Binary-only codecs, nyet

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

Corey, the distinctions between software that enables the hardware to function fully, and software that delivers a specific feature, are manifest.

Ubuntu has included firmware, and used proprietary drivers since its inception. That’s always been a slightly uncomfortable proposition, as Mako observed, but it’s been true since the Warty Warthog. Even Debian goes some way along that road with its inclusion of firmware and other non-free bits, suspending belief in the DFSG in this particular case. We discussed this at length in one of our earliest summits and settled on the hardware enablement vs apps boundary.

It’s worth pointing out that all of the applications that will be enabled by the AcceleratedX decision are free software applications – Compiz/Beryl and related work are all about showing what is possible at the cutting edge of free software. The hardware to run this is part of the very basic standard PC offering today, but the drivers to enable that functionality are tied deeply to hardware that is not publicly documented. The vendors concerned each have their own strategy – some open, such as Intel, and some closed, such as ATI and Nvidia.

We lobby the companies concerned to open up their drivers, and to a certain extent we can apply market pressure, directing users to hardware which DOES have free drivers which I believe is a much more effective approach than “preaching from a distance”. It’s always better to engage and work with someone than to sanction them and isolate oneself. I’m certain that this strategy moves the free software agenda forward more effectively than any other. Our strategy has already put us in a position to influence significant open source strategy with major companies, and we have used that leverage to accelerate their embracing of free licenses. It’s not always possible to claim public credit when that happens, but I’m sufficiently convinced of the merits of the approach that I feel very good about the impact we are having in the world. I think Ubuntu will have a bigger chance of helping to convince Nvidia and ATI to take an open approach if we build a good relationship, apply market pressure, and get them to see the benefits to them of the open source road. We will, I think, get them there, but not by pouting and yelling insults from our high horse. Remember how little power we really have in that discussion, and remember that free software progress has always been made by playing to our strengths. For a very long part of the history of free software it was ONLY possible to run GNU tools on a proprietary OS.

We can’t assume fancy graphics functionality will be on every machine Ubuntu is installed on, we can however allow X and free software apps to take full advantage of it when the hardware is present. I’m very happy that it is possible (and straightforward!) to remove the non-free drivers from Ubuntu, and I don’t believe that the AcceleratedX specification will change that. In fact, I worked quite hard to get Gnubuntu (an ISO of Ubuntu without any restricted elements) off the ground – it has effectively now emerged as gNewSense and I would encourage you to use that if this is a touchstone issue for you.

I hear you when you say “users want proprietary codecs”. That’s why we make sure these items ARE available, at the user’s option, as packages on the network repositories. That allows users who need that functionality, or who choose that functionality over free alternatives, to exercise that choice freely. We don’t make that choice for them, though of course there is huge demand from real users for that. And we will stay firm in that regard. Ubuntu does not, and will never, include proprietary applications.

Why NOT include those items? Because they exist in free forms, for a start. There are free implementations of MP3 and MPEG and other proprietary codes, and in some jurisdictions its perfectly legal to use them. In time, it will be legal to use them everywhere. That’s not true of drivers for your graphics card. Refusing to include the proprietary codecs, and Flash, and until recently, Java, is part of what defines Ubuntu’s core set of values. So is making damn sure the OS enables the hardware you run it on. In the case of modern graphics hardware, which is the particular item that you are talking about, we are getting to the point where the majority of the transistors in your computer are devoted to pixel and vertex shading, and dead unless you enable them properly. So it’s silly to say that this is “unimportant hardware functionality”.

64 Responses to “Binary-only codecs, nyet”

  1. Brian Says:

    Ubuntu claims to be two things — free, and an OS for human beings. Free has a lot of definitions attached to it, and Ubuntu is free in just about every sense of the word. What bothers me is when “Free” becomes a moral viewpoint, a position which contradicts heavily with the claim of being an operating system for human beings. The layperson really only cares about one definition of the word free — that meaning it doesn’t cost him or her a penny. Free from an OSS developer standpoint, or a Linux traditionalist, is often that of anti-proprietary, stick-it-to-the-man kind of attitude. When I think of an OS for human beings, I think of an operating system that, out of the box, will install the most efficient and complete components based on that hardware, proprietary or not. Truth be told, most users don’t want to make a choice, they just want it to work, and to work well. I think it’s also negligent, especially considering Ubuntu’s goals in mind, not to include defacto standard libraries such as mp3 codecs. The biggest issue facing Linux is it’s traditional users, who don’t seem to realize that the average person doesn’t share their technical expertise, nor have the ambition to learn, tweak, customize and tinker. They simply want things to work.

    I would also like to point out that I think Ubuntu is an awesome distro and I am pulling for it. Of all the distro’s I have used, it is certainly the easiest to use and configure. Keep up the good work Mark, I think it’s a great thing you’re doing here.

  2. Q. T. Pie Says:

    “We will, I think, get them there, but not by pouting and yelling insults from our high horse.”

    I agree.

  3. aguafuertes Says:

    @Brian: I absolutely disagree, being a layperson myself (well, maybe not that much anymore, but definitely when trying Ubuntu for the first time a year ago). I always wonder why we have such a negative image of newbies/laypersons/joe users (“just care things work”, “free = no money to pay”, “not willing to make informed choices”). If this were true, people would still use illegal copies of Windows. What is it that makes us itch and keeps us from stressing the main advantage Linux and Ubuntu offers: freedom (as in speech)? Why do we, in an ecosystem that claims to challenge traditional beliefs, still assume traditional properties of “consumers”?

    From my personal experience (we started an Ubuntu group in my city here in Germany), people try Linux not because of convenience, but because of the “moral” issues we somehow seem afraid to stress for ourselves. They THEN try Ubuntu because it promises to make this moral decision easier than other distributions. We don’t have any expert participants, and no one who has not experienced the drawbacks of using an alternative system, and yet somehow they all stick to their choice. And more people are joining…

    I alway felt that Ubuntu had the right balance, keeping up to the values of FOSS and make the best distribution on this basis. With the inclusion of binary drivers by default, it seems the weight is going to the convenience side, compromising the foundation the distro was built on. And I don’t believe that messing with your own foundation is a good idea.

