Feeds

Canonical explains Ubuntu unfree video choice

License to distribute

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

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. ®

The next step in data security

More from The Register

next story
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
'Windows 9' LEAK: Microsoft's playing catchup with Linux
Multiple desktops and live tiles in restored Start button star in new vids
iOS 8 release: WebGL now runs everywhere. Hurrah for 3D graphics!
HTML 5's pretty neat ... when your browser supports it
Mathematica hits the Web
Wolfram embraces the cloud, promies private cloud cut of its number-cruncher
Google extends app refund window to two hours
You now have 120 minutes to finish that game instead of 15
Intel: Hey, enterprises, drop everything and DO HADOOP
Big Data analytics projected to run on more servers than any other app
Mozilla shutters Labs, tells nobody it's been dead for five months
Staffer's blog reveals all as projects languish on GitHub
SUSE Linux owner Attachmate gobbled by Micro Focus for $2.3bn
Merger will lead to mainframe and COBOL powerhouse
iOS 8 Healthkit gets a bug SO Apple KILLS it. That's real healthcare!
Not fit for purpose on day of launch, says Cupertino
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.