Why FLOSS hackers use non-free codecs

This blog post asks an interesting question:

We in the Free and Open Source software community spend a great deal of time talking about free codecs and supporting those codecs, at least in words. So why on Planet Gnome do I see three different examples of people demoing cool new things with non-free codecs/tools?

I think it’s because FLOSS hackers are taught to value convenience and popularity more than software freedom. As a result, it’s acceptable to make “screencasts” which require Flash (which is currently unplayable with Free Software), movies encoded with non-free codecs, and audio shows distributed exclusively in the patent-encumbered MP3 format (which is only Free Software for some users).

There are perfectly viable Free Software alternatives—Ogg Theora movies and Ogg Vorbis audio files. Animated uncompressed GIFs can be made with Free Software and work perfectly fine to illustrate someone using a program; this approach also works across every platform in many programs (including every graphical web browser), not just those platforms that have a specific non-free player. I understand that Fluendo’s Cortado player is a Java-based player which allows people to merely point someone to a webpage and let them see an Ogg Theora+Vorbis movie. York Student TV uses this today as another means of seeing their broadcast (they also point to the feed itself so you can play it in your preferred player). Perhaps this will work on the Free Software Java runtime and give people a “no install” player they can use anywhere there’s a web browser that has Java. Short of that, VideoLan Client is Free Software (in some areas you might need to get a build without the MP3 software), and there is a Free Software decoder for Microsoft Internet Player.

In his discussion of the difference between the Free Software and Open Source movements Richard Stallman had something to say about switching to Free Software and switching back to non-Free Software:

Fear of Freedom

The main argument for the term “open source software” is that “free software” makes some people uneasy. That’s true: talking about freedom, about ethical issues, about responsibilities as well as convenience, is asking people to think about things they might rather ignore. This can trigger discomfort, and some people may reject the idea for that. It does not follow that society would be better off if we stop talking about these things.

Years ago, free software developers noticed this discomfort reaction, and some started exploring an approach for avoiding it. They figured that by keeping quiet about ethics and freedom, and talking only about the immediate practical benefits of certain free software, they might be able to “sell” the software more effectively to certain users, especially business. The term “open source” is offered as a way of doing more of this–a way to be “more acceptable to business.” The views and values of the Open Source movement stem from this decision.

This approach has proved effective, in its own terms. Today many people are switching to free software for purely practical reasons. That is good, as far as it goes, but that isn’t all we need to do! Attracting users to free software is not the whole job, just the first step.

Sooner or later these users will be invited to switch back to proprietary software for some practical advantage. Countless companies seek to offer such temptation, and why would users decline? Only if they have learned to value the freedom free software gives them, for its own sake. It is up to us to spread this idea–and in order to do that, we have to talk about freedom. A certain amount of the “keep quiet” approach to business can be useful for the community, but we must have plenty of freedom talk too.

At present, we have plenty of “keep quiet”, but not enough freedom talk. Most people involved with free software say little about freedom–usually because they seek to be “more acceptable to business.” Software distributors especially show this pattern. Some GNU/Linux operating system distributions add proprietary packages to the basic free system, and they invite users to consider this an advantage, rather than a step backwards from freedom.

That essay is worth reading in its entirety.