    Hopefully a solution can be reached where the binary drivers are not included by default, but their installation is intuitive and easy.

  4. shane Says:

    If you want to do this, make a BSD distribution. Ask Kororaa, you are VIOLATING THE GPL.

  5. Jakob Petsovits Says:

    Well, Mark, if that’s your opinion on the issue then I have little hope that Ubuntu will change the direction that it’s heading to.

    Just one more thing: mentioning gNewSense as an alternative is pointless, although it’s a good thing to have it at all. gNewSense is made for a minority of people who already know what they want, and who don’t have any weight on any vendor decision because there’s so few of them. The binary blob issue is all about the masses, and you know that just as well as I do.

    So, please, word your “educational message” in a way that new Ubuntu users will want to buy Intel cards instead of ATI/nVidia when they get their next computer. Putting a strong emphasis on the importance of free drivers is the least you can do.

    So that’s that. While Brian says:
    “The biggest issue facing Linux is it’s traditional users, who don’t seem to realize that the average person doesn’t share their technical expertise, nor have the ambition to learn, tweak, customize and tinker. They simply want things to work.”

    Now, really. I wouldn’t prefer fifty of those users if I over just one willing-to-learn, willing-to-help and willing-to-contribute person with the potential to join the community instead of just leeching things that don’t cost a thing (and probably complaining about everything that doesn’t work, and what not). If there’s a conflict between those groups (which is the case here for sure) then you have to define your target groups well.

  6. Un coro di “no” ai driver proprietari in Ubuntu « pollycoke :) Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth: Binary-only codecs, nyet in parole povere: Ubuntu può scendere a compromessi con queste aziende, e una volta sullo stesso livello, si può esercitare un po’ di pressione. […]

  7. Brian Says:

    “Now, really. I wouldn’t prefer fifty of those users if I over just one willing-to-learn, willing-to-help and willing-to-contribute person with the potential to join the community instead of just leeching things that don’t cost a thing (and probably complaining about everything that doesn’t work, and what not).”

    The goal is not to turn every user into a Linux enthusiast. I see a mainstream Linux distribution as an opportunity to provide a viable alternative to proprietary operating systems, while showing that the open source model can be lucrative at the same time. Linux gains power in numbers, not knowledge. If Linux’ success was measured by the knowledge of it’s users, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Unfortunately, this isn’t a measure of success. The open source model can coexist peacefully with the proprietary model. It was only a couple years ago that we were begging for drivers from hardware vendors, we didn’t care if they were proprietary or not. Suddenly, this is not enough. It is fundamentally wrong to say that the only way of doing things is to be completely open, because this in many ways contradicts with the idea of being free.

    In regards to certain users “complaining about everything,” I tend to disagree. Windows users are some of the most tolerant people I know.

  8. Jonathan Carter Says:

    Thanks for making your viewpoint so clear, Mark. As the sabdfl of Ubuntu I think it’s important that people know exactly where you stand, as it has a direct result on future decisions on Ubuntu.

    To Brian who commented earlier, free is important as in freedom, the cost price is close to irrelevant. Personally I would rather pay R500 for a completely free operating system before I get a non-free operating system for nothing.

  9. troy_s Says:


    “users want proprietary codecs” — this is complete and utter rubbish. Users are duped into the codecs, the drivers, and other such foolish paths because of an _information gap_.

    How many users were aware of the DRM when they downloaded the quick and easy garbage mp3 encoded songs from iTunes?
    How many users realized that when they purchased a piece of hardware to display graphics that they were buying into a closed intellectual proprietary system?

    Education. Education. Education.

    Quick and easy click click click will _not_ help our culture if it is not coupled with education.

    Remember — even if we won the fight and got exclusive drivers, documentation, closed NDA bound agreements with Ubuntu — how far ahead does that put us? It doesn’t work. Never has. Never will. Let’s use Ubuntu’s momentum to achieve serious and long lasting change in society in the name of technological _freedom_.

    Whoever is spewing such rubbish should sit down and educate themselves first. Enough said.


  10. Glanz Says:

    Freedom is the ability to choose. As Mark pointed out in his way, this is not a “black or white”, on or off, yes or no issue. A truly “free” OS as defined by FSF would be more of an “inoperable” system than an operating system. Most hardware is proprietary, so why use it? How many of you are using HURD with a HURD kernel on a steam-punk, kerosine-powered PC?
    Yet, since I have been using Debian and the BSD since their respective inceptions, I do appreciate the concept of freedom that encompasses the freedom NOT to get caught in the “Ownership syndrome” that is so extolled by the American culture of greed, litigation and possessiveness.
    Now that Linux has become a viable options for governments, businesses and users worldwide, I have to agree with the lobbying and pressure tactics that Mark mentioned above.

  11. skippy Says:

    Mark said “Compiz/Beryl and related work are all about showing what is possible at the cutting edge of free software.” I question whether Linux For Human Beings needs to push the cutting edge onto every day, casual users by default; or whether that cutting edge should be made available to those so interested.

    When I told my sister that she could use her new MacBook as a lightsaber, she simply rolled her eyes in exasperated amazement. Such “cutting edge” features won’t help her be more productive with her laptop. Smacking her MacBook won’t improve the user experience for my sister. Eye-candy features like those I’ve seen in Compiz/Beryl will be completely useless for my sister’s — indeed, most users’ — day-to-day computer usage.

    I understand the desire to work on sexy, flashy things; and I understand that some amount of eye candy will attract new users. But what will the resultant user experience be for everyone else? What is being sacrificed to pursue the bling?

    I know of at least a handful of people who have abandoned Ubuntu as a result of upgrade problems. These were casual users, intrigued by the purported features provided by Ubuntu; and they’ve all now moved to other distributions for fear that Ubuntu is not a viable long-term platform.

    Choice is good; but I encourage the Ubuntu team to make the choice to focus on a rock-solid, functional desktop Linux distribution for human beings. Eye candy can be added to the system later by those folks who want it.

