Restricted Multimedia Formats - The Solutions

The problem with restricted multimedia formats has been described in RestrictedFormatsProblem. Since it is a complex issue, any possible solution would imply some kind of compromise.

Right now, there are three proposed solutions:

1) Making two versions of Ubuntu: one for countries with software patents (equal to the Ubuntu we have now), and the other for the rest of the world (with out-of-the-box support for MP3, DVDs, MPEG-4 aka "DivX", etc).

  • Pros: better out-of-the-box experience for non-USA users, might raise patent awareness.

  • Cons: doesn't help users from the USA, requires the overhead of maintaining two versions.

2) Including some kind of post-install assistant with Ubuntu, that asks users if they live in a software-patent-country or not, and then installs all the necessary packages (whether by downloading them or by pulling them from the CD if bundling those files is legal).

  • Pros: better desktop experience for all users, might raise patent awareness (slightly).

  • Cons: requires Internet connectivity.

(A first draft of this spec can be found in RestrictedFormatsAssistant. A completely different spec, which uses a per-case approach, can be found in EasyCodecInstallation)

3) Including non-Free software (like RealPlayer), so users from all countries could legally play most multimedia formats.

  • Pros: better desktop experience for all users.

  • Cons: breaks Ubuntu's commitment with Free Software.

Temporary "Solution"

All of the above solutions would take some time to implement, not to mention bureaucratic hurdles. In the mean time, many users are becoming frustrated because they don't understand why restricted formats don't work "out of the box". Many of them think that it is because Ubuntu is either broken or too complex and they don't realize that these formats are not included for mostly legal reasons.

To mitigate the negative impact of the delay in implementing one of the above "true" solutions users should be informed as to why the extremely popular, but restricted formats such as MP3s, DVDs, etc don't work "out of the box". To accomplish this, an HTML document can be included on all freshly installed ubuntu desktops titled, "Why can't I play MP3s/DVDs/etc" explaining to the user why some of the most popular formats are not included by default.

  • Pros: quick and easy to do, eases user frustration by keeping users informed, raises patent awareness.

  • Cons: it is not really a solution and is only meant to placate users while a real solution is being implemented.

Malone bug report

Please see also this bug report for additional thought and suggestions:

RestrictedFormatsSolutions (last edited 2008-08-06 16:25:52 by localhost)