01.03.07

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Novell and Proprietary Audio/Video Codecs

Posted in Audio/Video, Europe, Formats, Standard at 4:23 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Consider this a speculative discussion on the future of the ‘formats war’. Some of us are still somewhat astounded (if not shocked) by Novell’s support for that so-called ECMA ‘standard’ which is Open XML. We have already covered this through an extensive selection of articles which explain why it was a poor and worrisome move, especially to those that Novell competes with. Some would say it was selfish as it does not honour community spirit and it also sabotages the industry’s effort to establish one unified format that leads to parity, simplicity, interoperability, vendor-independence, security, freedom (in execution and cost), and backward compatibility.

We have also explained some negative effects of the deal on Samba and—in particular—on the ongoing interoperability accusations taking place in the EU and managed by the EC. The bottom line is that Microsoft’s grip on Novell enables it to boast multi-vendor support and so-called ‘openness’. Perhaps there are two sides being served here, at the expense of all others—those who are not part of the pact. In a sense, the two companies mutually reward one another while assisting and sustaining a monopoly. I envision and perceive the two as conjoined twins, one of which is bound to be deceased due to ‘complications’. A quick look at recent history reveals quotes such as this one from Jim Allchin: “We need to slaughter Novell before they get stronger… If you’re going to kill someone, there isn’t much reason to get all worked up about it and angry. You just pull the trigger. Any discussions beforehand are a waste of time. We need to smile at Novell while we pull the trigger.

This brings me to the main focus of this ramble. I am reminded of an old story (one among several) which, at least at the time, alluded to a relationship between RealNetworks and Novell. Real Player’s battle with Microsoft led to a settlement and Novell seemed to hit the high note amidst these developments. The gist of it all was that proprietary formats such as WMA and WMV would be supported by SuSE Linux. Would this not encourage more widespread use of these formats?

This could not be mentined at a more appropriate time. We finally witness a long-overdue angry petition emerging in the EU and hitting the spotlights. For those of have not heard, over 7,000 people have so far signed this petition, which protests against the Council’s claims that it “cannot support Linux in a legal way” in streaming. One must buy commercial software to follow politics. It could lead the way to many more complaints worldwide, yet a customer’s point-of-view differs from that of a citizen with demands from a tax-collecting authority.

One might worry that the ‘mixed source’ company will yet again give ‘ammunition’ to Microsoft’s argument that its proprietary (and often patented) technologies do not exclude competitors. Need we ever revise speculations about Novell DRM support in its operating system and software? It is, based on some recent events, being used as a tool for compliance and head-nodding. Some would say it has been someone of an industry ‘sockpuppet’ whose presence and stance empowers that of Microsoft.

I worry that the impact on media formats could prove to be rather damaging. There is a big “if” here. We are yet to see if ‘proprietarisation’ of GNU/Linux becomes a reality in Novell’s hands. This could go beyond the inclusion of proprietary drivers, championed by distributers such as SabayonLinux, Linspire and maybe even Ubuntu (yet undecided).

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3 Comments

  1. Luke Ventura said,

    January 3, 2007 at 10:34 pm

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    I, for one, will happily install these codecs. Unfortunatley I haven’t heard much progress on this since last August.

    This could be very important for Linux to gain acceptance on the consumer desktop. We are walking a fine line at the moment, where if market share drops, content providers could easily ignore Linux users. At this point in time, the most important thing is to grow the userbase to a size that cannot be ignored.

  2. David said,

    January 6, 2007 at 2:42 pm

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    Out of interest when I just added my signature to the petition you mention there were 13504 other signatures present…let’s hope they decide to listen.

  3. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 6, 2007 at 2:52 pm

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    Thanks, David.

    I wish was there was a similar number in Bruce Perens’ petition as well (currently 3,000+). I’m actually ~14th in both petitions. I never thought they would grow to reach that scale when I signed them and I believe that many who do not sign simply prefer to remain anonymous.

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