Media support in Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn

Media support in Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn

Summary: Today I continue my "Windows to Linux Chronicles" by looking at what media support is like under Ubuntu 7.04.

TOPICS: Open Source

Today I continue my "Windows to Linux Chronicles" by looking at what media support is like under Ubuntu 7.04.

The test is simple. Take a few test files and see if they'll play. For the test I chose the following files:

  • An MP3 test file
  • A WMA test file (a DRM-free file of course)
  • A QuickTime 7 movie

Note: Full image gallery available here.

The test is simple. Save these files onto the Ubuntu desktop, double-click and see what Ubuntu does. I already know that Linux will try its best to find a way to run the files so it'll be interesting to see how easy this process is and how well it works.


When I clicked on the MP3 file a program called Totem Movie Player fired up. This seemed odd to me, I was expecting an audio player, or a generic player, not one that specifically referred to movies. Anyway, a few seconds after it fired up I got a message saying that a codec was needed.

OK, under Windows this kind of message can be pretty hit-n-miss so I wasn't sure what to expect. However, within seconds it has found some codecs for me and I chose one (GStreamer extra plugin) and installed it. What happened next bugged me a little and it would continue to bug me each time I came across it during the test. I kept being presented with dialog boxes telling me that the codec was "restricted software" and that I had to verify that I was allowed to use the software:

Media support in Ubuntu - Call a lawyer!

Hmmm. Now, I'm not a lawyer but at this point I sure felt like I needed one. If this kind of thing makes me feel nervous then I'm not sure how it's going to make less confident users feel. The bottom line (I think) is that liability for use of the codecs (or certain codecs anyway) is passed onto the user. Is this legal? Is this ethical? No idea (maybe someone else can clarify this). One thing's for sure, it feels dodgy. This kind of grey area is yet another example of why Linux is far from ready for prime time.

Putting aside the feeling that I was agreeing to something that felt ambiguous (although I think I can safely say I fall into the "research purposes" category) the remainder of the installation process was fast and within a few seconds the MP3 file was playing in Totem Movie Player.



For the next test I tried playing a WMA file under Ubuntu.

The results were pretty much identical to playing an MP3 file. I double-clicked the file, Totem Movie Player fired up, and after thinking about the situation for a few seconds decided it needed to look for a codec. I agreed to the search and soon a suitable codec was found and downloaded. I then had to swear that I was entitled to use the codec before it installed. After all this was completed (a process that took a couple of minutes) the file played perfectly.

Another success.

Next -->

QuickTime 7

Drunk on the success of getting two file types running under Ubuntu, I was convinced that I could get a QuickTime 7 movie to play.

It certainly looked like it to begin with. I double-clicked the file, Totem fired up again, and wanted a codec. Having been through this loop a couple of times it now seemed familiar. However, while I was told that a codec was found and I managed to successfully install it, the file wouldn't play and I got an error message worthy of Windows:

Media support in Ubuntu

No go. However, rather than give up, I decided to give Automatix a go and see if that could find an application or codec that'll get the QuickTime file running.


Automatix is an application that I've been waiting to take for a spin for some time now. What is it? Well, here's how it's described on the website:

Automatix2 is a graphical interface (written in python and bash) for automating the installation of the most commonly requested applications in some Debian based distributions.

The website also proudly announced that Michael Dell uses Automatix on his home PC. That boast is supposed to make me think that since it's good enough for Michael Dell, it has to be good enough for me. Hmmm, I not too sure about that. I'm pretty sure that Michael Dell is running his Automatix on a Dell PC and I wouldn't want one within fifty feet of the PC Doc HQ, and if Automatix really is that good, why doesn't Dell install it as standard on Ubuntu-powered Dell boxes?

Anyway, Michael Dell aside, I wanted to give Automatix a go. It was yet another pain-free install and within minutes I had it up-and-running. Once again however I was faced with more legal mumbo-jumbo that I had to agree to.

Media support in Ubuntu

I selected a number of downloads from Automatix, including the AUD-DVD codecs (for research purposes, Your Honor!) and began the download and install process. This process took a long time compared to other installs (about 20 minutes) but the whole thing went smoothly and soon I had a bunch of new apps installed.

Did any of them manage to run the QuickTime 7 file? Nope. And from what I can gather, it's not possible to run version 7 files on Linux, only earlier versions (or at least not a way that I've found yet). Doesn't matter, the movie was rubbish anyway.

Next time, I want to see what DVD support is like under Linux.


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Topic: Open Source

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  • Good luck (you're gonna need it).

    Quicktime 7 files are absolutely playable under Linux, although the mplayer based browser plugin leaves a lot to be desired, I get better performance form Quicktime in Windows on VMware Server. I honestly don't know if Ubuntu provides a proper version of mplayer or if it's crippled a la SuSE ( is highly useful for SuSE) but for me it plays just about everything.

    I guess, however, that it's the lack of instant playability that you're concerned with and my point is that there really is no technical reason why it couldn't be done.

    The same goes for DVD playback. Although there is no specific patent issue as there is with mp3 and wma, there is the DMCA issue when it comes to the DeCSS installation.
    • No good luck. You need other laws (or codecs),

      [i]The same goes for DVD playback. Although there is no specific patent issue as there is with mp3 and wma, there is the DMCA issue when it comes to the DeCSS installation.[/i]

      Yes, there is where the "legal mambo-jumbo" comes from. Patents on software is the problem (book plots are patented next?).