  12. Says:

    Drivers/firmware privativo en Ubuntu, ¿por qué?…

    Mark Shuttleworth explica acerca de las decisiones de Ubuntu al incluir (o no) elementos privativos por defecto. Por una parte están los firmwares o drivers binarios, y por otra los codecs y aplicaciones privativas: la diferencia está en que unos te …

  13. Dmitry Mityugov Says:

    Excellent, thank you Mark!

  14. Scott Robinson Says:

    Has Canonical considered providing funds or donations to the projects attempting to reverse engineer, and provide free drivers for currently proprietary hardware?

  15. Nicholas Wheeler Says:

    Heya Mark. Thanks for your post, it was very clear and now we know where you stand on this issue. I was wondering, however, if there was a possibility to, instead of shipping these binary blobs (and firmware) on the Ubuntu cd, fetch them from the internet post-install?

    Also, speaking of post-install-fetching, is it against the Ubuntu principal to have a “Wizard” of sorts to install all the commonly desired, yet closed applications, similar to EasyUbuntu or Automatix, except instead of breaking your system, does the correct thing the “Ubuntu”-way. This way it would be more of a “next->next->next” ordeal to install all the commonly desired applications. This would easily free up a bunch of questions from #ubuntu.

  16. Paul McGarry Says:

    I do not see how you “apply market pressure” by treating both open and closed sourced drivers equally.

    Surely “market pressure” stems from differentiating between the two, promoting hardware with open source drivers so that they have a competative advantage over propietary devices.

    If there is no differentiation how can their be any market pressure to change?

    I chose a laptop (Fujitsu Lifebook P7120) with an Intel graphics chipset specifically because I wanted to play with the 3D toys and knew Intel work hard on their drivers, see:

    If you treat other vendors with closed drivers as first class citizens then what incentive is there for them to change?

    Ubuntu should provide (by default) open drivers only unless there is no alternative. All users will still have a very credible desktop and the lack of 3D desktop eyecandy on some hardware would create a real, highly visible incentive for other vendors to get on board and either open their drivers or help (with code or specs) improve the open drivers that already exist for their code.

  17. Neffscape >> » Driver proprietari in Ubuntu, le giustificazioni di Mark Shuttleworth Says:

    […] Superata, almeno per il momento, la controversia sulla mail agli sviluppatori di OpenSuSE, Mark Shuttleworth, padre di ubuntu, torna a parlare di un altra questione ideologicamente importante riguardante l’inclusione di driver proprietari in ubuntu (di cui si è già lungamente parlato in questo blog). Il discorso di Mark, che è possibile leggere in versione completa (in inglese) sul suo blog personale, spiega o tenta di spiegare le ragioni di questa scelta. […]

  18. maks Says:

    i’ll won’t waste anymore a minute to push Debian changes into Ubuntu.
    It is now already bad in syncing.
    stink and ready to sink.

  19. antistress Says:

    I would be very surprised if including closed driver would lead to apply any pressure on ATI or Nvidia.
    Because if you play their game, you accept their rules and then you can’t argue anymore.

    I think that people who think that way should read the interview of Simon Phipps (open source responsable at Sun)

    ” Pourquoi avoir choisi la licence GPL ?

    Java a 11 ans. Il est utilisé par 10 millions de développeurs dans le monde. Huit téléphones portables sur dix l’embarquent. Et après ? Comment, à partir de là, développer le marché ? Pour progresser, nous devons le faire croître globalement. Et ce n’est pas en tuant la compétition que l’on y parvient. C’est un pari. L’un des principaux problèmes résidait dans l’impossibilité de livrer Java directement avec les distributions Linux, Fedora, Debian, et toutes ses variations.

    En Amérique du Sud, par exemple, la principale distribution est Debian. Elle est aussi très présente en Europe. Nous avons considéré la licence Apache, ou la CDDL. Mais la GPL offre une garantie de compatibilité supérieure. La décision de l’adopter a été difficile à prendre. Elle ne faisait pas l’unanimité. Nous sommes les garants de la plate-forme Java, et notre rôle est de la protéger. Chacun de nos choix implique des millions de développeurs, et probablement des milliards d’utilisateurs. Nous avons donc longuement réfléchi. ”

    It is said that Java had to be included in GNU/Linux because of the amount of linux-users, especially in South america (Debian.). The only way to achieve that goal was to open it.

    Java has been opened because Debian refused to integrate Java in its product

  20. ahci.c Says:

    I don’t get it! What’s wrong with ‘Do you want non-free drivers installed? At the moment, they are needed for full functionality of Ubuntu on your hardware.’ question at install time, if installer detects hardware that doesn’t work (to full extend) with free drivers (including wireless and VGA cards)? Why does it have to be by default? ‘Put the money where your mouth is’ – FREE.

    And… No Canonical, IBM or even Microsoft can force (unless they buy them) nvidia/amd to open source their drivers. They will not do that. Period. They will not even release specs. Period. There’s nothing you can do about that. They are abusing each others patents and they don’t want to go to court. Forget about that.

    Ubuntu really had a chance to make something different. Now it looks like it will join Linspire, MEPIS and other not so important distributions (that don’t care about FREE). Should we start a quest for a new hero?

  21. Johnsie Says:

    For Ubuntu to be complete it needs to fulfill the requirements of the users. People can talk about freedom but really the main issue is that Ubuntu actually does what people want to use their computers for. The I-generation wants to be able to watch videos, listen to music and all the rest of it. Businesses have requirements too. Constructive pressure is necessary to get the big companies to release the codes. However saying “just buy intel” takes away from the choice of the user and doesn’t really help the people who already have Nvidia/ATI and want to give Linux a shot. It’s quite simple, people wont migrate to Linux if it doesn’t work with the hardware/software they’ve already got and like. I think those big companies need to encouraged to do stuff and we can also concentrate on emulation until they do help out.

  22. Manuel Herrera Says:

    Bien dicho Mark…
    Amigos creo que tenemos que despertar, Ubuntu se ha convertido en la Opcion popular y Linux ya no es lo que era hace 2 o 3 años, ahora Linux es una opcion de escritorio viable, es decir, ya puede entenderse como una opcion frente a Microsoft windows.
    Gracias al fenomeno Ubuntu y por supuesto todos los años de trabajo de otras distribuciones, tales como Debian, Fedora, Mandriva, Gentoo y Suse, etc. Podemos mencionar la palabra Linux sin que la gente se extrañe, es decir, gracias a todos estos esfuerzos Linux ya es conocido como el gran Sistema Operativo del mundo Libre.

