back to article Canonical explains Ubuntu unfree video choice

Ubuntu's commercial sponsor Canonical has tried to clarify how - if not why - it has licensed a closed-source and patented codec for video on PCs running its Linux. Canonical is the first Linux shop to have agreed to license the codec in question, H.264 from MPEG LA. Even though Red Hat and Novell are also available for use on …

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Closed source

I deeply fear making this admission. I fear the 1:00 AM black helicopters of orthodoxy will be hovering outside my bedroom window tonight. But...

The very first thing I do after installing Linux on one of my boxes is to download and install the ATI or NV (depending on the box) proprietary driver, thus tainting my kernel.

I do this even before making the Sign of the Penguin and thanking Saint Torvalds and the GNU Pantheon for bringing me the light and beauty of a platform where I can run a C++ compiler without paying through the nose.

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FAIL

Re: Closed source

Isn't the Nvidia stuff on the CD/DVD with Ubuntu these days? So much for the "we only ship open source stuff", although they did say "applications" not "stuff" and can thereby weasel their way out of any commitments.

The whole MPEG licensing thing is just awful: even if some company licensed the patents from the cartel on your behalf, it's becoming more and more widely-known that it's just for personal use and that you could be sued for infringement if you ever did anything remotely commercial with any video you made. And despite the supposed "safety" of the cartel - which is what the MPEG LA is - the cartel members seem to be suing each other, directly and by proxy, anyway. It's a shark tank!

You'd expect Ubuntu (or rather Canonical) to take the high road and work with providers of genuinely open formats - it's quite possible that Google will throw the switch on this, if only to annoy the MPEG cartel and reduce the need for hardware vendors to pay the cartel for licences - but instead they choose the mediocre option. Quite the own-goal, I think.

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Black Helicopters

Err, Torvalds would agree with you

He has said numerous times that as long as the kernel source itself isn't polluted with it (for obvious reasons), use all the closed-source binaries and modules you want.

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Pint

Freedom to tinker

"...for bringing me the light and beauty of a platform where I can run a C++ compiler without paying through the nose."

I'll drink to that.

Free codecs and formats and software whatever else are nice, but I bet what attracted a lot of kids and students to open source in the first place was the ability to cut some code. You just can't do that on Windows without jumping through so many hoops.

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Anonymous Coward

To be fair to Nvidia...

...they are better than some. They at least have Linux drivers! And, last time I looked, Canonical help with the testing and (golly gosh) they work rather well.

Sometimes one has to be pragmatic in this life. e.g. I tried to watch "Patent Absurdity" last night, even with the latest drivers from Xiph it doesn't play more than 6 seconds before doing a lovely rainbow effect.

It will play in VLC(which is my pragmatic option - sitting in the spare room, at the PC watching it there rather than through XP Media Center).

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H.264's undeserved bad rep

Apologies for the long post...

I was involved in MPEG for a few years around the time that MPEG-4 was being standardised and I find it curious that it is sometimes portrayed as the "bad guy" these days. I'm no big fan of how MPEG LA (which, despite the name, is a separate entity to the ISO MPEG organisation that developed the spec) has handled the licensing of MPEG-4 but, that apart, let me say the following:

- MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 are two names for the same thing and that is significant. For the first time, the ITU (telecoms standards) and ISO (digital TV and multimedia standards) agreed to create a joint spec in this area. Previously, they had produced specs that were broadly similar (e.g. MPEG-1 and H.261) but not compatible. This was an acknowledgement of the convergence that we take for granted today but wasn't so obvious 10 or 15 years ago.

- We hoped that we were producing a standard that would be so good that it would kill off the proprietary codecs that were emerging at that time and making multimedia a nightmare for practioners (remember "Choose Quicktime, Real Player or Windows Media"? :-) During the MPEG-4 process, we regularly received letters from people claiming to have a better solution. They were all invited to come and present their technology to see if they could show a significant improvement over the combined effort of the MPEG "experts". None did.

- Perhaps the most strange thing for me is the notion that H.264 was the work of some exclusive and unholy alliance of the big companies. There were 3 or 4 MPEG meetings each year back then, each one attended by around 300 experts from 100+ companies, universities and research organisations. The role played by some specific companies is often overstated, in my opinion.

Coming from the technology side, I would love to see H.264 accepted as the HTML5 video codec and I just hope MPEG LA have the vision to allow that to happen.

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Re: H.264's undeserved bad rep

--"We hoped that we were producing a standard that would be so good that it would kill off the proprietary codecs that were emerging at that time "--

Getting rid of the different proprietary codecs to consolidate around one was/is a laudable goal.

--"Perhaps the most strange thing for me is the notion that H.264 was the work of some exclusive and unholy alliance of the big companies"--

Why do you find that so strange? 300 experts from 100+ companies may have given their time and expertise, but who do you think owned the patents for the IP that got pooled to create MPEG-4 AVC? And did you really think they were just going to let go of that?

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Thumb Up

Competing for business

Canonical have a choice: do they want to compete head on with Microsoft and Apple, or be an "also ran". If they want Ubuntu to appeal to regular Microsoft and Apple users then they have to give them the same 'first class' web and multimedia experience that Microsoft and Apple do, out of the box. So really, being totally pragmatic about this, they have no other choice.

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Unhappy

+1

LOL, me too....closely followed by Medibuntu and Restricted-Extras, to get <spit>FlashPlayer, core fonts, css, all the multimedia codecs, closed source or otherwise, etc...

