Gripe: Linux discrimination

20Jun08

I’ve been working on various drafts of ‘last impressions’ of the UK and ‘first impressions’ of returning to the US… but I’m compelled to interrupt this activity to gripe a little bit.

Here’s something I wanted to get off my chest:

Physics resources need to be linux-friendly.

Besides this being a “good thing” from some ideological perspective, it makes sense practically since a lot of physicists use linux-based systems — the reasons include networking, software libraries, etc.

After praising TASI for uploading their summer school lectures, I feel a bit betrayed that they’ve chosen to upload them as Windows Media (.wmv) files. Actually, it’s slightly worse since some of the presentations are in Windows Media streams (.wmx) that make it difficult to save the actual video file so that one can convert it into a useful format.

The problem is that Windows Media, as the name suggests, is a proprietary format. Ideally the physics community, which (to the best of my knowledge) isn’t financed by Microsoft, would use free formats when they have a choice. But at the very least, it would be nice to use a format (say, mp4) that is readily accessible to people who use linux… for example, the physicists who want to watch your summer school lectures.

By the way — the summer school is on collider physics. I would wager that most of the people at these lectures use linux on a regular basis.

Postscript 1. As I’m currently on an Ubuntu system, I’ve been converting the files to .ogg using MEncoder, which has been a decent stop-gap. For some reason all of the colours are inverted, but this isn’t too problematic when all I care about is the chalkboard. (Previous attempts to download codecs to watch the .wmv directly led to audio problems.)

Postscript 2. If you happen to be the A/V person responsible for making streaming content available, here’s a suggestion: use one of these flash-based multimedia players that can be viewed a bit more universally in a web browser. (e.g. YouTube, PIRSA, some EyA videos …)

Postscript 3. This cements my decision to replace my 5 year old Dell with an Apple laptop, since OS X seems to offer a linux system that doesn’t require me spending hours trying to get Windows files working. Hey Steve Jobs, when are those new MacBooks coming out?

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7 Responses to “Gripe: Linux discrimination”

  1. Update: I’ve gotten the TASI .wmv files to work using MPlayer and Pulse Audio. It’s not perfect (it takes a while to open each file), but at least I can now watch the files without too much fuss. The other thing which seems to work well is to upload the videos to Google Video, which then plays the files through their flash player.

    Hey TASI people, why not upload your videos to Google?

  2. 2 Richard

    How did you get the TASI files to work? I have the latest Ubuntu so I’ve got pulseaudio. It’s possible that because I’m on a 64-bit thing I just don’t have the codecs but I thought I’d check.

    Thank you for your blog. It’s one of the more interesting ones to read, I think. I was upset to read that you’re planning to stop.

  3. Hi Richard, thanks for the kind words. I finally got WMV files working on my old installation of Ubuntu, but things were really kludged together and they were still prone to some errors here and there. However, the main idea is that you have to install the Medibuntu repositories and the win32 (or win64 in your case) codecs.

    I found this forum post helpful, though not necessarily comprehensive: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?p=4999504

    You may or may not also have to install DiVX codecs, which you can find just by searching for “divx” using the Synaptic package manager.

    Finally, I also found that mPlayer was my best bet at opening the WMV files successfully. Last time I tried viewing these videos I got errors whenever I tried to open them, but I just clicked “ok” and it seemed to work afterwards. I’ve since reformatted my hard drive, so I’ll try reinstalling them again. If I’m successful I’ll put up a “how to” post.

    By the way, if you don’t mind having hard copies of the files, the other thing you can do is download the wmv file and the convert it into another format. I used mencoder, which is a command line tool that is preinstalled with Ubuntu. My command looked something like this: mencoder video.wmv -o testvid.ogg -oac mp3lame -ovc raw

    Note, however, that in order to get decent quality I had to use the “raw” codec, which made the resulting files huge. Ogg files were 50x larger than the original, and mp4 files were 10x larger. If you’re saving all of the recordings then this becomes tedious.

    The last alternative I found is to download the wmv and then upload it to Google video. Google, bless their souls, will automatically convert the wmv into a flash file that you can watch streaming online in the original quality.

    Let me know if any of those work for you!

  4. 4 izanbardprince

    OS X is not Linux, it uses XNU, which is the bastard child of Mach and FreeBSD 5

  5. I found that I can play .wmv files on Fedora 8 64bit with Real Player 11. However, the older .wmv codecs do not seem to be supported. I have not checked to see exactly which .wmv codecs are supported.

    Audio also seems to work fine with Real Player 11 on .wmv files.


  1. 1 OS X Leopard for Physicists « An American Physics Student in England
  2. 2 Playing Windows Media on Ubuntu 8.04 (for those damn TASI videos) « An American Physics Student in England

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