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.