Ubuntu strives to make every piece of software available under the licensing terms laid out in the Ubuntu License Policy. Patent and copyright restrictions complicate free operating systems distributing software to support proprietary formats.
Ubuntu's commitment to only include completely free software by default means that proprietary media formats are not configured 'out of the box'.
By following the instructions below, Ubuntu can play the most popular non-free media formats, including DVD, MP3, Quicktime, Windows Media, and more. If this seems like unnecessary work, remember that Ubuntu is limited by patents and license restrictions in some countries, which make it illegal for Ubuntu to include them. Avoid formats suppressed by DRM (Digital Rights Management, or Digital Restrictions Management), as they are often unplayable.
Legal Notice Patent and copyright laws operate differently depending on which country you are in. Please obtain legal advice if you are unsure whether a particular patent or restriction applies to a media format you wish to use in your country.
Adding Support for Restricted Formats
After following these steps you'll be able to play most common multimedia formats, including MP3, DVD, Flash, Quicktime, WMA and WMV, including both standlone files and content embedded in web pages.
Feisty Fawn 7.04 Development Branch
Click Applications → Add/Remove. Select Other and then select the Ubuntu restricted extras package. Click OK.
Users of x86 systems may also install some additional Windows codecs that are only available in third-party repositories.
Ubuntu 6.06 and 6.10
Install the following packages to play most proprietary formats using the Totem and Rhythmbox applications, both of which are included in Ubuntu by default. Since the version of Totem that comes with Ubuntu does not yet play DVDs, the list below also includes packages for the GXine and Ogle players, which do.
Ensure the relevant repositories are enabled. Click System → Administration → Synaptic Package Manager → Settings → Repositories and then click Add. Check the Community maintained (Universe) and Non-free (Multiverse) boxes. When you close the window, click Reload.
Install the packages. While you could install packages individually using Synaptic, here is one case where any Ubuntu user can save a lot of time by using the command line. Quit out of Synaptic, then click Application → Accessories → Terminal and paste the following command:
sudo apt-get install gstreamer0.10-pitfdll gstreamer0.10-ffmpeg gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad-multiverse gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly-multiverse gxine libxine-main1 libxine-extracodecs ogle ogle-gui
Detailed Instructions and Troubleshooting
Adobe Shockwave is not supported on Linux
The Ubuntu and Kubuntu Media Players
These media players support free formats (Ogg Vorbis, Ogg Theora, and similar formats) 'out of the box'. However, they can also play most non-free media formats if you install the additional gstreamer (for Ubuntu only) or libarts (for Kubuntu only) packages listed above.
Alternative Media Players
The best support for MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 (for example, encoded with DivX, XviD or FFmpeg MPEG-4), QuickTime and other proprietary or non-free media formats is currently provided by Totem-xine, Kaffeine, gxine, and MPlayer. Playing Windows Media Video (WMV) or RealVideo files requires a software library that Ubuntu cannot distribute due to licensing restrictions (see Windows Media and RealPlayer files for installation instructions).
Additional Ubuntu Players
Totem-xine or gxine are recommended for most users; MPlayer provides some of the most comprehensive Free Software support for free and non-free media formats and is highly recommended, but the setup and configuration are slightly more complicated, particularly for Ubuntu Breezy users.
Additional Kubuntu Players
In addition to the default Kaffeine player, you could try KMplayer and Codeine.
Kubuntu 6.06 (Dapper Drake) and Kubuntu 6.10 (Edgy Eft)
See MultimediaApplications for an overview of the most popular media players for Ubuntu and Kubuntu.
Warning Regarding Alternative Installation Methods
Warning: EasyUbuntu and Automatix are third-party utilities for installing the most commonly requested applications in some Debian-based distributions. They are not supported or recommended by Ubuntu. While they work well for many users, they have also been known to corrupt systems and leave them in a state where they cannot be upgraded to a later Ubuntu release.
The free formats page
Ubuntu's Free Software Philosophy
GNU Gnash, a GNU flash player (alpha)
Ubuntu Customization Guide resembles Easy Ubuntu and Ubuntu Guide. But it has another focus as it tries to teach and link to existing documentation.