Why Linux don't support mp3 and selected wifi cards out of the box?

last updated in Categories FAQ, Howto, Linux, Linux desktop

This question is asked again and again. Why Linux don’t support mp3, allow watching DVDs and selected wifi cards out of the box?


Short answer – copyright/IP laws prevent shipping all these software(s) and technologies/plugins with each Linux distribution. However some distribution comes with all these goodies but they are not free (try Linspire, which is not free but support is included for many common software). You need to purchase a subscription.

In the United States and many other countries, companies or developers or manufacturers must pay patent royalties to use an MP3 player or MP3 Encoder or Windows movie decoders. There is also conflicts between patent licenses and the licenses of application source code, so mp3 support is not provided out of box. This has been done for legal reasons. No one wants to get sued for breaking patent laws.

Most of these drivers are “restricted” because they are not available under a completely Free licence.

In short GNU/Linux and other distro try to follow rule:

  1. If something is proprietary, it cannot be included in Linux
  2. If it violates United States federal law (most popular distros are manufactured in USA), it cannot be included in Linux
  3. Patent-encumbered software etc

Following packages/drivers/encoder are not includes in most distros:
=> Nvidia /ATI graphics card
=> Vmware player kernel modules
=> Wifi chipsets
=> MP3 Support
=> Real Media and Player
=> CSS encrypted DVDs (DVD Playback)
=> Cryptography
=> Adobe Flash Player etc

The patent holder is not ready to give an unrestricted patent grant, as required by the GPL license. To get mp3 support for your distribution you must use third party repositories (or vendor site) to download application.

So how do I get working mp3 and other stuff?

You need to download RPM files or add selected repositories to your distributions. Following list summaries the work around for popular distribution:

Debian Linux

Use apt-get to install required software. However you may find Debian-multimedia repo good to install few codecs.

Add debian-multimedia.org repositories to your /etc/apt/sources.list file:
# vi /etc/apt/sources.list Append following line:
deb http://www.debian-multimedia.org sarge mainORdeb http://www.debian-multimedia.org stable mainJust update all packages list:
# apt-get update
Use apt-get command to install multimedia packages such as mp3 players, DVD players etc.

=> Download and more information available at debian-multimedia

Ubuntu Linux

Use Automatix which is a graphical interface for automating the installation of the most commonly requested applications in Debian based linux operating systems. See how to install and use automatix to run mplayer music player

For Intel Centrino wifi card and other graphics card you need to use Ubuntu binary only package called linux-restricted-modules. Common modules are:
=> nvidia-glx/ATI graphics card
=> vmware-player-kernel-modules
=> Wifi chipsets etc

Most of above are restricted formats and as an end user you need to download and install them on Linux desktop system.

Under Ubuntu Linux linux-restricted* package is installed by default. You can always update this package to get bug fix and stability via update manager or type following commands:
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install package-name
$ sudo apt-get install linux-restricted-modules-x.x.xx

Always use latest kernel. Replace x.x.xx with your kernel version number. Use uname -r to find out kernel version. If kernel version number is 2.6.17 use package name linux-restricted-modules-2.6.17

Fedora Core (Red hat and friends)

Dag’s RPM/ RPMforge.net repositories provides support for following Linux distributions:

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux
  • Fedora Core
  • Old Red Hat Linux
  • Yellow Dog Linux
  • Aurora Linux
  • CentOS
  • Scientific Linux
  • TaoLinux
  • WhiteBox Linux
  • Lineox
  • BLAG

See how to play mp3 under Fedora Core Linux.

Download and more information available at following urls:
Dag’s rpms

Don’t forget to check out your distributions help documentation and official forum/mailing list πŸ™‚

Please note that I am not a lawyer but just trying to answer a question which is asked by new Linux desktop users again and again. Hope this small how to provide answer and work around. If you have a better solution or thoughts on how we can help to solve this problem please comment back πŸ™‚

Other possible solutions

If possible, use patent unrestricted formats such as Ogg Vorbis or FLAC.

Further readings

Updated for accuracy.


