Livin' La Vida Linux

Livin' La Vida Linux

Summary: Encoding my CDs in a lossless, patent-fee, DRM-free format gives me the freedom to do what I want with the music I've already bought. The RIAA would probably call me a criminal.


[The opinions expressed here are mine alone, and not those of Google, Inc. my current employer.]

Last weekend I finished a home project I've been slowly working on for several months. I finally finished converting all the CD's in my collection from physical media to digital files. It turns out that every CD I ever bought, which now comes to somewhere around 400, fits within 160 gigabytes of storage. It's hard to buy a new disk that small these days, that's how much storage capacity has increased.

All the photos I've ever taken with my digital cameras fit within 20 gigabytes (I haven't had a digital camera for very long). I have a flatbed scanner but haven't yet spent the time to scan in all my old photos from paper. I'll probably start that task some idle weekend. I'm starting to look at my DVD movie collection with a view to doing the same. A couple of terabyte disks should cover that I think.

My world is slowly but surely moving online, and I'm not alone in that change. I have several  hundred books which I obviously can't view digitally, but once a decent viewing device using digital paper comes along (and by decent I mean I can use it safely in the bath) that's only a matter of time.

As I was growing up, analog music storage formats changed from wax 78 revolutions per minute (rpm) records (yes, my parents still had several of those) to plastic 33 1/3 “long playing” records (LP's), to 8-track tapes, to cassette tapes, and finally made the change to digital with CD's. Barring worldwide environmental or economic catastrophes, from now on it's going to be different variants of digital format, stored on ever more exotic and smaller devices. I realized recently that not only is my three-year-old son not going to know what a “record player” is, he isn't going to recognize a CD player either.

All these digital formats will be played and viewed on an amazing variety of devices, and Linux and other Free Software is the ideal platform to power them. None of these things will be a traditional “computer”, in the conventional desktop sense of the word. I'm in a privileged position here at Google and have been able to get my hands on a pre-release version of the Google Android phone. This phone is an amazing multi-function device, powered by Linux and Free Software. It's a music player, web browser, video viewer, and GPS positioning device, which also happens to make phone calls. Lest you think I've changed jobs and gone into advertising for Google, it reminds me a lot of my existing Nokia 770 Internet tablet device except that device can't make phone calls without a WiFi connection.

The Nokia 770 (and its replacement, the N800 Internet tablet) are also Linux powered, and use mostly Free Software/Open Source inside to act as an Internet and communications terminal. It is typical of the new Linux-powered devices that are cropping up everywhere. Without even realizing it, I bought a standalone Garmin GPS device that is based on Linux. Looking into devices to stream my newly encoded music library to different rooms in my house I found the Sonos multi-room music system, which has great reviews and also happens to run Linux. When I finally migrate my DVD collection onto my home file server (running Samba on Linux, naturally) and want to set up a digital video recorder, I'll probably end up with a high-definition version of the Linux powered Neuros OSD device.

If I haven't convinced you yet that Linux is going to take over the appliance world, I strongly suggest you look at Sony's web site. There you can find a page full of television models going back to 2003, all of which run on Linux (for those essential moments when you must have the source code to your television, naturally).

So why is “la Vida Linux” going to be the way of the 21st Century? To give an answer to that, I'll explain a little more about my weekend project, and why I chose to do it the way I did.

When choosing how to encode my CD's, I decided not to use the most common format, MP3. The problem with MP3 is that it is a “lossy” format which loses sound fidelity, and in addition it can't be freely implemented in Free Software because it is restricted by software patents. I chose to use the FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec)  format instead.

I chose FLAC because it's a software patent-free, lossless way of encoding music. Using FLAC guarantees that my music will be playable on any device (and most devices support FLAC). I can re-encode it in CD quality sound to make my own mix CD's containing whatever tracks I wish. It is Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) free, so there's no danger of a company turning off a remote server and finding myself in the unpleasant situation of all the music I bought being orphaned and unplayable.