It's all very well attempting to stick to open source, but who suffers if you can't open/use the formats everyone else is!

Pragmatism and realism in similar does are required to effectively operate Linux (but at least these days, at least it's highly usable, everyday, after taking some of this medicine...)

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Silver badge
FAIL

You know...

I'd like to know what those H264 famous patents are, I keep hearing and reading about them here and everywhere else.

I bet they're an absurd bunch of well understood math... and that's why there's open source implementations of H264.

In a few years we'll see the paradox of many, many, many media players playing H264 using the open source implementation rather than the proprietary one made by Apple or even the proprietary MS one, but paying their patent tax religiously.

And that is because Mr Ballmer would like the manufacturer of such media player to use windows embedded (plus license, ca-ching! $$$ thank you) or Mr Jobs forcing the whole Quicktime (painful) experience down the manufacturer throat (no to mention the worker suicides) Hence the savvy Chinese manufacturer will use the mplayer libs to play H264.

(Note the chinesse manufacturer will likely be sued by the FSF because they will violate the GPL on their busybox implementation)

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Anonymous Coward

MPEG-LA patents

Here is the list that I was able to find at mpegla.com

http://www.mpegla.com/main/programs/avc/Documents/avc-att1.pdf

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Rehash???

Didn't we have this same issue when they sold the Fluendo codec pack in their shop?

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Silver badge
Headmaster

"Canonical inferred here"

Ummm, implied perchance?

You imply things with what you say, you infer things from what you hear*

* or read, write, see, do, whatever.

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The biggest names in tech

>Unfortunately for the industry, it's a handful of technology companies that have built H.264 that also >promoting it as safe and reliable

H.264 licensors include global industrial giants in tech. Companies like Hitachi, Panasonic, Samsung Sony and Mitsubishi.

Five aces dealt straight up. Twenty more in the pack.

The licensees - 815 - at last count - include hundreds of familiar names.

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Silver badge

Somewhat bizarre...

So Ubuntu's sponsor is licensing a video format for an OS that can't play MP3s "out of the box" because of their proprietory nature? Not to mention the "will it or won't it" question mark.

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/RestrictedFormats

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Grenade

So, how is Canonical going to make sure

the terms of the license are going to be enforced ? I assume Canonical is paying for the license a certain fee based on the volume or number of Ubuntu Linux installations/licenses sold so I wonder how are they going to count them properly ? Are we going to see some sort of compulsory registration or even better, Linux Genuine Advantage ?

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Silver badge
Linux

The horrors of Totem and Synaptic

Canonical is licensing h264 because codec support is one of those common FUD talking points when it comes to Linux Trolls. It doesn't matter that Ubuntu has a package manager that is easy peasy and has everything you need. It doesn't matter that the Ubuntu video player sorts out all of the details itself automagically. It doesn't matter that Ubuntu is infact better at sorting this stuff out than Windows or MacOS.

The fact that it's not on the install CD will be a FUD talking point.

It's better from a marketing perspective to include it.

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Silver badge
WTF?

A 'Community' Solution?

After many years, the Linux 'community' seems to be a well established and nicely working 'machine' that can turn out very good operating systems, and much more.

Why can't they put their enormous combined brain power into developing an audio and video encoding/decoding/storage system that is truly FOSS? Is it harder than writing an entire operating system?

Yes, I know there is Theora, etc; but it seem that Theora is treading on someone's patent toes. Are FOSS supportive lawyers checking patent texts and seeing if there really is a breach of IP with all this?

Why not get together in an organised way and develop the ultimate, free, working codec and give it as a gift to the world. Instead of arguing and worrying and messing about, just say 'sod it, we're starting from scratch and we're going for gold'. Or would that result in 'splitism' and sectarian arguments about what colour scheme the installer should present to the user?

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Free codecs

Apparently, it's almost impossible to take a video and make it a compressed video without violating someone's "patents"

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FAIL

thats the whole point really isn't it

it all comes back to the shit patent system.

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I don't think Ogg Theora's people or friends have said "We're in ur patents".

It's people like Apple who say, "Hey Theora! We have patents! Never mind what patents! We have patents and we are gonna come after your fundament!"

As far as the Oggists know, believe, or hope, there seem to be no such patents. But, on the other hand, suppose there's a patent that says "The invention is that video will be generated on a screen and audio system from a computer file", then it will be literally impossible, I think, to play computer video without stepping on that patent. We can only hope that it expires - and I think you can be persecuted with it even then if you had breached it, or allegedly breached it, during its lifetime.

Also, plugging any existing invention into a portable device, or a wireless network, or a phone, sometimes seems to generate a whole new patent, although not a very good one. For instance a phone app that photographs any thing and shows it on a screen as larger than actual size: you probably can patent that.

The patent office is paid by people who want to patent things, and it is paid to hand patents out, and not, mostly, to consider whether the patents are actually good. Some are tested in a court case and found to be worthless.

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Boffin

FFMPEG does H.264

FFMPEG does H.264 encoding and decoding, and it's also Open Source (LGPL; may become GPL or undistributable, depending on options enabled at compile time).

The worst of it all is, software patents are not even valid in most countries of the world.

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Badgers

Am I missing something?

I've been encoding movies to H.264 on Linux for years. Mind you I think they call it X.264 but it still plays fine in Quicktime, which sees it as H.264. What do Ubuntu users gain from this?

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