posted by Robert C. Dowdy on Tue 8th Oct 2002 02:36 UTC

"APT, Mp3 and DVD Playback - Part II"
With 8.0 Red Hat made the decision, based on murky patent issues, to strip MP3 functionality from the distribution. While many have criticized this move, I tend to agree with it. Thompson Multimedia, holders of the patent in question, have not unilaterally stated that Linux distributors are exempt from the licensing fees associated with providing MP3 decoding functionality in a non-free product. While XMMS and other players are free, Red Hat sells them as an integral part of Red Hat Linux, thus leading to the confusion over Red Hat's licensing obligations (including one school of thought which suggests free MP3 players can't legally be placed under the GPL, because they contain patented algorithms that aren't freely redistributable for all users all the time) . Without an unequivocal statement from Thompson, this isn't a chance Red Hat is willing to take, for which one would imagine Red Hat stockholders (eager to avoid lawsuits) and supporters of Ogg Vorbis (eager to overthrow MP3 as a standard) are grateful. Those of us stuck with a huge collection of unplayable MP3s, on the other hand, are likely less enthusiastic about the decision, pragmatic though it may be. It seems this would be a good time to start taking advantage of the (arguably) superior Ogg format for future audio encoding, since because of this licensing issue the MP3 format can hardly be considered a truly open standard. In the meantime, now that we have apt installed and configured we can restore MP3 functionality to XMMS with a single command:

apt-get install xmms-mp3

Once that package is installed, XMMS will be ready to work with your MP3 collection. To find any other XMMS packages that might interest you, issue the command:

apt-cache search xmms

Inspect the list this produces, and if something catches your eye a simple apt-get install and you'll be set.

Another possibly vital bit of functionality not included by default is DVD playback, since the commonly available tools for watching encrypted DVDs under Linux are technically illegal (at least for users in the United States). That is, watching a DVD you own under Linux, while legal in and of itself, is illegal because the required decoding libraries and algorithms violate the terms of the United States' DMCA. Bearing that in mind, if this isn't illegal for you (or if, like me, you are an American who doesn't mind becoming a federal criminal in your quest for digital entertainment that does not involve stealing from anyone) issue the command:

apt-get install ogle ogle_gui (specifiying multiple package names on a single apt-get install command line is perfectly acceptable)

Apt will offer to install a few additional packages (including the aforementioned felonious libraries) to resolve Ogle's dependencies for you. Say yes, and when you're returned to the command prompt you'll be ready to go. Invoke Ogle with (you guessed it) the ogle command. The GUI is logically organized, and assuming Red Hat properly detected your DVD drive you should be watching DVDs in no time.

Note that in my case, since this laptop has a CD-RW/DVD combo drive which uses SCSI emulation for the CD-RW portion, the DVD portion of the drive isn't recognized as such by Red Hat (or any other Linux distribution, so far). This doesn't mean the DVD drive doesn't work (that is, that you can't mount DVDs) simply that Red Hat didn't create a special device file for it in the /dev directory. That is easily remedied (as root):

ln -s /dev/cdrom /dev/dvd (this assumes /dev/cdrom is your CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive, which you can check by typing cat /etc/fstab and noting the device assignments listed there)

Now when you configure Ogle, you can simply point it at /dev/dvd for playback.

What follows is a rant you may safely ignore: In a recent column Robert Cringely suggested that the best way to defeat laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is to break them, not singly but en masse. He further suggests that we should then march in our thousands to the local police station and turn ourselves in, demanding the jury trial that is our due. That is by all accounts unlikely to happen. At the same time, something in the idea resonated with me: I do not like the idea that my government has enacted a law that turns me into a criminal for watching on my own computer a movie I paid for unless I do so using an operating system that same government acknowledges as an illegal monopoly (note that I'm not bashing Microsoft, just pointing out the absurdity of criminalizing me if I choose for moral reasons not to support a criminal corporation). You see, there literally cannot be a legal open source DVD player under current law, since providing the source code necessary to decode an ecrypted DVD is illegal. In line with Mr. Cringely's idea, I'm confessing to a federal crime: I own several DVDs and I have watched them using Linux. I own my computer and I choose to use open source software. In my defense, I claim that using “illegal” methods to decode DVDs I have purchased is in fact covered by the “fair use” provisions of copyright law, and that the DMCA as it stands is unconstitutional on its face. Laws like the DMCA presume guilt and seek to preemptively prevent “criminal” acts by certain members of society by restricting the rights of all citizens. What happened to “innocent until proven guilty”? Why should I surrender my rights to fair use because certain of my peers abuse those rights? I choose not to be punished for the actions of others. Nonetheless, under current law I should, no doubt, be removed from the sight of decent law-abiding American citizens. Mind you, I've never once watched a DVD (or other digitally stored movie) I do not own, and I've never “ripped” a DVD at all. Still, I am a criminal. I confess. Take me away, officer ...

Now, back to the topic at hand. At this point, all you GUI lovers are probably thinking, This apt stuff is cool, I guess, but there should really be a GUI...

There is. Type:

apt-get install synaptic

SynAPTic is a simple GUI front-end for apt. After you install it with the command above, it is available in the system menus or by typing synaptic into a command box. Fire it up and have a look around. You'll find the GUI is straightforward and easy to navigate. A link to SnyAPTic will also be added to Start Here -> System Settings -> Synaptic.

Table of contents
  1. "Introduction"
  2. "Nvidia Drivers"
  3. "Fonts"
  4. "APT, Mp3 and DVD Playback - Part I"
  5. "APT, Mp3 and DVD Playback - Part II"
  6. "Yes, it is still KDE - Part I"
  7. "Yes, it is still KDE - Part II"
  8. "Red Hat Ambition, Modified KDE"
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