  23. Tristan Says:

    While not as alarmed as ahci.c, I think he/she made a good point with the prompt at installation to see if they want to install the proprietary graphics drivers. It has the best of both worlds.

    You might point out that there’s no prompt for the wireless drivers, but I don’t think thats quite the same. For very many people, lack of a wireless connection renders their computer unusable (regular Ethernet is not always an option). Somebody picking ‘no’ to the proprietary drivers will not render the system unusable.

  24. DC@DR Says:

    That’s it, my questions answered, now I fully understand the point where Ubuntu’s heading to. Thanks, and keep on the good works, Mark, and I’d like to say that I would stick to Ubuntu, for sure :-)

  25. daniel Says:

    I had to make a comment about what Jakob Petsovits said:

    “Now, really. I wouldn’t prefer fifty of those users if I over just one willing-to-learn, willing-to-help and willing-to-contribute person with the potential to join the community …”

    This sort of view point is exactly why linux has not achieved the potential that it should have. Linux could/should have a huge user base by now but it is seen as a an os that only technically minded people can use. An OS’s primary goal must be maximising end user productivity. A computer is not for playing around with computers, its about performing tasks that would take longer/be harder without a computer.

  26. Scott Alexander Says:

    I’m an absolute newbie to Linux and Ubuntu and I recently became interested in Ubuntu and went out and bought a second hard drive for my laptop and swapped out the XP formatted drive and installed Ubuntu AMD64. I was very impressed with the operating system itself but completely frustrated after days of trying to update driver so that they would display 1280×800 resolution on the ATI Radeon Mobility 9600 graphics card that is in my emachines AMD64 m6805 laptop. So far I have been unsuccessful and every thing appears elongated horizontally on screen. I was also frustrated when I tried to install codecs so I could watch DVDs and view videos on web sites that I frequent. I finally got a lot of that working thanks to Automatix but even that was not without problems and many plug-ins that I normally need are not available or not available in AMD64 compatible versions. I can’t use Real Audio, Flash, view WMV or Quicktime movies for me this is very problematic and makes Ubuntu much less useful to me.

    In my opinion, a successful operating system is one that I don’t have to think to much about. I don’t want to have to fight with my tools to get what I want to do done. Unfortunately, I’ve had to fight with Ubuntu quite a bit since I installed it and still haven’t been successful in using Ubuntu as a tool to get work done. I’ve been to busy trying to get it to work. Some of this confusion is to be expected when learning a new OS, but in general I feel that is much too hard to deal with all of these driver and codec issues. For Ubuntu to gain wider acceptance you will find a way of making it easier to install and configure these kind of things.

    I hope my remarks are taken as constructive criticism. I would truly like to see Ubuntu to succeed and I feel that if you can find a solution to these driver and codec issues there will be no stopping Ubuntu.

  27. james Says:

    mark’s mythical ‘application of market pressure’ is a joke. Why would they see a benefit of going the open source route if they suffer no harm from continuing the closed source route? People continue to buy ATi and nVidia and they continue to be able to get the drivers installed with their operating system without any problems. I guess Mark Shuttleworth asking nicely will make them change their mind? Dream on.

  28. » Blog Archive » Shuttleworth: Proprietary drivers: yes! Binary only codecs: No! Says:

    […] Mark shuttleworth wrote the following on his blog: Refusing to include the proprietary codecs, and Flash, and until recently, Java, is part of what defines Ubuntu’s core set of values. So is making damn sure the OS enables the hardware you run it on. […]

  29. Wouter Schut Says:

    I don’t get it. People seem to have no problem with proprietary hardware but they do have a problem with proprietary drivers. Ubuntu carved a very strict line between hardware and software about what should be opensource. GNU is moving towards the hardware but currently we are just not far enough.

    1. More GNU on a proprietary OS is a good thing (like windows).
    2. More GNU on top of proprietary drivers is better.
    3. More GNU directly on top of proprietary hardware is even better.
    4. More GNU hardware would be the best.

    Ubuntu helps spreading the GNU. It might even be our best shot at getting to step 4.

    “Let He Who Is Without Windows Cast The First Stone” ;)

  30. kerneljack Says:

    I don’t really mind the proprietary drivers being there, as long as they are kept to a minimum and it suddenly doesn’t become *normal* to have a proprietary printer, scanner, video, wireless just to get any work done! I know that most of the stuff underneath is free, but if the scenario I described happens, then people will have to load up their free software OSes with tons of proprietary drivers just to get any work done. So we should lobby the manufacturers to give us *open* drivers, and if they at least give us some kind of driver, it is a good start, but let’s not get into a situation that proprieary drivers make up a large part of an otherwise open system.

    Offtopic rant:
    My one issue with Ubuntu so far has been the lack of WPA encryption support *at the install stage*. About 2 years or so ago now, I installed suse 9.3 I think and within the install it allowed me to choose WPA as the encryption and let me put my passphrase in. Even before the install finished, it went and downloaded updates before it asked me to restart. Now this is almost 2 years ago.

    Since that time I have been constantly trying all the ubuntu versions, hoping that they would fix this, but once again when I had to install Edgy a few weeks ago I had to fish out a Ethernet cable to connect to my laptop because otherwise it doesn’t really configure anything at install time. After I connect the cable and reboot, I then have to go and get ‘network-manager-gnome’ using the wired connection, then I can finally unplug it!

    I sincerely hope this is fixed in the next release. If this is something that is a bug or a feature request, where can I report it? If no-one is working on this, I am willing to help if I can find the time …

  31. frits Says:

    You mention the open sourcing of Java. Now, how did that happen? Was it the result of Ubuntu including binary Java and talking to Sun? Or was it because of Harmony and Classpath, and Red Hat spending a *lot* of effort in creating an open source alternative?

    Another problem is that this will not exactly encourage the community to work on open source drivers.

