[sf-lug] questions and thanks

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Fri Mar 24 19:11:22 PST 2006

Quoting tobi x (grrrebelsoul at yahoo.com):


> - that its the only large distro that functions with open development
> on the web for people [not just a smaller closed circle of
> programmers]  to revise and adapt.  Please correct me if I'm wrong
> about this....

It's not the only example of such a project, but is perhaps the largest
and best known.  (It also has a few operational problems, which would be
a long discussion in itself.)  I run Debian widely -- but strongly
recommend against it for first-time Linux users.  That's _also_
something of a long discussion.

Like many long discussions I've done to death in the past, this is
something I've partially FAQed:

>   Is Debian good for multimedia work?

Well, mostly no, partially yes -- but less because it's Debian than
because it's Linux.  Let's talk about that.  That's yet _another_ long
discussion, but is the one I was intending to get around to.  Today's
the day.  ;->

People mean a couple of different things when they say "multimedia
work".  One is playing, creating, and streaming out to other people the
various popular AV formats, such as various types of AVIs/ASFs and Windows
Media stuff with or without DRM, all kinds o' MPEG4 variants,
Sorenson-encoded and other QuickTime stuff, RealMedia files/protocols,
Flash, Shockwave, DivX stuff, .MP3s, Flac files, .ogg sound recordings,
.wav and .au sound files, and so on.

Other people tend to mean assembling, burning, and reading of movie
DVDs, or running the computer equivalent of a sound and/or video
recording / mixing / production studio.

Some people mean graphic design work, such as what you might do in
PhotoShop, Illustrator, InDesign, and so on.

Some people mean mixtures of those things.

> My computer is a Acer TravelMate 8104 notebook, and I am using it for
> graphic design, music editing/recording, and occassional film
> editing.  I want to learn Python, and how to make a website.

Which gives me a better idea what you're talking about. ;->

> So I am looking for a Linux that supports good multimedia packages -
> can people recommend specific software and which Linux might suit
> these  things?

First things first:  I have a modest "AV" category in my knowledgebase
that might be useful:  http://linuxmafia.com/kb/Apps/AudioVideo

Second, about particular obstacles for Linux.  In a nutshell:

o  a lot of really nasty software patents, with big money behind them
o  Hollywood, the RIAA, and the DMCA
o  Sleazy, pushy, control-freak sofware companies pushing secret, 
   proprietary data and network formats and DRM

A lot of key multimedia technology is severely tied up in unexpired
software patents.  For example, MPEG4 is patent-encumbered, along with
almost all other digital video formats.  The very popular Sorenson video
codec is patent-covered, and licensed exclusively to Apple Computer
(which in turn permits it to be implemented only in its QuickTime
software).  Colour separation techniques for digital prepress production
is heavily patent-covered.  Even the MP3 music format is patented.

The latter is the key reason why The GIMP is not a suitable tool for
prepress work, making PhotoShop or InDesign essential if you're in that
industry:  Adobe either owns the patents itself, or is willing to pay
royalties on the copy you buy and use.  (Heck, it's just a bunch of
money added to the purchase price.  What do they care?)  It's not that
The GIMP's programmers don't know perfectly well how to write the code
to do colour separations:  It's that, if they did, they'd get sued.

Hollywood and the music industry are, famously, utterly paranoid about
losing control over their product when it's in digital form, so they've
used lobbying power to cram down our throats some ruthless and rather 
psychotic Federal copyright legislation, called the Digital Milennium 
Copyright Act -- which among other things makes certain sorts of 
copryight violation a _criminal_ act for the first time (it's always 
just been a civil tort) and makes it illegal to develop, test, or even 
promulgate information about how to defeat a "device that controls
access" to copyrighted content.

The Linux programmer community knows perfectly well how to play
Hollywood's movie DVDs on Linux, for example -- and also the Apple
iTunes Music Store's DRM-obscured "Fairplay" MP4/AAC music files.
However, the software projects that do that live under constant legal

Then there are threats like the Real Networks company, which likewise
threatens programmers that implement third-party support for the
DRM-covered parts of their streaming protocols and formats.  And so on.

As a result, there is _some_ coverage of almost all digital AV data
formats and network protocols.  Because part of the whole point of Linux
is to prefer open source and _especially_ code that may not be freely
distributed (open source being a subset of freely-distributable), 
and because the control-freak companies cannot abide the loss of their
central control that is inherent in open source, the code that provides
those functions is usually _not_ included in Linux distributions proper.
You often need to retrofit it, post-OS-installation, onto your machine, 
often pulling down packages from software repositories elsewhere in
the world that have less psychotic legal regimes than ours.

The Linux distributions that come pre-equipped with the broadest range
of built-in support for those sort of AV -- therefore -- are ones sold
in retail packages, with per-seat licensing of the contents.  Why?  
Because the publisher has to pay patent royalties and obey licensing
restrictions on some contents -- and the rights-holders in question
wouldn't permit that code to be duplicated freely.  One such Linux
distribution is Xandros Desktop OS, from Canada.  (It's a desktop 
variant of Debian.)

Big-picture:  The legal and industry environment is quite hostile to
that sort of AV on Linux -- especially towards implementations done 
as open source.  The more you cave in to those interests, the easier
life is.  (If you want that, stick to MS-Windows and Mac OS X, which 
are from companies that to differing degrees are in bed with those
interests -- and are players, themselves.)  The more you want open
source and autonomy, the more hassle is involved.  A lot can be done;
some can't (lawfully).  And there's work involved.

> Also, Adrian said: "SuSE is rpm based, a turn-off for many."
>   What is RPM based?  And what exactly is GNU?

Wow, those are two other big topics.

>   If I install a version of Linux on my computer just to see what it
>   is  like, will it be difficult to return my system to its current
>   state if  I decide not to use Linux [or try a different version]?

I think this is, sort of, the wrong question -- because it assumes that
you must install Linux in order to try it.   You're presumably unaware
of an entire huge subculture within Linux involving "live CD"
distributions.  These are ones you don't install (or rather, don't
_have_ to install), but rather run them directly from a CD-ROM disk,
after booting from that disk.  The best known is Knoppix.  There are
many others.

>  I  really want to try Linux, but I am a bit hesitant because I still
>  have  a lot to learn about it - and about computers in general - and
>  I don't  want to find myself in a position where my computer, and me,
>  are  screwed and I don't know how to fix it!

Download and try a few live CDs, then!

See:  http://www.frozentech.com/content/livecd.php

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