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patenting if these schemes give their customers such a hard time. To learn more, and to find out what you can do to help halt the progress of such technology, visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation s web site: www.eff.org.
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Programmers have also come up with Free Software alternatives to proprietary formats. Examples include the Ogg media format, which is every bit as good as MP3 but is unencumbered by patent issues. We ll look at using Ogg later in this chapter, in the Choosing a Format section; it s an excellent way of avoiding issues surrounding patenting. However, at the moment, there s no ideal open-source video format, or at least not one that s in widespread use. As an end user migrating to Ubuntu from Windows or Mac OS X, it s likely you ll want to add support for MP3 and popular video file playback formats, at least until you can
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switch over to open-source file formats. Throughout this and the next chapter, we ll examine installing media playback software and using it in concert with Ubuntu s built-in playback software, even though some of that software may have issues surrounding patenting. In one case, the software is designed to bypass the DRM scheme that protects DVD movie discs.
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Note The United States and Japan both have laws allowing software to be patented. Most other countries,
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including those within the European Union, do not currently allow software patents.
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Playing Audio Files
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Audio playback under Ubuntu is normally handled by the Rhythmbox player. This is a feature-packed piece of software that can play back audio files, podcasts, Internet radio, and even CDs. However, Totem, the Ubuntu movie player, can also play back digital audio files. Additionally, Sound Juicer can play audio CDs. Like many modern music players, Rhythmbox can also manage your music collection, arranging it into a library so you can locate songs easily and create playlists. This makes it a better choice for playback if you have many digital audio files, although Totem is good for quick playback of individual files, such as auditioning those you ve just downloaded. Out of the box, Ubuntu supports playback of Ogg Vorbis and FLAC across all its audio playback applications. These are two open-source audio file formats, which you ll learn more about in the Choosing a Format section later in this chapter. To play back other music file formats, such as the ubiquitous MP3 format, additional software known as codecs must be installed. A codec handles the decoding (and also encoding) of multimedia files, both audio and video. The word is a shortened version of coder-decoder. For any digital multimedia file type you want to play on your computer, you ll need an appropriate codec. In addition, if you wish to create your own multimedia files for example, to create MP3s from CD audio tracks you might need to download an additional codec that allows the encoding of files. Installation of codec software is largely automated. However, the issue of patenting continues to have an impact on the distribution of codecs. What s more, the issue has not been resolved with 100% clarity, leaving many end users in a legal gray area. Several audio codecs available for Linux, contained in various gstreamer-plugins software packages, are not licensed with the patent holders. This is of little issue to you, as an end user. It s a practical concern only for the distributors of the codecs, because the laws of some countries state that it s their duty to pay patent licensing fees. But it s something you should be aware of.
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MULTIMEDIA PLAYBACK COMPONENTS
In simple terms, three software components are needed for multimedia playback under Ubuntu: Player application: This is the software that s actually used to listen to music or display videos. It s the part of the multimedia system that you interact with. Under Ubuntu, Totem Movie Player is used to play back video, and Rhythmbox is used to handle audio. However, if you install the KDE desktop, Kaffeine will be used to play back movies, and armaroK will be used to handle audio playback. Multimedia framework: This is the behind-the-scenes middleman that puts the player application in touch with the codec plug-ins. The multimedia framework preferred by Ubuntu is called GStreamer; the multimedia framework preferred by KDE is called Xine. The multimedia framework is a background component of your system, and you won t come into direct contact with it, apart from when you re initially configuring your system for media playback. However, it s important to note that more than one multimedia framework can be installed, because this is sometimes necessary to utilize certain codecs. In 19, you will learn how to install an additional framework in order to fully support DVD playback under Ubuntu. Codec plug-ins: Codecs are the small pieces of software that handle multimedia file decoding. Codecs do all the hard work the number-crunching. Most multimedia file formats are compressed, to make for smaller file sizes, and the codec s job is to expand the files again, so that they can be played back on your computer. Some codecs also work the other way around by shrinking files; if you rip CD tracks to MP3, or convert DVD videos to movie files on your hard disk, you will need to shrink them for ease of storage. Under Ubuntu, the GStreamer multimedia framework is installed by default, along with a handful of codecs.
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