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07.21.08

Microsoft is Paid for Ubuntu-based Dell PCs

Posted in Dell, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Novell at 5:51 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

‘Codecs tax’ added

T

his seems like a sensitive subject, so it’s worth beginning with a clarification that the author hasn’t bias against Ubuntu (used it since the first version, alongside other GNU/Linux distributions). The decision from Dell to sell PCs with GNU/Linux preinstalled was fantastic too and it opened the door to similar offers from other competing OEMs.

What follows is intended to be constructive criticism, so it’ll be kept more polite and less ambiguous than the last time.

“There are no easy solutions here and it is perhaps why selling machines with no operating system and without the taxation should be needed.”The relationship between Microsoft, Novell and Dell is mysterious and very little is publicly known about the financial arrangement between Dell and Canonical. Nevertheless, every now and then, some people carry on complaining about the price of Ubuntu PCs from Dell. They are sometimes more expensive than equivalents with Microsoft Windows or are delivered without bonuses (hidden value).

On the face of it, one low-key addition to the latest expansion from Dell (availability of Ubuntu 8.04[.x]) is “licensed codecs”, where license is a fancier term for the payment to acquire binaries — or rather the permission to taint the GNU/Linux distribution with them. It seems unnecessary to revisit the endless debate about the harms of proprietary software, including such codecs especially where they are acquired in this fashion.

This nugget of information was made a little more apparent in the following article.

Dell began to address those problems with the 7.10 release by adding legal support for DVD playback. With the 8.04 release, Dell is going a step further and will be adding licensed codecs for common audio and video formats.

There are several issues here. Firstly, the price of GNU/Linux can be controlled (elevated) above the cost of proprietary software simply because files encoded in a certain way are spread among people. These are different (and legal) ways of obtaining such codecs.

In the case of Dell, you do not get any choice but to pay for proprietary software (preinstalled even) which is costly and essentially pays Microsoft for software patents, probably even in Europe.

There are no easy solutions here and it is perhaps why selling machines with no operating system and without the taxation should be needed. It’s called unbundling and it’s a state where people are permitted to just buy bare hardware from the Big Vendors. Microsoft fights this fiercely using daemonisation terms like “naked” (as in “naked PCs”).

Ubuntu on Dell PCs is not free. Not gratis and not libre. They seem to be turning it into another Linspire and that won’t help Linux (where the sense of freedom is diluted) or promote the advantages of Free software. GNU/Linux does not ‘win’ if it simply devolves into another OS X for wider acceptance.

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3 Comments

  1. mpz said,

    July 21, 2008 at 7:33 am

    Gravatar

    Codec licensing is the ‘convenience’ back-door which has finally become a way for proprietary software companies to tax GNU systems. And because of the over-arching commercial power of the USA, even countries where software patents are not legal are still being charged in this way.

    For example gstreamer seems to becoming the de-facto standard for multi-media GNU desktops. And it is a direct conduit for these licensed codecs. Fedora prompts you to buy them when it tries to play a file, for example.

    It is hard not to be pessimistic. So much hard work on a free system is being un-done by a little convenience in playing some silly media files. Defeat is being clutched from the jaws of victory. And although completely free formats exist such as ogg’s, without the major media providers supporting them (or perhaps isv’s providing the necessary middleware which supports it), they will never be more than niche.

  2. Victor Soliz said,

    July 21, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Gravatar

    proprietary codecs BAD and all, but how do we know MS is being paid for them? They are not the only ones capable of distributing codecs.

  3. Roy Schestowitz said,

    July 21, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Gravatar

    Some of the codecs acquired are Microsoft codecs and I know for a fact that Canonical negotiated this (not necessarily directly with Microsoft). Red Hat was in a similar situation whilst working on a desktop product.

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