers that i have paid for the stuff and i can use it as i please. Not all software on an open source o.s has to be free, if its commercial viable for other companies aside from canonical then we will have more developers and users, Better system. simple.

mostly Yes

I love free CODECs that work, I prefer to pay for codecs that work over ones that only sort of work or which don't work very well at all.

No, there are better uses for $5,000,000.00

Distributions should use their money to raise public awareness of free software issues and get the problem fixed at the appropriate level, US Law. Giving five million dollars to MPEG-LA will only make them better able to abuse free software users in the future. Users should simply download free software from a country like Hungry which respects user freedom and allows publication of software to watch movies. Until US law is fixed, no codec is safe from lawsuits, no matter how much you pay for them.

Websites should continue their move to Ogg Theora. Wikipedia and many other indispensable sites are already there. YouTube, the world's most popular video sharing site, should go there too. This is the next best thing to fixing US law.

Too much to ask of a

Too much to ask of a developer to deal with codecs especially when codecs are in such a flux state of anything being standard right now. Let the user deal with it.


If one proprietary codec can be used as leverage to get the users of free software to give up their freedom, it will teach developers that ours is a community open to pillage at any time. All they need to do is make some nonfree software popular and use it as bait.

Saying you want the codec license for the so-called freedom to use your computer plays right into that trap. You always have the freedom to use your computer, it is those that deploy media in proprietary formats that are making content you can't reach with free software. It is not the duty of the community to pay large sums of money to be able to add nonfree software to a free software operating system.

Distro licensed codecs?

If you read the topic properly, it is Canonical which has licensed and now Ubuntu. Ubuntu by default cannot come with codecs since MPEGLA would not license the codecs this way. They want to be paid per copy. Since Linux distros are freely available, they cannot make out how many people used it.

This license is only for OEM since it is easy to track how many machines are sold with Ubuntu preinstalled. The ISO available from will never have H.264 support.


No and No to a google sponsored but free codec as well - we need something driven by the community - my 2p

Yes or Maybe

Yes - otherwise general purpose use of linux will be affected (i never install distro's off magazine dvd's as they are always without the codecs and i hate not being able to listen to my mp3's)

Maybe use the V8 or Mweb or whatever is coming from google and let google fight out the patent litigation etc?

If there was a true community driven codec - free of litigation from the likes of apple (which said it was putting a patent pool together right?) but it was a little bit lower quality - I can live with that - especially on my 8.9" netbook!


VP8/WebM from Google is the way to go as it is being released free of royalties.

Canonical will taint the free tag of Linux if it started licensing patented/royalty-encumbered codecs.

bum geek

I think it is a choice, but I was without internet for a while and I had to install a distro I could use straight out of the box so I used a Mandriva Power disk from one of the mags which included all of the codecs to watch movies and listen to music. Now that I'm back on the internet it doesn't matter, but we must remember linux is spreading and to alot of areas where there is no internet, but they do have dvd's and music and having the codecs is not only convenient but necessary.


"Embrace, Extend, Extinguish" could go two ways, no?

Drawing the herd to Linux and then presenting them with open source alternatives might actually be a path to victory. We could encourage people to encode with open source codecs rather than discouraging them from decoding with proprietary codecs.

convert for the future

i dont have a problem with paying these patent holders now, but the best thing we can do is have easy to use conversion progs to move media to free codecs for later when we kiss them goodbye. Dont have you all eggs in one basket, dont have all your media in non free codecs and dont leave the future of computing to Microsoft and partners.


Licencing codecs is like paying for a recipe, if someone wants you to view their stuff in an arb codec, why must you pay? (lets make our own) I think the idea is stupid. We are working backwards. What is next? Paying for TCP/IP?????
(Are we being bullied here?)

Propriety vs Open Source

To the person who used the car analogy. "Under the UK's Sales of Goods Act one wouldn't buy buy a car without fuel to initially move it so why should DVDs (and codecs) be any different?"

The difference is when I buy a car, I can use any gasoline, I don't have to use Shell gasoline. I can also drive it on the road regardless of make of car, gas, diesel or hybrid.

You have a license but if you want to drive, you must buy a My Ford, fill it up with My Shell gasoline and My Valvoline oil before you can start and drive it. No other fuel will be allowed and if you don't pay for our gas then you can't use the road either.

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