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Friday, 18 December 2009 05:42

Moonlight 2.0 open to all - with a catch

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Novell has announced the release of Moonlight 2.0, an updated version of its attempt to clone Microsoft's Silverlight, and extended its availability to other distributions - with a rider attached.


Silverlight is Microsoft's bid to compete with Adobe's Flash.

(Novell obviously doesn't think much of this release - the company continues to use Flash on the front page of its website.)

Earlier versions of Moonlight were covered by a patent covenant from Microsoft - users would not be sued if they obtained Moonlight from Novell.

But the extension of the covenant, enabling other GNU/Linux distributions to offer Moonlight, will do these distributions no favours.

There is one simple reason - the version of Moonlight that other distributions can offer will be able to play only media which are in free or open source formats.

To play any other format means one has to buy licences for proprietary media codecs from the owners.

Users who obtain Moonlight from Novell will have access to these codecs.

But you wouldn't know about this if you read the Novell press release. (Microsoft hasn't deemed this announcement, which apparently is another earth-shaking one for the Moonlight project head, Miguel de Icaza, important enough to issue a media release).

Here's how Novell puts it: "The covenant is no longer limited to users that obtain Moonlight from Novell or its channel, but now covers users who obtain Moonlight from any third party, including other Linux distributors. Media Codecs for MP3 and VC1, and in the future H.264 and AAC, are supported through the Microsoft Media Pack, a Microsoft-delivered set of media codes that offer optimized and licensed decodecs to every Linux user who obtains Moonlight from Novell."

Got it? No, I think it would have passed you by. When are they going to start being direct with people?

De Icaza makes mention of the limitations on his blog - but it's so far down the page that the casual reader will miss it.

And the one media outlet to which the story has obviously been leaked in advance has this limitation on page 2 of a two-page story!

Nevertheless, the good De Icaza is thrilled. "We are thrilled to be working with Microsoft to make sure that we can improve, fix and fine tune Moonlight to meet those requirements and to do so in a purely open source fashion," is his conclusion.

If he's right, then the definition of open source has undergone a sea change since luminaries like Bruce Perens and Eric S. Raymond outlined it 11 years ago.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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