In response to the growing demand for proprietary multimedia codecs on the open-source Linux platform, multimedia software development company Fluendo has released GStreamer codec plugins that provide native support for a variety of proprietary media formats. Available from Fluendo’s web shop, several of the plugins facilitate encoding as well as playback. In order to provide these codecs without risking legal conflict, Fluendo has properly licensed the relevant patents on the various formats from their respective holders.
Currently, many Linux video applications facilitate Windows Media video playback using Windows DLL files and Wine, which provides suboptimal performance, particularly with streaming video. Additionally, proprietary codec support in many current open source media players potentially constitutes patent infringement. Fluendo’s codecs could potentially provide better integration for streaming Windows Media playback in Linux web browsers as well as through GStreamer-based desktop applications like Totem. GStreamer, developed in part by Fluendo, is an increasingly popular open source multimedia editing and playback framework designed primarily for use on open source operating systems. “We have had these codecs in development for quite some time, to ensure they are of the highest quality possible and that all legal aspects are properly covered,” says Fluendo cofounder Pascal Pegaz, “By offering this drop-in solution we hope to increase the competitiveness of the GNU/Linux and Solaris platforms.”
Although the availability of native proprietary video codecs for open-source operating systems will simplify media playback, it is no silver bullet. Although it is under active development and evolving quickly, the GStreamer framework still has some deficiencies that detract from its usefulness in the context of video playback. Many Linux users who watch video content prefer older, more reliable movie players like Xine, VLC, and MPlayer. The ease with which GStreamer facilitates rapid development of multimedia applications makes it a compelling piece of software. In fact, it is generally assumed that it will eventually become the dominant multimedia framework on the Linux platform, but it hasn’t quite achieved the requisite level of robustness yet.
Additionally, Fluendo’s codec release is bound to stir up controversy and generate criticism within certain segments of the open-source community. A small but vocal minority of Linux users vehemently oppose the commercial sale of proprietary codecs for the Linux platform since such codecs limit user freedom and impede open redistribution. Critics are likely to perceive the sale of codecs as validation of proprietary software business models and a tacit rejection of open-source ideals.
Fluendo will also have a hard time reaching an audience, since Linux distributors and distributor-maintained package repositories are the primary vector of software distribution on the Linux platform. Commercial codecs can’t be distributed on free installation CDs or included in freely accessible software repositories. To really succeed, Fluendo will need to get distributions like Fedora and Ubuntu to cooperate and integrate streamlined access to Fluendo’s commercial codec shop in their existing package management frameworks.
Right now, Fluendo provides users with downloadable compressed archives and installation instructions, a distribution method that could intimidate users and make it more difficult to perform codec upgrades. In a blog entry, Fluendo developer Christian Schaller says that the company is “working on a codec installer/updater which will automaticaly download and install any codec bought in the shop,” and “upgrade those codecs as updates become available.” According to Schaller, the company plans to proivde a year of updates for each customer. Site licenses are also available, but not through the web shop. Schaller also comments that DVD playback support, which is noticeably absent from Fluendo’s current offerings, is planned for the future.
Although Fluendo will have to work on simplifying the installation process and improving GStreamer to the point where it is a completely sufficient replacement for Xine, VLC, and MPlayer, today’s announcement is a very promising first step towards plug-and-play multimedia support on the Linux platform.
January 16, 2007
Fluendo makes proprietary codecs available to Linux users
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