      You realy should demand media in non patented codec. There is absolutly no technical problems playing those medias, just political/law issues.
  • Install Mplayer or VLC instead ...

    It has built in codec support for Quicktime 7 files. There is also a graphical front end that's included. Mplayer will also allow you to capture network streams and do conversion with mencoder, but it's on the command line and it may be intimidating for newbies.

    You could use VLC player instead which will run the Quicktime 7 files. VLC does have a graphic front end for stream capture and conversion that is pretty extensive.

    Both of these players far exceed Totem and should be used as a replacement. Personally I like Mplayer for the command line control over the capture/conversion process, but each to his own.
  • As far as DVDs go

    xine based players are better than mplayer based players, because they support menus. Although if you want to manually select a DVD title for some reason (like say you don't want to waste time finding easter eggs) then use the mplayer based players. There's also several decent stand-alone DVD players, and let's not forget VideoLAN.

    KDE based distros usually default to Kaffeine these days, which is xine based, and I think Totem is xine based too, so that will probably be your default player. It'll work fine, and since this is research for an article you should be fine. ;)

    Also think about looking at converting video files to DVDs.
    Michael Kelly
    • Xine for DVDs, Mplayer for media ...

      Xine players do support the menus unlike Mplayer. but for playing almost any type of media file Mplayer seems to have the most available codecs built right in.

      You can also enable the Medibuntu Repositories since they have a version of Mplayer that plays almost anything, even wmv9 files (unencrypted of course):
      • Agreed (nt)

        Michael Kelly
      • Doesn't xine have a plugin to use mplayer for music?

        Or vice versa?

        I know XMMS has something like that.
  • VLC for Quicktime; avoid Automatix

    Please avoid Automatix. It's not only potentially hazardous, but quite unnecessary in Ubuntu 7.04. Troubles may happen when you get software updates from the official sources, with a messed up system as a consequence. I've seen it happen on the fora.

    For Quicktime, use VLC (you can install it from the repositories of Ubuntu). As Mister Miester already pointed out. :-)

    Greetz, Pjotr.
    • Seems like issues like this need to be thought about by the distributors

      I mean, if the guy writing these columns didn't know about vlc vs automatix, etc. how would Joe Citizen know about it?

      A Linux distribution needs to ship with a rock solid media player that will either play everything out of the box, or, more likely, easily interact with the user to load new versions, codecs, etc.

      If totem isn't that program, why ship it?
  • You installed illegal and hacked codecs.

    While you *may* feel comfortable in doing this, I assure you no corporation would allow this on users desktops as the liability is simply to large.

    Another reason Linux on the desktop will remain in the realm of geeks and people with no morals that feel its fine to violate copyright and IP rights.

    The funny thing is, these are the same people that will whine like a stuck hog if anyone touchs open source IP...
    • Another funny thing

      corporate desktops don't need those codecs. It's for home users that they are useful. Or if you do want them legally, you can buy them legally at Linspire, shortly. Their paid Click'n'Run service will be available for Ubuntu users as well.

      Not to mention that most of that stuff isn't patented in Europe, so European users don't have that "problem". The same goes probably for some Asian countries, I don't know.

      Greetz, Pjotr.
      • Wrong

        We need Windows Media and Quicktime for many reasons. One example; we use Quicktime for our corporate university training videos.
        • If so...

          Pay the bill OR change to a free codec. There are examples installable for both Mac OSX and MS Windows NT/XP/Vista
      • Wrong

        Tell you what, go to the MS Office training site and see how far you get without being able to play WMV.

        Oh, and your wrong about Europe to.
        • What are you gibbering about?

          You still can't patent software in Europe. It went before the European Commission and they said nay (or non, or nein, etc.).

          PS why would I want the MS Office training site if I'm ditching Windows?
          • RE: What are you gibbering about?

            I think the MS Office training was just an example. I've had occasion to view quicktime movies work work purposes numerous times.

        • Uh, Axey . . . .?

          This is a Linux system. No MS Office, remember?

          As for WMV, I believe that MS has sold the rights to play them to a LOT of companies, (Linspire, for one . . .) And anything that is developed by Back-engineering it doesn't fall under the patent violation thingy . . .IN other words, if I can come up with my own UNIQUE way of playing a file format that was developed by someone else, I haven't violated their patent . . .or so I've been told.

          And finally, I would think that MS would WANT the wmv (and wma) format to spread so as to become more of a standard than it is now.
    • People with no morals?

      Yet another fantastic slur from the most ironically named poster on ZDNet. When I stop paying for my commercial software you [i]might[/i] be able to claim that. Until then, zip it farm boy.

      Predicted responses. No_ax will:

      1) Claim the 235 mystery patents as inarguable proof.
      2) Claim I share Stallman's brain or
      3) Call me a loser.
      • Message has been deleted.

        Yagotta B. Kidding
      • Wrong...

        "When I stop paying for my commercial software you might be able to claim that."

        Nope, all it takes is for you to violate the EULA issued by MS.