  32. onno Says:

    I think you should not confuse the popularity of ubuntu with the need to include the closed drivers. Every body can install them if they wish. It is not hard to do.
    Just think very well about what you will gain and what you will lose by doing this!!!!!
    That said…

    What Ubuntu realy needs is a hardware online shop that sells only 100% open hardware. Make 3 computers models low-end, mid-end, high-end. And sell them. Make sure you can have partners over the whole world. There will be allot of people who are willing to do it. Every city would be able to have one person that can assemble the computer. The only thing HQ Ubuntu would need to do is make the network and send the hardware to these Ubuntu fans.

    If Ubuntu computers would sell more and more then all hardware manufactures will want a piece of the cake and start opening up theire drivers. I would buy my computers at the Ubuntu shop.

    Simple think what you lose.

    PS. I wonder what RMS would say about this?

  33. Michael Anckaert Says:

    Like I already wrote on my blog: You Mark, are a person that has an intelligent, realistic view on desktop Linux and I’m glad that you are the SABDFL of Ubuntu Linux. Keep up the good work, stick with the ideas you wrote down in this post and make Ubuntu Linux a success!

    Many thanks from a happy Ubuntu Linux user!

  34. L Says:

    Non-free is not nice; free efforts to reverse-engineer and implement drivers for the non-free hardware do exist. Some ATI models are better supported with the free drivers than the privative ones; I think the choice should be on the user, at install time. Ubuntu cannot possibly provide support for non-free drivers, while a good share of the users won’t need the opengl functionability that privative drivers would enable them.
    Supporting (sponsoring) reverse-engineering projects like Nouveau ( is also an interesting idea to explore.

  35. Sebastian Bengtsson Says:

    So, if we can’t have a full set of media codecs included on the install CD, can we at least have working ogg vorbis/theora playback? If we have this working out of the box and bundle in some free media we have a proof of concept to show the new user that our OS can provide this functionality.
    Windows don’t support most media formats out of the box (at least not last time I installed it), I’m sure MS has their reasons for this. Ubuntu won’t support most media formats out of the box either, for our own special reasons. But we have to show /what can be made/ possible on our system.

    I also think that the installation should be in two steps:

    1 Install a working OS without proprietary codecs. Include whatever non-free firmware that is needed to get a working system, for the cases where no free alternative exists.

    2 Run a wizzard that explains the situation with proprietary drivers and codecs, lets the user make an educated choice for each case and then install drivers/codecs based on that choice.

  36. DarkMageZ Says:

    how do you intend to fix issues with these closed drivers? i realize now that it would take some sort of miracle to get amd/nvidia to opensource or openspec their stuff… BUT what if someone could somehow convince either management of amd/nvidia or one of the amd/nvidia driver coders to work with the Ubuntu Xorg team to crush bugs? it is the ONLY way i can see that including the closed drivers could be done without causing a nightmare for ubuntu support with problems that CANNOT be solved otherwise (except magically writing drivers for these cards without the specs)

  37. ryts Says:

    These kinds of issues, both pragmatic and philosophical, will be fought over again and again as Linux expands its “marketshare” and becomes exposed to the demands/requirements of a less “committed” user community. Less committed in the sense of the founding ideals of OSS.

    I sympathise with those who object to the Ubuntu decision and with Ubuntu given its objective to massively expand the Linux user base – the clash is unavoidable IMO.

    All I would ask is that the installer gives a clear choice and some indication of the implications.

  38. Talfin… Es todo! » Sera que vienen los paquetes .ubu? Says:

    […] Como deben haberlo notado poco a poco me he ido haciendo fan de ubuntu =) y es por esto que les traigo este articulo del propio blog de Mark Shuttleworth donde nos explica el porque ubuntu comenzara a traer drivers y firmwares privativos. Al fin alguien se dio cuenta de lo importante que es para un sistema operativo como Ubuntu el poder usar una tarjeta de video ATI ultima generacion como coloquialmente decimos con TODOS LOS JUGUETES y es que la gente de ubuntu cada vez pensando en el usuario final, a mi manera de ver pronto vendran los .ubu =) los estaremos esperando. […]

  39. mca Says:

    Free or not, an operating system that doesn’t recognize my hardware and can’t use may grafic card is colpletely usless.

  40. Maurizio Colucci Says:

    I believe Linux does not have enough market share to force Nvidia and ATI to provide free drivers. Being strict at this point would be counterproductive: they would just stop providing drivers at all. Let time pass, and let the Linux market grow until Nvidia and ATI cannot afford to ignore Linux anymore. THEN, and only then, change policy and require Free drivers, pointing out that binary drivers are a violation of GPL. They will have no choice but to provide them.

  41. Niqdanger Says:

    I think you are all confusing one major ‘freedom’. Don’t confuse your freedom to insist that everything be completely GPL/OpenSource with my freedom to ignore you. If I want to use the NVidia drivers, then why cant I?

  42. Dermot Says:

    Not flamebait, just my opinions on what I believe is a very important issue.

    I think that most new users will try Ubuntu on the their existing hardware. That hardware will quite likely have nVidia/AMD GPUs, Broadcom WI-FI etc. If that user’s experience is poor, they will decide to go back to Windows and we, the community, have lost the opportunity to help that person move in the right direction.
    Yes, in an ideal world we would have open-source drivers but we don’t. Many users have hardware that requires proprietary drivers. Do we simply decide to abandon them all to a closed-source OS with probably a closed-source browser (IE), a closed-source mail-client (OE), etc?
    As a community we can encourage and educate and gradually move people in the right direction. Maybe next time they get a new PC, they can look for FOSS-friendly hardware. But in order to encourage and educate people, we need to talk with them and allow them into the community not castigate them and lock them out for the henious crime of, unknowingly, having FOSS-unfriendly hardware.
    This issue is a trade-off and I personally believe that polarising it into it’s either free or evil is not beneficial to the growth of FOSS in the long-run. I would rather see a user with 98% FOSS software on their PC along with some proprietary drivers rather than 10% FOSS software (OpenOffice or Firefox) along with a proprietary OS and ALL proprietary drivers.

  43. ljb Says:

    Mr. Shuttleworth:

    Your arguments unfortunately come up a little short. You are after Windows users in an attempt to fix Bug #1. That’s fine, but you really should say so.