In short, encoding my CD's in a free format gave me the freedom to do what I wanted with the music I had already bought. In the same way, using Free Software gives device manufacturers the freedom to create the devices they think will be the most popular, without any restrictions on what those devices should do or how they should look. There's no proprietary operating system owner who insists on their consumer “experience” being done a certain way. No commandments insisting that certain software components must be included in the device, which is to propagate control of proprietary media formats and web browsers, not to give device designers the flexibility they need.

Freedom matters, whether it be the file formats or the software itself. It is software freedom that allows all these devices to exist and to be sold so cheaply, and software freedom that causes Linux and other Free Software to create and expand into an ecosystem that simply wouldn't exist if proprietary software were all that was available. Designers have the freedom to modify the software and create what they wish from an amazing variety of Free Software source code. The only price for access to this incredible wealth of software is to obey the Free Software licenses and give their customers the same freedoms that they themselves have. All the companies and products I've mentioned here satisfy this requirement, so it's not an unreasonable thing to expect from your device vendor.

However, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) would probably call me a criminal for encoding my CD library. Their claim is that I don't own the music I bought on CD, but have only “licensed” it, and thus have no rights to make a copy of the music on my own home file server. This seems a weak argument to me. I'm not selling my CD's, I'm keeping them safely in a box so I can recover from any deletions or disk failures (although reliably backing up the data comprising my digital life will be the subject for another column). Ironically, since I've started this project I've spent more money on CD's than I used to. I'm getting more use and playability from having all my music available online, without having to scramble to find a specific CD for a room.

In the same way, I expect Free Software devices will ultimately mean more money spent on software and its development (which for a programmer is very good news), as more devices with diverse functionality become available to everyone living “la Vida Linux”.

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Linux, Mobility, Open Source, Security, Software

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  • Great Post

    Great job articulating the many benefits of freedom.

    You have illustrated exactly why I love and use Linux/Free Software.

    Thanks to you and the Samba team for the exceptional software running my Samba server.
    Tim Patterson
  • Well...

    Sure there are licenses. It all boils down to what you think is best for you.

    A proprietary license which is a collection of onerous restrictions on end-users or the GPL which can be loosely termed 'share and share alike'.

    No one is "looking over my shoulder". That is just silly. If you wish to use the fine work of other for your purposes avoiding the costs of proprietary offerings or the higher cost of developing your own proprietary solution you merely need to share your improvements but only if you distribute.

    If the requirements of sharing are too onerous for you then maybe you should just remain enslaved by the likes of MS. No, really, many people find enslavement to be 'safe' and even 'comfortable'.
    Tim Patterson
    • Safety.

      A good friend of mine once said, "Most people don't want freedom, they just want a kind master".

      Very true, unfortunately.

      • Safety?

        When the master becomes very ill, they're there with fans and fruit. When the master dies, they'll be there lost and alone ....
    • *sigh* must you?

      That was actually a great post.. and the first few comments were even on topic. I thought that we could maybe delve into a discussion on the future of Linux as the OS of choice for appliances.. right up until your last paragraph.

      "If the requirements of sharing are too onerous for you then maybe you should just remain enslaved by the likes of MS. No, really, many people find enslavement to be 'safe' and even 'comfortable'."

      Just couldn't resist, could you?

      It's sad, really.

      "The views expressed here are mine and do not reflect the official opinion of my employer or the organization through which the Internet was accessed."
  • Not clear what do you mean

    What don't I own? Are you talking about Linux, or music in digital content?
    • My complaint has allways been that we

      are told we should vilify anyone and anything that has anything dictating the limits of use with their products (Apple, Microsoft, RIAA, ect) yet should overlook open source's use of the exact same restrictive use policy.

      Why not just say that no one trusts us to do what is right, and therefor add EULA to their products to protect their interests, not ours?
      • I don't know what you mean by Linux giving you limits.

        Even if there is some limit in some open source app, you really have to look behind the intent, as well as total number of limits.
        • Agreed, The point is that

          the EULA in Linux is used to keep the intent of the entire idea behind Linux from being used by someone not interested in the reason in which is was put out.

          It is placed there as without it unscrupulous people would use or incorporate the software in ways not in keeping with the whole idea behind Linux, ways that could actually harm companies that are attempting to make a go of it with Linux, like Red Hat or Canonical.

