making deals with M$

Remco remco47 at
Mon Jun 9 19:40:45 UTC 2008

Mark (Shuttleworth),

You know, I mostly agree with this viewpoint. (I should also point out
that I wasn't really a part of this discussion, as I only commented on
the non-free codec of the video) There is no point in preventing users
from watching their non-free videos legally. And it is probably
sensible to provide the codecs by default on consumer devices, because
they can't be expected to be connected to the internet to solve the
codec problem.

I only have/had two problems with the situation, and that's not
something against Canonical per se:

1. The site provided a non-free video, which means that it assumes a
non-free system. More worryingly, it shows that the ones who created
the page (Canonical) made that assumption. So it is not only
impractical (you need a non-free codec), or a bad example for open
source, but it's also a tiny insight in the state of mind of
Canonical. They obviously care about open source, and I think they are
the big break for open source, but they still occasionally drop into
speaking a non-free language, if you will.

Please also think about this scenario: An Ubuntu user comes across a
site with a video. It has a big play button, and also a link to a
Theora version of it. The Ubuntu user wants to play the video, so he
clicks on the play button. Totem now asks if he wants to install
something to view the video. It says that there are certain moral and
legal issues with it, but he is promised that he can watch the video
if he clicks on Install. He's curious about this video, so he accepts.
The Theora version that would have kept his system free has been
completely bypassed.

2. As you can see, the problem of awareness remains. No OEM in their
right mind will provide an Ubuntu-based device, whether it is a
consumer device or a desktop computer, without proprietary codec
support. How are their users going to learn about free file formats,
and why it is important? For them it's not even important anymore,
because they can play it anyway. This continues the ruling of the
proprietary codec organizations.

I don't think there is a real solution to the second problem that
doesn't violate the user-friendliness people have come to expect from
their devices. Teaching the user about non-free issues automatically
makes the system less user-friendly. A balance must be sought. For a
PC install, that balance has been found at the installation level: a
codec is not provided by default, but can be easily installed after
you've read the issues involved. I have not used a Dell computer, but
my guess is that those computers are tainted out of the box. For these
netbook devices, there will be a large number of people that don't
care about computers at all, so how much sense is there really in
trying to teach them about free software and file formats?

It all boils down to the fact that "teaching the user" is never a good
strategy. There is only so much you can do. Providing the correct
information when you can might be ineffective, but it's also all you
can, or want to do. The people who are potentially attracted to the
free software philosophy will learn about it anyway. That's probably


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