    “It’s always better to engage and work with someone than to sanction them and isolate oneself.”

    Huh? You need to fill in the rest of the argument. If Linux distributions include proprietary drivers, what is the incentive to provide open drivers? They are maximizing profit, and if there is no lost profit from using proprietary drivers, they will not open them.

    “We lobby the companies concerned to open up their drivers, and to a certain extent we can apply market pressure, directing users to hardware which DOES have free drivers”

    Not really. I’ve never been directed by anything related to the Ubuntu distribution to use hardware with free drivers. Not only that, but Intel will lose their market advantage from opening their drivers, so you need to explain what you will do to compensate Intel. Again, you are removing their incentive to open their drivers.

    “We can’t assume fancy graphics functionality will be on every machine Ubuntu is installed on, we can however allow X and free software apps to take full advantage of it when the hardware is present.”

    But why would you install proprietary drivers by default on a five year old computer? It makes no sense.

    “I’m very happy that it is possible (and straightforward!) to remove the non-free drivers from Ubuntu, and I don’t believe that the AcceleratedX specification will change that.”

    Maybe, but I use Ubuntu because Windows and most other Linux distros are too complicated for me. I don’t have a clue how to remove them. It’s not good to install things for no reason, as it just another way to have problems with the system. For instance, I’ve previously had my hardware identified incorrectly.

    Additionally, it is always more efficient to not install something than to install and uninstall it. Things can go wrong in the process. An install option INSTALL-NO-BLOBS would be an easy way to resolve the problem.

    “We will, I think, get them there, but not by pouting and yelling insults from our high horse.”

    The only power we have is to not purchase the hardware. That’s it. Companies don’t release open drivers to be nice. They do it to increase their profits. If we use proprietary drivers, please explain what is the profit motivation to open them up. Ubuntu users have no reason to purchase Intel hardware rather than nvidia hardware this way.

    “So it’s silly to say that this is “unimportant hardware functionality”.”

    At the same time, it’s silly to call Ubuntu “free software”. You should promote gnewsense on the Ubuntu website if it is a viable alternative.

    Again, you are entirely within your rights to go after market share, but I don’t think your arguments are sound, and think you need to respect the views of some about a “proprietary only” strategy. It is a lot more than religion.

  44. Barius Says:


    I applaud your effort to create a distro that will appeal to ‘regular’ users as much as any other. However, your argument falls flat when you consider the grave injustice you are doing to the development community upon which you rely. As a regular contributor to Free software I feel as though my work is being consumed with little regard to repayment. Yes, I expect to be repaid for my contributions. Not in money, but in the same way I contributed to you, through the development contributions of others. When you include binary drivers by default you are slapping me in the face by allowing ATI/Nvidia to profit from my work without giving back in kind. You are enabling proprietary enties to ride on the backs of the development community that you inherited by starting the Ubuntu project.

    Why enable these drivers by default? Feel free to notify the user that they might be interested in using the proprietary driver, but offer the Free version first. When the user installs the proprietary driver provide a legible and easily understood statement about why they should care which version they use. This would be enough for me to come back to your side, though I’m sure others would take a more hard-line stance.

    In closing, please remember that Ubuntu exists by grace of the community (contributors, supporters, Free thinkers), not the users (consumers). You cannot change this fact without alienating the community. I got interested in Ubuntu because it seemed like the first distro that really tried to bring a wider audience of users *into* the community. However, I now see that you are no different than anyone else, you want to remove from the community what has made it special and uniquely effective so that users are not burdened with a new way of thinking. From a users/market perspective that might seem like a good idea, but if that’s the case then Ubuntu has nothing to offer that Microsoft can’t beat.

  45. aguafuertes Says:

    @dermot: I agree with most of your post, yet i don’t see a polarising into free and evil, rather a discussion whether to install proprietary drivers by default or not. I agree that people can only gradually be “educated” and convinced, but that is especially why I feel it would be better to make the installation of proprietary drivers an extra (one-click?) effort, raising awareness.

  46. MCO Says:

    Our position is not strong enough to say to nvidia/ati “hey man open your f****** driver!”. How can we increase our position? With many more users. And we dont get this users with an OS without full hardware support.

    You dont want to buy nvidia or ati products? Ok. But nvidia doesnt care about that. You and your friends are not enough.

    Ok intel has free drivers. But they are not really competitors to ati or nvidia. ati and nvidia play in another hardware-league.

    Thats all. Sorry for my bad english. I am not a native speaker.


  47. Wade Says:

    While you may consider this to be an acceptable price to pay for allowing users to utilise their machine, long term you are sending a signal to vendors that Closed source is ok, and that distributions will make an effort.. no.. be responsible for the support and distribution of your propriatary closed source technology, what a great opportunity for closed source, who wouldn’t choose the Wiz Bang 3D accellerated graphics driver which sets your desktop on fire with each window close.

    I guess in this way, Ubuntu has decided that its values are free as in price, The “preaching from a distance” arguement makes people aware of the problems, you are removing the street preacher from the street, kidnapping him and cutting out his tounge.

    Supporting the companies which do release specs and have a working relationship with open source companies sets a role model for other companies to work towards, What possible “market pressure” will ubuntu possibly be able to apply when vendors can quite happily point out that customers are willing and happy to accept the “tick the box” to get the closed source drivers method.

    Its funny that you post this today, I wrote something which you could consider a rebuttal just last week:

    Its apparent that the community has spoken and this is want. It is a kind of a cheap method to get ahead of the other distributions and allow users to “get the most from their hardware”, is this how you want Ubuntu to stand out from the crowd ?

  48. maks Says:

    first reaction was a bit hot over the point.
    but shipping non-free drivers by default is really a _big_ slap into the open source community.
    You’d better avoid stupid lawsuits and keep in mind that such kernels running a 5mb big piece of crap are _not_ debugable.

  49. ljb Says:


    My point is that the argument by Mr. Shuttleworth doesn’t make any sense. If the goal is to build a proprietary OS that takes market share from Windows, then just say that is the goal. I’m just asking for clarification on why they would ever open their drivers if we accept proprietary drivers. His tone was somewhat insulting. Similarly, I could say that we will not get them to open their drivers if we give them a massage and say it’s okay, we’ll use whatever you give us. I don’t understand the economics of paying them and complaining vs. not paying them and complaining. If the goal is market share, such a strategy will be successful, but it will never lead to open drivers.

