New distros seem to pop-up every day in the GNU/Linux world. The majority of them try to be as FREE as possible, however when attempting to install a distribution on a new PC of a common next door user, you will probably find (I sure did) that you can’t avoid falling into these two proprietary sins:
1- Adobe Flash Player:
Let’s say that you install a new distro on a friend’s PC. You got it all setup and ready to use in no time and left his/her house feeling all proud and smiling, letting them enjoy the new experience. You will most likely get a call in a minute or two from a familiar voice asking you why he/she can’t view videos on websites like Youtube. Also, lots of websites depending on Flash Player will not be showing up properly or as designed to.
If you look for a free alternative software, you will soon end up installing GNASH, the GNU Flash movie player, which is quite an impressive try by the team over at GNU. This replacement application does the job quite good I must confess. Still, it won’t be long until problems start to occur: many sites will not support it, multimedia will not be playing correctly or crashing, you will be asked to install the Adobe Flash player or upgrade to the newest version of it. The average user will quite soon get annoyed and start complaining.
HTML 5 was introduced recently and video support without the need of any software is a very important step on the road to stop depending on Adobe and the Flash Player, at least not for viewing videos that is. This is a big step forward and it would be nice to see websites, especially the ones that are related to FREE software, starting to take advantage of all the new features.
2 – Graphic Drivers
Nvidia and AMD are doing a relatively good job with their Linux drivers and support. I am sorry to say, that despite the voices and the pressure from the community , these drivers stay proprietary.
Using the nvidia driver myself, I came across some bits of troubles: suspending might not work, flickering might occur, refresh rate issues, maybe some incompatibilities with compiz etc. Despite these, all in all the feeling is good. According to the notification I get to install them on Ubuntu 9.10: “This proprietary driver is required to fully utilise the 3D potential of NVIDIA graphics cards, as well as provide 2D acceleration of newer cards. If you wish to enable desktop effects, this driver is required. If this driver is not enabled, you will not be able to enable desktop effects and will not be able to run software that requires 3D acceleration, such as some games.”
As far as I know, the biggest equivalent to these proprietary drivers is the work of the team behind the nouveau project. I had given a chance to this attempt in the past, but I was disappointed. From what I read it has progressed, the 2D acceleration of the project is improving, but 3D acceleration is currently only suggested for testers.
I had never owned an AMD card, so there is little I can comment on here, however according to the FAQ on the official website:
“Q4: Is complete driver source code available?
A4: Some of the technologies supported in our driver are protected by non-disclosure agreements with third parties, so we cannot legally release the complete source code to our driver. It is NOT open source. We do, however, include source code for the control panel and certain other public segments. We also actively assist developers in the Open Source community with their work, so if you absolutely require an open source driver for your graphics card, we can recommend using drivers from the DRI project, Utah-GLX project, or others.”
If you are in an experimental mood, you can check the links given above for more. If you do or you have some further knowledge of them, please post a comment below letting us know about your impressions and thoughts.
I feel obligated to mention here the attempt made by The Open Graphics Project, which is developing graphics cards with Free-licensed specifications and Free Software drivers. I can only hope that this kind of work continues to exist and improve, producing the best of results.
Why do I bother writing about this?
I belong to the FLOSS community for a year and a half now, and I try to keep as FREE as possible. As most of people introduced to free software, I too came across various troubleshoots after I made the switch to GNU/Linux.
I tended to restart the system to my Windows partition on a daily basis, in order to complete a desired task. Soon I discovered Wine, which does an excellent job running all those Windows applications that you haven’t yet discovered an alternative for. Then I went on to using virtual machines like VMware and VirtualBox for the programs that wouldn’t run as intended on Wine.
Searching around the web, posting on forums, reading and learning, I have gradually managed to replace most of the applications I use with free equivalents, which nowadays even do the job I want better than the ones I previously used. As a result, I rarely have to use the methods mentioned above.
These two applications, Adobe Flash Player and the Graphic Drivers, are the only ones that I haven’t been able to be replace with something free yet. On the positive side, it’s nice to see that the companies behind the programs try to maintain a GNU/Linux version of their software and have it up to date. However they are still not free, and if you care about the ideology behind all these, am sure it’s bugging you too. Am waiting to see this coming to an end soon. Since the companies don’t seem to be persuaded to free the code and the software itself, I can only hope the teams behind the equivalent applications manage to get them to a fully working state as soon as possible.
Many might get the idea that I am writing this post to complain. On the contrary, I am stressing out that the FLOSS community has come a long way in the short time that I consider myself a member. Being completely FREE is a dream not that far away.
Depending on your needs, you might want to refer to some additional applications here, please keep in mind that this post is about the everyday user. If you still have something to add, feel free to leave a comment below.