foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world


A small step for Dell, a giant leap for Linux...

, posted: 20-Dec-2007 07:27

My apologies to Neil Armstrong...

What is getting me so excited? This piece of news here: Dell announces Ubuntu 7.10 PCs with DVD playback.

What's so exciting about this? And besides, other operating systems, such as Windows, can play DVDs out of the box anyway, right?

Well, no. Wrong. Sorry. Ok, I don't know what they have done with Vista now, but look at your recovery CDs for Windows XP. Notice something? If you install from that recovery CD, Windows will not know how to play DVDs at all. In fact, that's exactly the reason why a commercial DVD player software is normally part of any Windows PC shipment. The DVD player software comes on an extra CD and has all the right codecs. It is of course pre-installed by the OEM ahead of time (with the OEM probably paying the license fee for the DVD codecs, not Microsoft), so when you unpack your PC at home, it can play DVDs out of the box. Very convenient, and makes it look as if Windows can do that. But once you have to do an install from a recovery disk you realise that the DVD player install is actually an extra step.

Anyway, anyway. People have used Linux for the longest time to view DVDs as well. It just took some extra manual steps to get all the right codecs installed. Without paying some fees somewhere, you can't get those codecs legally, which is why completely free Linux distros usually cannot include them. You were always able to download the codecs (more or less legally, depending on where in the world you are), but it was always that one additional manual step.

Now, with Dell stepping up and paying some small license fee to include the commercial LinDVD player software with each shipment of its Ubuntu PCs (just like what they are already doing for their Windows shipments), users will get to enjoy exactly the same experience as the Windows customers: DVD playing abilities out of the box. No extra steps required.

The fact that out-of-the-box DVD playing abilities were a much demanded feature for their Ubuntu PCs is a tell-tale sign that the Dell Ubuntu PCs have also been bought by people not overly familiar with Linux. People who just want everything to work out of the box, not just long-time Linux fans or enthusiasts. Installing the DVD codecs has been very easy on Ubuntu for a long time already. Easy, if you know your way around a little bit, and know where to ask (in the forums) or which software to install (Automatix, for example). But with this now, Ubuntu PCs clearly have become one step closer to be readily usable by mainstream users.

And that is a giant leap for Linux.


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Comment by Wonderer, on 20-Dec-2007 09:52

But what about the users of other distributions? Is Ubuntu going to "step up" for us, too?


Comment by bradstewart, on 20-Dec-2007 09:59

Nice to see Linux finally catching up to Windows there, Vista comes with a built in decoder for DVDs.


Author's note by foobar, on 20-Dec-2007 10:10

@Wonderer: Actually, I think you meant 'is Dell going to step up' (for other distros), rather than Ubuntu, right? I had mentioned Dell in my post as the one stepping up.

Honestly, I don't know. There are some Linux workstations you can buy from Dell as well, but they are still using RedHat Enterprise as the OS. No idea if they plan to add this as well. I would think probably not, since they are squarely aimed at the enterprise market.


@bradstewart: So, if you'd install Vista from the recovery CD, the DVD playing ability would be included? Interesting. If Microsoft is willing to pay the fees for the codecs, I wonder why they never bothered to include them in XP.


Comment by Chuck, on 20-Dec-2007 11:54

Looks like only the Premium and Ultimate versions of Vista support playback out of the box. All other versions need you to purchase a codec or some commercial playback software.


Author's note by foobar, on 20-Dec-2007 12:06

@Chuck: Well, that would explain it then.


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New Zealand


  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
  • Where I have been: Here and there, all over the place.




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