[conspire] Ubuntu RestrictedFormats pages

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Mon Jan 15 20:51:51 PST 2007

This is mostly a plug for a resource Daniel mentioned a while back as a
superior / more reliable alternative to Automatix/EasyUbuntu:  Ubuntu's
RestrictedFormats pages at
https://help.ubuntu.com/community/RestrictedFormats .  This is relevant
to several recent threads, here.

As a reminder, my main console these days is an old G3 (PowerPC) iBook
running at any given time whatever's recent from Xubuntu (Xfce4-flavour
Ubuntu) -- currently Edgy Eft.  The fact that it's PowerPC determines
its lack of access (under Linux) to most proprietary software, e.g.,
Adobe Acrocrud, RealPlayer 10, Win32 codecs, even if I were inclined
towards that, which I seldom am.  However, as discussed here, the broad
category of "stuff not included in most distros but often claimed
essential by 'desktop' users" also includes patent-encumbered software
and code overshadowed by MPAA/RIAA thuggery -- along with code that
lacks those problems but is too new to yet be Ubuntu-packaged.

Perusing the offerings described on those pages, I fetched and installed
some, not all, of what's possible on PPC.  Xine now works a treat.  VLC,
to my disappointment, currently segfaults on just about anything (not
sure what's wrong these, yet), and mplayer seems fixated on having 
defaulted to being configured for some video chipset I don't have
(again, not yet diagnosed, just noted).  (I've installed but not
seriously tried Totem.)  Movie DVDs from the Hollywood Borg now work.
Xmms works great, for music.  And Macromedia Flash works.

Yes, you heard that right.  In open source, even.  Without hackery of
any kind.

I believe I just added a line in /etc/apt/sources.list for the Edgy Eft
backports repository and fetched "mozilla-plugin-gnash", and Flash
worked next time I launched Firefox -- to my annoyance, actually,
because almost all Flash is performance-robbing, time-wasting,
advertising junk.  I'm going to have to install the FlashBlock extension
for Firefox again, to restore my ability to decide _if_ I'm going to run
the stuff, at _my_ initiative.

Now, I have no doubt that gnash will choke (or die a horrible death) on
some Flash, and have great faith in Macromedia's (now Adobe's) ability
to screw everyone by introducing new, incompatible versions -- which is
yet another reason not to put much effort into haring off after
compatibily with proprietary data formats and network protocols in the
first place.  

E.g., Eric Raymond and Rob Landley's recent "World Domination 201" piece
puts considerable stress on need to Linspire, Inc.'s possible role in giving
Linux (by which the authors really just mean i386/x86_64 Linux) access to
Windows Media Format codecs, courtesy of that company's patent rights
gained in a trademark lawsuit settlement (when Microsoft Corp. was
temporarily forced to deal because of the extreme weakness of their 
trademark claim on the name "Windows".  However, no sooner was the
virtual ink on that screed dry when Microsoft Corp. introduced new, more
handcuffed AV files with Windows Media Player 11 for XP/Vista --
information about which Microsoft declines to pass along to Linspire.

I pointed out to Raymond and Landley that at least _one_ of their
claims, that Linux workstations cannot use Apple Computer's (excuse me,
Apple, Inc.'s) iTunes Music Store, is simply incorrect.  Again, it was
Ubuntu's excellent RestrictedFormats page that clarified this:

  o  An unofficial plugin [link] for the Banshee Player supports the store
     but needs to be obtained from subversion and compiled. 
  o  You can also use Wine [link] or CodeWeavers' CrossOver Office [link]
     to install the Windows version of iTunes on Ubuntu

The second of those would work only on i386 and 86_64.  Both options
are obviously currently not feasible for naive users, but the first of
the two could be made so, especially since it doesn't threaten Apple's
"FairPlay" [sic] Digital Restrictions Management control of the music
you "buy" [sic] from iTMS:  Files you download remain DRMed, and will
be, as the page says "useless outside of iTunes or an iPod, because they
are encrypted for the purpose of restricting their use".[1]

Speaking of that, the RestrictedFormats sub-page on "mp4" (AAC) formats
(like mp3, encumbered by MPEG patents) is also excellent:
https://help.ubuntu.com/community/RestrictedFormats/AAC   It clarifies 
that there's nothing wrong with the real, _regular_ variety of AAC,
dubbed called the "mp4a" format -- and that the problem is the DRMed
"FairPlay" variant used on all files you "buy" from iTMS.  That is _not_ 
regular mp4a, but rather mp4p.  

I have no doubt we're supposed to consider the "p" to stand for
"protected".  However, being tired of MPAA weasel-wording such as
"Digital _Rights_ Management", I would suggest, instead, thinking of it
as "p" for perverted.

[1] However, this knowledge almost certainly will _not_ be rolled into
the World Domination 201 text, because it is aimed specifically at
hardware OEMs, and thus needs to concentrate on what's production-ready
for the masses on Linux _now_.  Therefore, please remember that the
essay is inherently a _poor guide_ to what is and isn't possible on
Linux with even small amounts of effort, since that isn't its goal and
you are definitely not its target audience, no matter how "new" to Linux
you consider yourself.

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