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Ubuntu makes playing Proprietary Formats easier and legal


One of the perpetual pains of desktop Linux is dealing with DVDs and proprietary video and audio formats. Ubuntu, like the other Linuxes, have the same problem. Now, however, Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has made it easier for Ubuntu users to legally play DVDs and files encased in proprietary formats.

In a Canonical blog, Gerry Carr , Canonical’s marketing manager, explained how Canonical is making this possible. Carr wrote, “For the first time we are making codecs for media playback and a DVD player, from our partners at Fluendo and Cyberlink, available through the Ubuntu store.”

Fluendo, a Spanish open-source company, offers a commercial set of codices in the form of Gstreamer plug-ins. These allow any Gstreamer compatible media player, such as Banshee and Totem, to play media files in Windows Media, MP3, AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), MPEG2 and MPEG4 formats. Once you buy the full codex pack, for $39.95, you can download and install it. You can also buy a version that only supports the Window Media formats and MP3 for $24.96.

To play commercial video DVDs, Canonical offers PowerDVD Linux. This Cyberlink program both enables playing these DRM (Digital Rights Management) shielded discs and supplies a full DVD player application. Before buying the right to download this program, you should make sure that your PC has OpenGL driver support for its graphics hardware. Without this, you won’t be able to view any DVDs. PowerDVD Linux will cost you $49.95.

These are the same programs that Dell and other PC vendors already offer with their systems with pre-installed Ubuntu Linux so we already know that they work. Carr continued, “We have offered their products to our hardware partners as pre-install options. Now though, we are making them available to all users. It is important to us that no matter how you choose to access Ubuntu, pre-installed or as a free download, that you can have a similarly rich experience. The vast majority of our current users will have installed Ubuntu themselves. These users should also be allowed legal DVD and media playback and so we have built a way of letting them do this.”

Some of you who new to Linux may be wondering why Ubuntu doesn’t just package these programs with Ubuntu. Carr explains, “We cannot ship codecs through the distro, as they are not free to redistribute. So we have built a restricted download area that is accessible through the store. Once purchased you can find your software here which will then install in the familiar hassle-free way that Ubuntu users appreciate.”

There are free ways to add this functionality to Ubuntu, or any other Linux. For Ubuntu, these instructions for Ubuntu 7.10. These should still work for Ubuntu 8.04. There are also Linux distributions, notably Mint, which is based on Ubuntu, that make it easier to play DVDs and proprietary formats.

These methods do this by skirting various legal issues. If this is a concern to you, and you still want to view commercial DVDs and play videos or music locked into proprietary formats, then buying the Cyberlink and Fluendo programs is the legal way to get at them.