    Besides, the Linux community is big enough to offer an open source driver. Given that the open source community does much of the development work for free, it is in many cases cheaper to offer an open driver. I have a Dell computer with Intel graphics. I could choose alternatively a computer with ati or nvidia graphics. So they do compete. I believe what you are referring to is a small percentage of users with high-end graphics cards. That’s fine, they can install the drivers if they want. What I don’t understand is why I have to install those drivers just because other people want to install them.

    What I don’t understand is the “proprietary only” strategy. I’m not saying that other users should not have access to the drivers, just that I should be able to exclude them from the installation if I want.

    What market share is big enough? 40%? 80%? 99%? There’s no way these drivers are coming out once they’re in Ubuntu. The same argument will always apply: the only goal is to increase market share, and we will hurt market share if some drivers are not installed by default.

  50. Meneer R Says:

    Mr Shuttleworth is right. Even though he tries to make his point more diplomatic than what is needed to reach the fundamentalists here.


    Vote against closed source drivers when you BUY A VIDEOCARD.
    Dont vote against closed source drivers by HURTING CLUELESS USERS.

    It’s problely an age issue, but all this no-way-im-going-use-the-priopiarity stuff is all fundamentalistic bullcrap.
    All those people are able to install it anyway. WHAT ABOUT YOUR GRANDMOTHER?

    We want her to RUN LINUX AS WELL. You want to tell her: go use the command line, because of MY IDEALS?


    Can we now please drop this issue. Mark is right. And all those complaining are NO DIFFERENT than fundamentalistic muslims, christians, jews, republicans, whatever…. DO NOT ENFORCE YOUR IDEALS. Talk and convice people to buy different hardware. Do not hit them with a stick to make them agree. They need to understand. They don’t need you telling them they can’t have the BLING. Who the fuck are you to decide that anyway? And please stop using the word freedom, is all you want to forbid others from doing things you DISAGREE with.

  51. Sander Marechal Says:

    Quoting from the Ubuntu philosophy:

    “When you install Ubuntu almost all of the software installed already meets these ideals, and we are working to ensure that every single piece of software you need is available under a licence that gives you those freedoms. Currently, we make a specific exception for some “drivers” which are only available in binary form, without which many computers will not complete the Ubuntu installation.”

    Read that last part. That’s not true for 3D drivers. You can have a perfectly usable desktop without Beryl/Compiz installed. Afterall, that’s what Ubuntu has been doing these past years. And it’s what Ubuntu will keep doing because I don’t believe you would deny Feisty to all the people that have been running it on old hardware.

    Doing binary driver education and ask for installation of binary video drivers is easy to do either during install or when someone checks an “enable 3D effects” checkbox on a preferences page. Make it easy for users., but not the default. If I’d want binary junk by default I’d switch to Mandriva.

    It’s not about free vs non-free. It’s about you breaking your promise to the community.

  52. Jodakila Galang Says:

    Lets all get back to the beginning…

    What started this free software movements, open source initiatives, etc. anyway? Because we want to have freedom!

    What does freedom mean? It means free to use the software in anyway we like… no legal issues, no rules, no limits, just free. Whether it is open source or not, it is free. Now, being open source gives you more freedom, free to change the software, make tweaks, customize, etc. But open source doesnt apply to all. If you are just an ordinary user, being open source doesnt really benefit you at all. You cant edit the code because you dont know programming. You just want to use the software and make things work. And its as simple as that.

    Now, if by creating rules, FSF is just giving you restrictions, where is the freedom in that? Rules/Restrictions is the opposite of freedom.

    This is why I like Ubuntu… it is because i can just use it. And it works for me. And I can do anything I want with it. I can even share it with my friends and co-leagues without ever worrying that i may be infringing on intellectual properties.

    So with regards to NVidia and ATI, its their business, they are protecting their intellectual property, but they are allowing you to use their software to make your hardware work. They dont limit you on what you want to do with your OS or your Hardware. Just use it. its free. Not open source, but its free… so what is the matter?!

    Long time i’ve been trying to understand the logic behind these ideals that the FSF, OSS, and others are trying to promote… but it all boils down to the basics… define what is free? define what is free software? and just stick to it! Dont add any idealistic crap or any politics no rules! Cause eventually, you are all hurting everyone because you are just degrading the truth and confusing everyone.

    2 cents.
    – Jojo

  53. Casey Says:

    Sander wrote:

    Read that last part. That’s not true for 3D drivers. You can have a perfectly usable desktop without Beryl/Compiz installed. Afterall, that’s what Ubuntu has been doing these past years. And it’s what Ubuntu will keep doing because I don’t believe you would deny Feisty to all the people that have been running it on old hardware.

    —you so conveniently leave out a huge bit when you make this argument. 3d binary proprietary drivers ARE NOT AN OPTION if you wish to play……….oh gods here it comes: GAMES.

    If you don’t have the manufacturer’s binary drivers, you are crippled. PERIOD.

    That term “junk” as well….that is my opinion of the open source drivers as they are complete CRAP for fast 3-d applications and gaming.

    I use Ubuntu for more than a glorified typewriter, and I for one am GLAD that Ubuntu is moving for better HARDWARE support.

    You can also argue for intel’s open source hardware/drivers, but no serious gaming person is going to be able to keep a straight face if you spout that. In this segment of the market, there are only two vendors, and they are Nvidia and ATI.

    If this were a proposal to include by default Outlook 200x, I’d be screaming to the heavens as well. This is about ABOUT HARDWARE SUPPORT ffs.

    Oh, and to the “GNU” heads……better check again….it AIN’T. Unless Linus T. is completely mislead about HIS kernel.

