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What does it profit a man?

The community first started talking about a desktop solution for helping people find available open source codec solutions in the context of the ubiquitous MP3 format. The Fedora community has never made any secret of the fact that we think MP3 has severe problems compared with Ogg Vorbis, both in its patent encumbrances and its sound quality at lower bit rates. We know our users have MP3 and are faced with it every day, as they’re faced with many other patent-encumbered, proprietary formats. Codeina was originally designed to mediate some of these problems by pointing people to solutions for these media needs.

Recall, though, that the Fedora mission — the whole point of the project — is to rapidly advance free and open software and content. Some of the solutions offered in Codeina as it ships in Fedora currently are closed source and proprietary, not to mention patent-encumbered. Moreover, there are freely available, open source solutions available to users who live in places where they’re legal. So how is pointing to closed source solutions, when there are open source ones available for people for whom they’re legal, the right answer? We’re going about this the wrong way; the failure here occurred some time ago, and we’ve just got around to acknowledging it.

Codeina hasn’t really put users any closer to free and open source solutions. We do think it’s helped us educate some users about software patents and the importance of open, non-proprietary formats. Furthermore, it does offer an open source, albeit patent-encumbered, solution for die-hard MP3 users. The Board feels that success is worth building on. Karsten said as much in a blog comment earlier today. But you can get the exact same results from Codeina by following the link to our wiki site, and from there to the Fluendo webshop, which offers all these codecs for people who want them in a closed source form for some reason.

Pointing people to closed-source solutions is not a way to advance free and open software and content. And of course, all of this begs the larger question of how we do a better job of championing software patent reform and preserving a vendor-neutral information ecosystem where truly free formats aren’t discriminated against. Providing users a way to get a patent-encumbered but open source MP3 decoder doesn’t sacrifice those ideals; patents don’t work the same everywhere, which is why, while it’s still a big concern, it’s far less onerous than the problem of providing black-box fixes.

We need to keep pursuing all these opportunities, in a way that stays true to Fedora’s principles. The Board’s decision was motivated by passionate individuals who care about users and their freedom, in the long term and in all its troublesome glory. I encourage you to discuss this with us at the usual places.

7 Comments

  1. Jeremy Katz said,

    March 15, 2008 @ 7:11 pm

    If we’re going this road, one thing we need to do is be consistent. We should make sure Firefox doesn’t point you to the non-free Flash plugin and also check in other apps (I know that bitkeeper had some similar bits at one point).

    Also, I suspect the message would be better if we were actually working on Codeina so that sources could be “plugged in” by dropping in a file. Then we ship the Fluendo mp3 file, Fluendo could provide a “Fluendo other codecs” file (which they could ship on their web site and link to from the mp3 plugin page), and The Repository Which Shall Not Be Named could also drop a similar file in. While Codeina in theory had the design for this, the last time I looked, there wasn’t actually code to back it up :-)

    I know that gets back to “the Board has no control over resources”, though. Hence we circle back to what some of what you and I talked about a few weeks ago.

  2. troll said,

    March 16, 2008 @ 9:04 am

    Just drop the madness like on the Fedora’s FAQ… “How to get DVD playback capability” “Umm that’s bad, use OGG instead” => Now how many DVDs contain OGG?

    You got to fulfill the need first, take care of ideologies after that. People will install instantly WMV codec, DVD playback support, MP3 support, and Adobe’s Flash plugin. Gnash fails to way too many sites to be an alternative, it is still years behind.

  3. Federico Kereki said,

    March 24, 2008 @ 8:19 am

    I think this squarely falls in the “shoot-yourself-in-the-foot” category. Free, open, software is a nice goal, but I need to be able to USE my computer, no matter how. The day FLOSS drivers are available for every need, then and only then remove closed software, but not before.

  4. Paul said,

    March 24, 2008 @ 10:02 am

    @Federico:

    No one is stopping you from using any software you like on your system. The question is whether we allow codeina to actively advocate closed-source software, by pointing users to it when there are open source solutions already available. Tell the truth — do you buy these solutions from Fluendo? Or do you use Livna or another package repository to install them? Aha, trick question — because you’ll still be able to do both as you like, although as always you assume any legal risk depending on where you live (IANAL). I think the real “shoot yourself in the foot” action is to install closed source software on your system that can’t be poked, prodded, or fixed when it doesn’t work right. No one is “removing” closed source software from your system; Codeina has been and remains open source.

  5. Phillip said,

    March 27, 2008 @ 11:20 am

    I agree with Troll & Federico in that if Fedora wants to shio with no ref to codecs, then fine, if that makes them sleep better at night. But as troll says he (like me) wants to playback DVD, so let a third party write a howto on the subject of installing codecs, and give the end user the freedom of choice, codecs or no codecs. And if we want to get really technical with the splitting of hairs, hands up all those users who use Nvidea graphics cards, well their closed source, so sorry lads in the true spirit of open source, your gonna have to uninstall your nice graphics card. Whats going to happen is that if people dont have the choice here, then linux will remain an exclusive geeks club, and will never progress, so the hardware manufactorers will be less inclined to port their drivers to linux. So quit the moralistic rubbish all those in the position of power, let the end user have the choice, their the ones who are going to use your product. Morals, scrupples etc have a place, but dont expect everyone else to agree to your views, we have a view as well. phillip dot chandler at ntlworld dot com

  6. neighborlee said,

    March 29, 2008 @ 11:24 pm

    Hi there,

    I concur here , that wanting something to be true, and having it be a reality are entirely two different animals. You can’t force people to use FOSS even though yes we all get that its desireable.

    Nvidia, who may sometime yes release their driver as FOSS, are at the very least providing ‘decent’ drivers for our hardware, for those whom need to do serious work.

    Ive said this before, and I’ll reiterate it; why can’t we have the best possible worlds where FOSS is recommended ( and reasons given in clear speak WHY its important without envagelizing ) and where non-FOSS is offered as a conceding point on the path to end user fulfillment.

    ..and we wonder why linux doesnt have a bit better driver/game support than it does atm.

    If you ask most anyone, its those two issues that dominate why they dont use linux fulltime , so if anyone is serious about FOSS having a chance at becoming a household name ( and rightfully so ) , then its time for the jive to get jilted ;)

    cheers

  7. Karsten Wade said,

    March 30, 2008 @ 9:47 am

    Interesting how all the commentators make the same point, that Fedora needs to not restrict user’s freedom.

    Paul, why is it when we respond to that point people never read the comment?

    Your original post and comment are quite clear — all of the other commentators here are free to do as they wish and Fedora doesn’t restrict that in any way. We just make choices about what we think is right for Fedora.

    I guess if we refused to ship, for example, KDE, we’d get all the people complaining about that who would only need to drop in yum-kde.repo and install whatever they want. So, that much is to be expected (“par for the course”).

    My concern is the false thinking of people that they are somehow helping Linux progress with their acceptance of Insidious Bad Stuff. “It’s just a little heroin.” “I only traded video game money for a handjob, I’m not a real prostitute.” “These cheap aftermarket parts are just as good as the Bosch.”

    Folks, compromise your values as much as you desire. Just don’t disguise that sometimes serious compromise as “better pragmatism for Linux!”, it rings false.

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