Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has decided to offer it’s users the option of purchasing proprietary media codecs. It doesn’t matter if the users purchase their copy of Ubuntu, download it or bought a computer pre-installed with Ubuntu.
Canonical has definitely opened a can of worms with this move and we will have to wait and see how the open source community in general reacts to this decision. This decision to sure get a lot of attention by the opensource community.
Canonical, it should be made clear, is not going to develop proprietary codecs. Canonical is only streamlining the process of installing those codecs and charging a small amount for it. Most of the actual codecs are developed by a company called Fluendo and the DVD playback is being offered through a version of Cyberlink’s PowerDVD software.
I should clarify that Fluendo and Cyberlink have both been making the said software since a long time and Linux users have always had the option of purchasing PowerDVD or Fluendo’s media codecs.
Software codecs and DRM are a touchy issue. It is sad that a user with legally purchased media cannot play it on a computer, unless he/she also purchases software to play it. Sad but true.
Ubuntu has also always offered a way for users to easily install most media codecs, for free, using a relatively smooth process, but depending on your country of residence, that could have been illegal. Now, all Ubuntu is giving to its users is an option to, instead, purchase those codecs legally and be able to enjoy whatever media they own or come across on the Internet.
Ubuntu is not stopping the users from downloading illegal codecs and using them on their machines. The open nature of the operating system is still there. The option of purchasing this software just makes it easier for the non-geeks and paranoids among us to be able to enjoy the benefits of Linux without getting bogged down by the technicalities.
Legal codecs on Linux also make it simpler for system integrators to offer a decent out-of-the-box multimedia experience. The geeks among us who are used to the free and open nature of Linux can still download and install whichever codecs they want, legal or not.
I think this is a win-win situation, and not a compromise, for all the parties involved – Canonical, Ubuntu and the users.
I know there will be always be purists who will rally against Canonical for this decision and I’m sure the company is ready for some flak, but if Linux has to compete with Mac OS X and Windows, they had to make a start somewhere and this looks to be the right way to go.