Should Ubuntu include proprietary software?

Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, arguably 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. Then, Ubuntu developers decided to place binary ATI and NVIDA 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."

Never-the-less, when it came to end-user software, Ubuntu has, generally speaking, held the line against including proprietary software in their distribution. You won't find, for example, 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, for example, Spotify, also an online music, are rather obscure.

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14 Responses

  1. If we are going down that road, and it is no big deal if the drivers are already there, could we have some sort of code in the program naming that we could discount when we search for a program, but it will always be there to remind us.

    Something like “qz” placed at the end of each program name? These are two letters that are never used together. But would remind purists not to download that program? Placing the letters at the end of the name shouldn’t affect searching, or the alphabetical placing in a list.


  2. I think a special repository is a better solution and a question during the installation of Ubuntu whether to use this repository or not.


  3. Yes, we are both after the same solution. i.e. identifying the non-free programs.

  4. Vole says:

    Spotify obscure? Depends where you live.

    Pandora is obscure outside the US.

  5. elvis says:

    +1 for Peter’s idea.
    But it’s definitely a need to have such possibility to grow… and groww… and grow.

  6. Kevin Pease says:

    Spotify is not obscure in the UK, where it’s probably the most popular music streaming service.

    In terms of including the option of proprietary apps in Ubuntu, I think it’s fine. They should be clearly marked as “Non-Free” so people can make their own decision, but I’d use some of them. I already use the non-free version of Virtualbox to get the USB functionality that’s missing from the OSE version.

  7. cory says:


  8. Questions to my own response:
    It will be difficult to determine the responsibilities for the different rolls in maintaining this repository.
    – Who will be the owner?
    – Who’s responsible for maintain the packages?
    – Who’s responsible for testing the packages against the other repositories?

    In other words how much power will we give away to commercial parties?

  9. SumDood says:

    How is this different from medibuntu? Isn’t it the same idea, though limited in scope?

  10. I think it’s different. When a commercial party like Canonical adds a proprietary repository they need some kind of arrangement with the owners of the software. I take it that no such arrangement exists with medibuntu.
    The owners of the software will want to benefit from such an arrangement.
    (from https://help.ubuntu.con/community/Medibuntu: Medibuntu is a repository of packages that cannot be included into the Ubuntu distribution for legal reasons (copyright, license, patent, etc)).

  11. Andreas says:

    Like some have pointed out Spotify is probably the most used streaming service in all the countries that it is available. Here in Sweden its probably one of the most talked about applications period, and its a shame that you have to run it through Wine.

  12. dfb says:

    It needs to include anything regular users would expect to find, such as Flash, and anything for which there is no good open source option available. This latter category is obviously broad. It needs to be. For example, there are no good open source PDF editing programs. There are free, proprietary tools out there. For that matter, the open source readers (evince in particular) are fat, bloated, and not very good. You want people to adopt Linux/Ubuntu, they need software they will use, proprietary or not.

  13. JohnB says:

    It is worrying that commercial companies should get involved in an open-source software project. They will require an amount of control. And while I understand the desire to run Windows apps; WINE is the best solution. The beauty of Linux is isolating the user from the O/s, and many commercial apps will not want that isolation; possibly opening up Linux to a commercial slippery slope. Therefore: for some users there must be a robust method of declining any commercial application(s). An entirely separate repository that can be declined is a must and suitable warning for users thereof. That said, for some users requiring specific software that has only been developed for the Windows platform, this route will lead to increased popularity, certainly an interesting concept.

  14. Manish Sinha says:

    Ubuntu isn’t taking this poll to include these programs. They are meant just for gauging the mind of the community like what they want or what their preferences would be.

    Using the poll, probably Canonical can put pressure on these application vendors to bring out a Linux version too.

    They arn’t going to include these in default install. Maximum these apps would go in the ‘partner’ repo which IIRC is not enabled by default.

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