Sunday, May 8, 2011

Debian Multimedia wants to update packages

Enabling multimedia in Linux often means installing packages excluded from outside the main distro repository because they are not free software or because there are legal restrictions on their use- proprietary video drivers and codecs covered by patents, for example.
In my current installation of Debian Squeeze I had to enable some proprietary firmware for my video and wifi cards, and to install some patent-encumbered packages to decode MP3 files. This I did from the Debian non-free repository.
I haven't had any problem playing multimedia content (I had also installed Adobe Flash from non-free, but that's it as far as I recall) but today I needed to install a package from to enable MP3 decoding.
I was going to just install the one package since I haven't had any trouble with other multimedia content, but I noticed that Synaptic was telling me that there were updates available for several packages. This worried me because the only information Google was bringing up was a Debian Q&A question that suggested these updates could break things that work in Squeeze- like video playback.
I did some more digging and found this more reassuring comment on the Debian forum:
Many (most?) of the packages that he has available are not available in the official repos, for one reason or another (patent issues being a big one). If packages are in both his versions usually have things turned on that are not available in the official repos (often encoders of various types, again often related to patent issues). (Since he's located in France software patent issues that are applicable in the USA don't effect him).
I went back and checked the updates had made available and noticed these: libdrm-intel1, libdrm-radeon1, libdrm2.

The information on these libraries says:
This library implements the userspace interface to the kernel DRM services.
DRM stands for "Direct Rendering Manager", which is the kernelspace portionof the "Direct Rendering Infrastructure" (DRI). The DRI is currently used on Linux to provide hardware-accelerated OpenGL drivers.
Could these packages from have something turned on that isn't turned on in the Squeeze version? Hardware-accelerated OpenGL drivers caught my eye. I'd been a fan of Open Arena in Ubuntu. Lenny didn't have drivers for my video card that supported 3D effects; Squeeze does but Open Arena was as slow as treacle on a cold day.
Could there be a patent-encumbered aspect of Squeeze support for my video driver that I was missing.
I took the plunge, installed the updates, rebooted and tried Open Arena again. Was I to be disappointed again, or could I frag some bots at last? Please see my next post.

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