          Not unlike the RIAA, which is a for profit company that does what it must to protect their revenue from unscrupulous people who would use the digital music files in unintended ways that could harm that revenue stream.

          It speaks to the assumption that we as a whole will attempt to profit from others people work, no matter what that work may be.

          So let us drop the pretense that restrictions that place limits on what can and can not do with something really do not come from the same place; they do, and for the same reasons.

          In both cases it is to protect that product for which it was orinally created for, and needed becuase without them, we would surley do with these product that which we feel is in our best interests, not those of their creators
          • Stop whining, you cry baby

            Oh God... you're such a whining loser.

            You're "uncomfortable" with the restriction on something GIVEN TO YOU FREELY that if you propagate the system, that you live within the spirit of things and share the source code.

            Of course, you overlook the fact that if you don't feel comfortable with that restriction...then DON'T PROPAGATE YOUR CHANGES -- keep them to yourself!!!!

            Honestly, I've seen 4-year old children with a more responsible, adult-like attitude than you.
      • Big difference with free software licenses. There are NO restrictions on

        use, redistributing, and modifying the code, as long as you make your changes public. If you do not like that, you can use BSD, and then you can modify, redistribute to your hearts content without giving back any of your changes.
        • LOL

          Translation: There are no restrictions. Except the restrictions.

          If you want an OS with the least restrictions, you'd use BSD,
          because, you can make any modifications you want and DON'T
          have to share your changes. Even more freedom.

          Intellectually honest stallmanites would be pushing BSD.
      • OK..

        You are talking about the requirement to share changes if you distribute.

        Maybe you would "do the right thing" but human nature dictates that some people will NOT do the right thing. The GPL requirement to share changes anticipates the 'dark-side' of human nature and attempts to protect the Free Software ecosystem from it.
        Tim Patterson
        • Exactly! So why

          vilify the artist, the RIAA, or whoever, that place these restrictions on their property, as [i]human nature dictates that some people will NOT do the right thing[/i], while the Internet has shown us that to be true?
      • Nice straw man

        [i]My complaint has allways been that we are told we should vilify anyone and anything that has anything dictating the limits of use with their products (Apple, Microsoft, RIAA, ect)[/i]

        Well, first off the use of passive voice is telling.

        Aside from that, the usual objection is exactly what you write "the limits of [b]use[/b]" -- which doesn't apply to GPL software. In fact, if you read the license you will find that it specifically allows you to [b]use[/b] it any way you like.

        Of course, what you're really objecting to is limitations of a different sort -- none of which are at issue in the other instances you cite and none of which are the subject of significant dispute.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • What he's really objecting to is anything non-Microsoft.

          So Microsoft is his master, and he's terrified of being free.

          That brand name, those constant press releases that tell him what to think, that's his comfort zone.
          • Your are so warped...LOL still waiting for the value - nt

          • Show me how I'm wrong rather than resorting to name calling.

            Waiting ...
          • The value?

            When SuSE was selling SuSE Professional for under $100, the VALUE of the software, if I had to purchase it for Microsoft computers, would cost well over $100,000 (Postgres and other realtime relational database servers, 15 different major programming languages, etc.).

            And of course, to run all that software on Windows would require a fleet of machines, as Windows still has stability problems when running a large number of processes. Meanwhile, my Linux machine has no problem with several hundred processes up and running.

            So, other than revealing that you're actually US_rectally-inserted_head, what's your point exactly?
          • Actually it's you who needs to prove the quote - this will be fun -

            "So Microsoft is his master, and he's terrified of being free.

            That brand name, those constant press releases that tell him what to think, that's his comfort zone. "

            Is an negative useless comment (par for the course) adding no value what so ever. Your standard comments are bashing negative and "warped". You have one single useless life wasting agenda and are so "warped" against MS and the US that you quite often type gibberish. Warped in this sense is a sense of action (not a name) when viewed outside the person committing the idiocracy, as is often pointed out here by others. Personally I think you are funniest nut-job to read (you have a couple coming in a close 2nd) - like afternoon tea - no value what so ever but really fun. Hell you make me a lot of money...keep up the good work, stiff upper and all that.