Dell to Offer Legal DVD Playback on Ubuntu Pre-Installed - Adventures in Switching to Linux

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dell to Offer Legal DVD Playback on Ubuntu Pre-Installed

A little background first

I've discussed some background and my experiences on getting DVDs to play on Linux before. The whole reason either of those articles even exist is because access to DVD content is restricted by CSS and the DMCA anti-circumvention provisions which make it illegal to work around CSS. If it were not for CSS and the DMCA, every Linux desktop distribution would have DVD support from the start. Eben Moglen wrote an insightful article back in 2000, soon after the algorithm to decrypt CSS was reverse engineered, titled: Free Software Matters: Linux, the DVD and the Law. Read that for the historical perspective on the reverse engineering of CSS and the law.

On Windows and Macs, you can play DVDs out of the box so you might be asking "Why do you need to circumvent CSS and break the law (the law being the DMCA) on Linux anyway?" There are 2 primary reasons from what I see.

The first, and less important in my opinion, is the desire for all software to be Free software (free as in speech, not free as in beer) on Liunx and everywhere. You fundamentally can not have a proprietary, closed encryption scheme and an open implementation to access data encrypted by that scheme. An open implementation opens up the encryption to all.

The second, and more practical issue, is there are no closed implementations of DVD software for Linux. Back in I want to watch my DVDs (Part 1) I discussed the lack of commercial alternatives. There is a market for watching DVDs in Linux (I don't think it is a very large market but it does exist and it is definitely growing) yet there are no legal commercially available applications to meet the demand of that market. What has met the demand in the market is an open source solution that happens to be illegal.

Dell, Ubuntu 7.10 and legal DVD watching

This is where Dell comes in. Dell has been selling systems with Ubuntu 7.04 pre-installed since May 2007. Now that Gutsy Gibson has been out for a few months Dell seems to have tested it and are ready to start selling 7.10 on new systems instead of 7.04. Oh but wait, that is not the exciting part. As part of the roll out of Gutsy Gibson on Dells, they are also including a LEGAL DVD player. This is one exiting press release: Ubuntu 7.10 and Built-In DVD playback Dell is going with LinDVD which is one of the players I mentioned before but that I couldn't find a real site for.

I guess with Dell's money, you can find the right person to talk to to make things like commercial DVD playback happen. That is one of the reasons that I love that Dell, and some other manufacturers are getting on the Linux train. They are helping Linux to solve it's chicken and the egg problems by throwing their weight behind it and giving it the credibility it deserves. Dell also offers some good resources such as forums and mailing lists. Thanks Dell! I think my next computer will be one from you with Ubuntu on it.

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