Should Ubuntu include proprietary software?

Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, possibly the most popular of all Linux distributions, is asking its users what new, proprietary programs they'd like to see as optional software in Ubuntu.

Note, I said "new." Ubuntu has actually included proprietary software in the form of hardware drivers since April 2007. At that time, Ubuntu developers decided to place binary ATI and NVIDIA graphic card drivers in the distribution because, "A large proportion of people using Ubuntu -- including 70%-80% of people with new computers -- need a non-Free driver for reasonable performance from their graphics card, wireless card, or modem, because there is no Free driver available, they had little choice in the matter."

Nevertheless, when it came to end-user software, Ubuntu has generally held the line against including proprietary software in their distribution. For example, you won't find Adobe Flash 10.x in Ubuntu, even though it's commonly included in other popular Linux distributions such as openSUSE.

Indeed, there are several other distributions, such as Mint, which are perhaps best known for including proprietary programs that Ubuntu has refused to incorporate into the distribution. Until now.

In a blog posting by Matthew Helmke, a member of the Ubuntu Forum Council, Helmke wrote, "We are trying to gather preferences for the apps that users would like to see in upcoming version of Ubuntu. While we all believe in the power of open source applications we are also very keen that users should get to choose the software they want to use. There are some great apps that aren't yet available to Ubuntu users and Canonical would like to know the priority that users would like to see them."

Still, Ubuntu is hedging its bets. Helmke carefully spells out that "This is not about applications to be included by default, but merely things that we may attempt to make more easily available for Ubuntu users to install for themselves from official repositories."

And what are these applications that Canonical is considering to make available as options to Ubuntu users? In the software survey, you'll find an odd collection of programs. Some are quite popular, such as Pandora, the online music streaming service, while others, such as Spotify, are rather obscure.

I found particularly fascinating that some programs were long time 'wish list' Windows and Mac programs — such as Adobe Photoshop, World of Warcraft and Apple iTunes, which have never been available natively on Linux. While it's possible to run Photoshop and World of Warcraft on Linux with Wine or its commercial big brothers, CodeWeaver's CrossOver Games and CrossOver Linux, the makers these wish list programs have never shown any serious interest in porting them to Linux.

Still other programs on the list, such as Google Picasa and Skype, are available for Linux but are purely proprietary. You can also write in your own 'must-have' proprietary program.

So, will Ubuntu make some of these programs available to users? I'm sure they will. While there are many people who still insist on free software or no software on their computers, most desktop Linux users seem to have accepted using some proprietary programs-they'd just rather not if they had a choice.

That said, whether Ubuntu thinks it's OK or not, I doubt we'll see native versions of Adobe Photoshop or Apple iTunes on our Linux PCs anytime soon. Darn it.

But, what do you think? Fill out Ubuntu's survey, and let me know, too.

FREE Computerworld Insider Guide: IT Certification Study Tips
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies