No Ubuntu Default Extras Install

The Ubuntu Technical Board has voted not to install the non-free extras package by default during a standard Ubuntu Install. This an option that, if selected, installs proprietary software including hardware drivers, media codecs and the Flash player. It has been opt-in rather than opt out since its first appearance.

When considering the issue, bear in mind that the fact that many proprietary technologies “just work” is often cited as a superiority of distributions such as Mint. Also bear in mind that Ubuntu targets the “typical desktop user” who needs things like DVD and YouTube playback. However, it's arguable that a user who is sufficiently clued up to carry out an operating system install would be able to decide if he or she needed to tick the box.

The arguments against ticking the box by default can be divided into moral, technical and legal aspects.

Moral, because some of the add-ons are either closed source or open source software (such as gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad) that raises legal questions. For one thing, as Ubuntu is so popular, including non-free software by default could arguably remove some of the incentive for developing solutions that supplant proprietary technology. For many, part of the Ubuntu mission is to encourage the adoption of not just Linux but also free software in general.

In some jurisdictions the proprietary software in the extras cannot be legally distributed or installed. As things stand, it is up to the user to research the issues and decide whether they can legally add things such as DVD and MP3 playback to their system. I suspect the legal aspect is real killer of the idea.

Some people would also complain that what the restricted extras package offers amounts to bloat that is not needed. For example, YouTube playback could be achieved without resorting to the official Flash player. A solution involving Gnash, HTML 5 or FlashVideoReplacer (which now no longer needs Flash at all) could be made to work to some extent. However, none of these solutions support the range of web sites that the official Adobe Flash player does.

In the case of web browsing, it's worth noting that, even if the the extras package has not been installed, it should be possible to install Flash by following prompts from Firefox's plugin finder. In the same vain, some media players can automatically fetch the required codecs.

In closing, it's difficult to see what the “right” decision would have been, and it's an issue that would probably have been devisive within the Linux comminity as a whole, had it been given a wider audience and greater publicity.

The IRC discussion in which the vote was taken.

The original enhancement request on the Launchpad entitled "Installer – The option to 'install third-party software' when installing Ubuntu should be selected by default (aka "make Youtube work") "

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