    Last time I checked, binary or not, I didn’t pay a NICKEL for the nvidia drivers I’m using on my machine. That Nvidia has an IP to protect with their HARDWARE, I have not one problem. (I did, however, pay for the sleek 7950GT eVGA screamer I’ve got USING the evil blob drivers.) :)

  54. Ago Says:


    What would be the problem with haing a shortcut on the desktop that reads “Activate 3D Desktop” whenever closed drivers are required? This would address the issue of pre-installing closed drivers, while moving accelerated-X only 1 click away (and only for the users that do not have FOSS-friendly hardware). Before installing the closed drivers the user should obviously be informed about closed drivers and their implications. There are several variation of the theme, like asking whether to install closed drivers during installation. I do not think that moving accelerated-X 1 click away would compromise the market appeal of Ubuntu. I am aware of the “educating users” spec, but giving the information ex-post is IMO a second best to providing the information ex-ante, and it needlessly exposes the Ubuntu project to criticsm for pre-installing closed drivers.

  55. Dave Says:

    I wonder if the approach of asking the proprietary driver vendors to try just opening up ‘a bit more’ of their source on each release would get any where?
    As I understand it Nvidia use a source wrapper around a binary blob; now perhaps they could be persuaded to nibble away at the binary blob and try and find
    just a bit more code each time that actually isn’t secret and could move into the source section.

  56. Val Says:

    Naming this “AcceleratedX” is confusing. When I first saw links to this page, I thought you guys must have made a deal with the company which makes “AcceleratedX” graphics drivers for Linux. But after reading through the various forums, it doesn’t appear that’s the case, right?

  57. » 2006, el año de Linux Says:

    […] 1. Éxito y consolidación de Ubuntu: Ubuntu Dapper LTS (6.06) Ubuntu ha consolidado el concepto de comunidad, y ha invertido el modelo de desarrollo: de geeks para geeks a usuarios comunes exigiendo a los desarrolladores utilidades que quizás no tengan ninguna utilidad práctica (Compiz, Beryl), pero que sintetizan el concepto “Pretty is a feature”. Ahora las peleas entre VIM y EMACS han sido desplazadas por si es mejor el tema original café de ubuntu o hacer un nuevo tema azul o si incluir drivers propietarios o no. Además, Ubuntu se ha convertido en una distro dirigida esencialmente por los usuarios, en un sistema transparente de discusión, que, en vez de generar disputas (KDE vs GNOME) ha sabido integrar y dar espacios a todos (Kubuntu, Xubuntu), inclusive cuestionando conceptos que eran dogmas (uso de drivers propietarios). Además, Ubuntu ha tenido éxito al unir un modelo de marketing relativamente barato (U$10 millones es el aporte de su fundador, que ya debe haber recuperado), enfocado principalmente a la distribución, concentrando el desarrollo en una plataforma común y transparente, lo que ha llevado a que el enfoque esté en hacer que las pequeñas cosas funciones bien mas que desarrollar proyectos grandiosos que revolucionen todo. Esta distro es tán versatil que ahora sirve de fundación para nuevas distros, como Mepis o Ulteo, y ha sido la distro reina indiscutida en DistroWatch. Según el propio Shuttleworth, este año Ubuntu tiene al menos 8 millones de usuarios 2. Las grandes empresas comienzan a ceder: Microsoft: – primero despidió a Martin Taylor, autor de la campaña anti-linux Get the Facts – luego abrió un laboratorio de herramientas Opensource: Port25 – Finalizó el año haciendo un acuerdo con Novell donde Microsoft se comprometía a no demandar a Novell siempre y cuando Novell no hiciera nada por lo cual pudiese ser demandada. Como sea, varios clientes corporativos de MS ya comenzaron a migrar a Novell (Fuente) y tiene varias interpretaciones. Una de ellas la dió el mismo Ballmer al afirmar que a partir de ahora Linux pertenece a Windows – comenzó a distribuir su Virtual server gratis (ver en Virtualización) Oracle, por su parte, anunció que dará soporte para el Linux de Red Hat y Microsoft firmó un acuerdo histórico con Novell, al que destina 348 millones de euros, para facilitar la interoperabilidad entre Windows y Linux. Algunos analistas interpretan que ‘Linux ha ganado’; otros temen que las firmas de Bill Gates y Larry Ellison busquen liderar el negocio de Linux. Ahora, hasta el Zune puede correr Linux, y como dicen; un pequeño paso para Linux, pero un gran salto para el Zune […]

  58. Don't I already own my drivers? Says:

    Sorry if I missed something, I couldn’t stomach reading all the replies here. I have just one question here as I don’t understand what the whole problem with the proprietary drivers is all about, don’t I already own the rights to the proprietary driver once I purchased the hardware? Why the big deal about shipping these drivers with “free” software, if I don’t have an nVidea card then I won’t be using the proprietary driver that I don’t have rights to (it won’t work too well with my ATI card). If I want to use the proprietary driver for the ATI card I already paid for then where’s the legal problem with shipping a distro with these drivers?

  59. Mark Shuttleworth gets quote mined « Limulus Says:

    […] “Ubuntu has included firmware, and used proprietary drivers since its inception. That’s always been a slightly uncomfortable proposition, as Mako observed, but it’s been true since the Warty Warthog. […] I hear you when you say “users want proprietary codecs”. That’s why we make sure these items ARE available, at the user’s option, as packages on the network repositories. That allows users who need that functionality, or who choose that functionality over free alternatives, to exercise that choice freely. We don’t make that choice for them, though of course there is huge demand from real users for that. And we will stay firm in that regard. Ubuntu does not, and will never, include proprietary applications.” […]

  60. Camus SoNiCo » Post Topic » Novell / Microsoft agreements and events. Says:

    […] Mark’s response to SUSE critics. […]

  61. Nicolas Says:

    Don’t include the driver if you don’t want, but give the user a easy to get documentation (please, inside the os somehow) so that it is easy to install the driver if he wants to.

  62. Top Linux News » Shuttleworth: Ubuntu has always used proprietary drivers Says:

    […] read more | digg story […]

  63. Dell: one step forward, two steps back « Limulus Says:

    […] […]

  64. Ubuntu post installation setup : newbuntu Says:

    […] and also that Ubuntu don’t include these drivers as part of the free software philosophy (see Ubuntu Founder Mark Shuttleworth’s blog), however a lot of new users want make use of their graphics card and here is how. Click on the top […]