Feeds

Canonical explains Ubuntu unfree video choice

License to distribute

Boost IT visibility and business value

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 PCs, they have not licensed H.264.

Canonical inferred here that PC manufacturers that engage with its OEM services unit have the right to gain coverage for the company's license of H.264.

OEMs work with Canonical to tune Ubuntu to their hardware, for things like fast start-ups or to work with specific graphics drivers.

The H reported that Canonical director of business development Chris Kenyon said it has licenses to redistribute other open- and closed-source software, too. "Like Adobe Flash, Adobe Acrobat, Fluendo, RealPlayer, DVD players and other proprietary software, we have a direct re-distribution agreement for H.264," Kenyon said.

That doesn't mean, though, that all PCs with Ubuntu pre-installed are covered by Canonical's H.264 license. "The vendor may have opted not to include it", Kenyon said, as the PC maker decides what additional software and codecs they want included on the machine.

The H continued that the issue: "is further complicated by some components (like DVD drives) coming with codec and software licences pre-bundled."

Apparently you, the consumer, have no way of telling what codecs are included on the machine, unless the manufacturer has called them out - something that'll miff open sourcers. Canonical has apparently tried to do right by the community, and "explored setting some minimum requirements for codecs, but this is not something that we presently do."

Licensing of codecs is a thorny subject that's as difficult to navigate for those building and implementing systems as it is for open sourcers like Canonical who've had to bite the bullet and swallow a piece of software that goes against their open-source creed.

Kenyon didn't say "why" Canonical licensed H.264. And in a way, he didn't have to.

As I wrote in my original article that revealed Canonical's H.264 license, it's the price of doing business for companies like Canonical that might support open and free alternatives to H.264 such as Ogg Theora, but that also want to serve the mass consumer market. That's a market where billions of devices play video using H.264 because it's seen by media companies as being both ubiquitous - so video plays anywhere - and safe, in terms of technical reliability and patents.

Unfortunately for the industry, it's a handful of technology companies that have built H.264 that are also promoting it as safe and reliable. Those companies include Microsoft and Apple, which are delivering either video players in their software or actual video content through services like iTunes that'll run on those billions of device in the marketplace. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
KDE releases ice-cream coloured Plasma 5 just in time for summer
Melty but refreshing - popular rival to Mint's Cinnamon's still a work in progress
Leaked Windows Phone 8.1 Update specs tease details of Nokia's next mobes
New screen sizes, dual SIMs, voice over LTE, and more
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
Mozilla keeps its Beard, hopes anti-gay marriage troubles are now over
Plenty on new CEO's todo list – starting with Firefox's slipping grasp
Apple: We'll unleash OS X Yosemite beta on the MASSES on 24 July
Starting today, regular fanbois will be guinea pigs, it tells Reg
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.