Posted by: Vivek Gite

The author is the creator of nixCraft and a seasoned sysadmin, DevOps engineer, and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. Get the latest tutorials on SysAdmin, Linux/Unix and open source topics via RSS/XML feed or weekly email newsletter.

34 comment

  1. Don`t smoke these drugs anymore, author! πŸ™‚ RPM`s? In Debian!? Huh!?
    Debian supports multimedia out of the box, and you even don`t need to download any packages. Just insert distributive disk with Debian and type from root:
    # apt-get install vlc xine-ui xmms amarok
    and wonder! That`s not like Ubuntu ar Fedora – in Debian “batteries included”.

  2. Err…

    Yes debian does include many of packages but does not include few codecs. So may need to use 3rd party repo. But in general debian has good support πŸ˜€

    Thanks for heads up.

  3. Some might find that certain distros, will, indeed, support these apps out of the box, but that doesn’t mean that that distro is the one for you.

    BZ to the author for a nice, easily understood guide about this issue.

    It’s fair too say, that most distros can be made to use these apps without too much of a problem – but this tells the new user why that might be.

  4. actually freespire(linspire’s community driven distribution)supports non-free multimedia amongst other things and it’s free(has also a clean “version”, whithout the proprietary stuff).

  5. This article seems to be targeting newbies, so why does the editing steps use “vi” as the editor of choice? For beginners, “nano” or “gedit” seems much more reasonable. And yes, I am in the Church of Emacs πŸ˜‰

  6. Who cares, Microsoft can’t display XLS or PDF files without installing extra crap. And forget about X-Vid encoded AVI files. At least everything you have mentioned is GPL, and doesn’t cost a single red cent. I could care less if it doesn’t come with the distro, as long as there is http://www.google.com/linux and sourceforge, I think we will ALL survive.

    P.S. Show me a Windows machine that will 100% use all your video card “extras”. You can’t, just basic driver support is there, just like every version of Linux I have ever installed. The only difference is no Direct3D on Linux without extra work, but then again, what is DirectX for Microsoft doing??? Can someone say add-on??

  7. Is there a way to legally buy the licenses without buying linspire. Like say you could just pay to use mp3’s under Ubuntu??

  8. I use Mandriva, which has the PLF (Penguin Liberation Front) people producing RPMs to cover non-free stuff which the distro itself can’t safely ship.

    It’s not perfect, but it works pretty well. I can dink around with random players of all sorts, and can read my daughter’s iPod as well.

  9. This is the wrong approach – you are teaching users (and future developers) that the best way to deal with a proprietary roadblock is to attempt to circumvent it, and often illegally. That’s not how Free Software works.

    They need to be told about truly Free media codecs like Vorbis, Speex, FLAC, and Theora, and why they should encourage authors to release in these formats rather than under patent encumbered ones that limit the number of people that can legally view them.

  10. @Steven,
    It depends upon your view and usage. I have already suggested using Vorbis and FLAC. However in reality you may need to use one of those propriety formats out there. It will be better if we really get open format.. just one of those my XMAS wishes

    Commercial support available for Ubuntu contact Ubuntu’s parent company Canonical Ltd – http://www.canonical.com/ for more info.

    Can you specify your wifi chipset name?

    Appreciate all of your posts and suggestions.

  11. “However some distribution comes with all these goodies but they are not free”

    This is simply not true, there are several free distro that do include miltimedia support out of the box, with all the needed codecs & some other proprietary apps that are used commonly by linux users… just to name one i use regularly : Kanotix

  12. For gstreamer-powered software (totem, rhythmbox, et al.), fluendo has mp3 codec available, and Ubuntu has gstreamer0.10-fluendo-mp3 – Fluendo mp3 decoder GStreamer plugin.

  13. “P.S. Show me a Windows machine that will 100% use all your video card β€œextras”. You can’t, just basic driver support is there, just like every version of Linux I have ever installed. The only difference is no Direct3D on Linux without extra work, but then again, what is DirectX for Microsoft doing??? Can someone say add-on?? ”

    The difference is that with windows, you can get video card drivers with all the “extras” directly from the manufacturer.

