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. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.) 🙂

  4. Ago Says:

    Mark,

    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.

  5. Dave Says:

    Mark,
    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.

  6. 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?

  7. OpenIdeas.info » 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 […]

  8. 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?

  9. 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.” […]

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

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

  11. 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.

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

    […] read more | digg story […]

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

    […] http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/84 […]

  14. 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 […]