The Ubuntu Tech Board have unanimously voted against restricted software being included in Ubuntu by default. The Ubuntu Restricted Extras package which can be found in the Ubuntu Software Centre, includes a number of proprietary extras such as codecs and fonts but it also includes the infamous Adobe Flash.
Canonical is diligently trying to get Ubuntu to a level where everything “just works” and being able to watch Youtube videos out of the box is a major factor. However, the proprietary nature of Flash is counter-intuitive to Ubuntu’s open source principals and the board have made their decision for the next Ubuntu release (Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal) which is scheduled for the 28th of April.
Web standards should be favoured over third party extensions especially in the case of proprietary extensions as they will compromise the truly free nature of Ubuntu. The HTML5 web specification caters for video and the Firefox 4 browser, which will be included in Ubuntu 11.04, fully supports HTML5 video and the open source, patent free WebM format. However, Youtube’s HTML5 support is still in it’s beta stages and users must opt-in to the HTML5 trial.
The Ubuntu Tech board have suggested that they enable the HTML5 trial on Youtube by default thereby allowing Youtube to “just work” but this is not ideal since only video encoded in the WebM format will work. Fortunately Google are dedicated to the WebM format meaning Youtube, Firefox and in turn Ubuntu are all headed in the same direction in this regard. Hopefully the need to include Flash will eventually become a non-issue. But as always, Ubuntu Restricted Extras can be installed through the Ubuntu Software Center in order to get full Flash support, along with all it’s bugs and performance issues.