    If linux ever wants to become as popular as windows on the desktop, there needs to be some kind of incentive for hardware manufacturers to develop drivers on it (and requiring it to be open sourced is not one of them..in fact..it is probably one of the main reasons linux is still far behind windows).

  14. New Linux desktop users:
    Open Source/Free Software replacements:

    Vorbis audio compression format digital audio intended to replace MP3.
    Speex audio compression format designed for speech / VOIP intended to replace ?
    FLAC audio data compression playback and audio archival intended to replace ?
    Theora video compression intended to replace MPEG-4 video (e.g., H.264, Xvid and DivX),
    RealVideo, WMV Windows Media Video.

    Please correct/update as necessary.

  15. It’s sucks I can’t play my mp3 files, my dvd collection on linux. that is the reason I not full switch to linux. Ok I can download and install the appropriate files, but what about the dependencies stuff ?? I can use apt-get, yum or other apss, but internet connection in my country is so freakin expensive, it tooks months of works before i can pay 1 month internet bill, dial up ?? I try that, but it’s so freakin slow and very expensive …. any idea how to solve this problem ?? because this kind of issue cause linux penetration in my country so low .

  16. I know that it’s a good idea to replace all that licensed crap,like mp3,avi,etc but from the point of view of the end desktop user,i think that sucks to rebuild your entire collection from scrap,even converted from mp3 to ogg.That’s one area where linux will loose,because to many this lack of playng a simple mp3 file on a computer,will eventually make others to not even bother with it!

  17. and so., communisim was born….

    Look it’s quite simple,

    they give you a “cell phone” that cant’ connect to half the cells cause of “conflict of interest”, mp3 player’s that can only play mp3s for a month, and what’s next, Food that you can’t have cause the FDA says it promotes grass roots?

    Look, lemme just say, if you wanna keep THEM happy, keep buying their JUNK “toys”… if you wanna BE happy, give it up… they got NOTHING for you!

    What good are those toys? REALLY SIT DOWN AND SERIOUSLY CONSIDER, WHAT THIS CRAP DOES FOR YOU!!!!:?!?!?!?!?!?!??! what is it? and then, consider what “THEY” have to gain by charging for it…

    “REBEL” no… not really, (you don’t owe them your alegience…) but if you’re reading this an you’re in america, then… GTFO if you don’t owe your country alegience! GET INVOLVED…. Happless Tecno Weenies!

    Let’s start a revolt… how about just going straight linux, and providing our own shizz to OUR OWN community???? well, i’m finally ready… May God Help Us ALL! cause otherwise, we ain’t gotta prayer……

    Look, it’s all smoke and mirrors,
    i do not lie,
    it’s all a flashy flim flam SHOW….
    that’s the truth,
    These toys do NOTHING for our good…,
    move beyond
    Ted concurs.

  18. Some distro’s do, some don’t.

    These disro’s all support mp3 out of the box. Ubuntu has a the restricted drivers manager that pulls down the codecs when you try to play them.

    Red Hat/Fedora doesnt include codecs because they ONLY supply FREE (as in freedom) software in their distro and in their repositories.

  19. Hmm, ‘Most major distros are made in the U.S’.

    That sounds a lie. Most popular ones are actually European. Take [K/X/Edu]Ubuntu, it’s British (well, Isle of Man but it’s still a British territory and their main unregistered headquarters is in London) and openSuSE is German along with Mandriva from France.

  20. Actually, Ubuntu is a South African distro. By Mark Shuttleworth, the bloke who sold his Thawte company to Verisign years ago. He is a Russian Cosmonaut (paid $20 million for the privilege) and billionairre (dollar). His HQ is in London. Mark was born and went to uni in SA.

  21. hai every one
    i’m just the beginner in linux .i use fedora(red hat)
    my music player shows an error that “some decoder are missing” &
    can anybody give some suggestion.?…

  22. Who gives a shit about Linux anyway? You have to go through all kinds of changes just to install software!! Thank you no, I will stick with windows or OS X.

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