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LinuxLinks Fedora 7 Review (page 5)
LinuxLinks Review
By Kevin E. Glosser

Fedora and the Free Software Movement

Fedora takes great pride in its ties to the Free software movement. The Fedora Project has taken a firm stance against providing software that they deem to not be “free”. “Free” as in free to run in any fashion, study if desired, copy, modify, improve or distribute without further restrictions being applied. The movement is noble, however, the embodiment of it does not come without discomfort. The reality is you will probably come across some proprietary application or protocol you might wish to use. If you're a Fedora user you will not have the software installed to do it, by default. Of course, you can always add it, but that presents a dilemma. Why use a distribution that clearly frowns upon such behavior? Or does it? With the release of Fedora 7 and the tools to tailor the distro to your liking, is it now expected? Still, why not embrace the movement and disregard software that isn't free. Some might argue how truly free Fedora is in the first place, I'm not going there. I'm examining the state of free software in Fedora and Linux noting how the day may soon arrive, if it hasn't already, where using totally free software doesn't come with much of a compromise.

With the myriad of successful open source projects like Open Office, Firefox, Thunderbird, GNOME, GIMP, to name a few, it's easy to argue life is good in the free software world. Many, if not all of these applications meet or exceed the performance of their proprietary counterparts. It's typically media formats that require compromise in Linux, video in particular. If you want to use the latest video codecs for movies, you're going to have to install non-free software. Windows media formats, along with Apple's Quicktime tend to be the most commonly used. Totem, the included movie player in Fedora 7, does not play the latest movie file formats. In fact, I'm not sure what it plays because every movie format I tried would not work in it. I'm sure it plays the open formats, but as far as proprietary formats I assume none. If you want to view movies encoded in these formats you're pretty much forced to install xine or Mplayer along with the corresponding codecs. The alternative is to be unable to view most movies. Taking the high road results in a compromise, a major one in this category.

When it comes to audio, the story is different. The Fedora team makes a good argument against the use of the MP3 format. They note it's not a superior product, it's just what's commonly used. The preferred format in Fedora is called Ogg Vorbis. Ogg Vorbis is completely free, whereas MP3 is not. A large number of organizations have patents claiming ownership of the MP3 encoding format placing restrictions on its use. In practice, free audio formats are not only an acceptable solution they are superior. Many people rip their own music from CD's they own, storing it in a format of their choosing. When I rip music from my CD's, I now use Ogg Vorbis. There are advantages to doing it. Not only does all the software in Fedora support it, some interesting features become active with open formats. For instance, in GNOME if you open the Nautilus file browser and take your mouse and simply hover over a Ogg Vorbis encoded file, it will immediately begin playing it. This feature is not new to GNOME 2.18, but it's definitely a cool way to preview or play a song. In addition, due to the format itself being superior to MP3, file sizes are smaller with Ogg Vorbis. You can store more music in the same space at the same quality. Or, you can improve the quality and still take up the same amount of disk space as your current MP3 collection. With a little effort switching to free audio is an advantage.

The biggest disappointment to me in the free software category in Fedora 7 was the included JRE (Java Runtime Environment). You know Java, that wonderful technology promised by Sun that allows Java code to be run on any platform! Ahem. Well, that's dependent on how the JRE is written for your platform. In this case, it was unable to run a Java app I frequently use. I connect to the Internet Chess Club using a Java app called Jin. It would not run under the included JRE. I had to go and get Sun's JRE. It would be nice if someday this wasn't necessary. Whether the cause of the issue is the JRE, Java or choices made by the programmer, it's a scenario not dealt with well in the free software movement yet. I've tried using the free JRE in previous versions of Fedora with the same disappointing results. If you have Java software you want to run, you're probably going to have to go and get Sun's JRE. It's not a difficult thing to do, but it falls into the compromise category.

Making your own version of Fedora

Read ahead

1. Introduction
2. Installation
3. Flying High with Fedora
4. 3D Desktops and the default software lineup
5. Fedora and the Free Software Movement
6. Making your own version of Fedora
7. Final thoughts

Last Updated Sunday, August 05 2007 @ 04:24 AM EDT

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