Thursday, August 31, 2006

Quick Linux Audio Distribution Guide

Linux distributions are numerous. There are distributions for general use, including office applications, programming audio, and gaming as well as very specific distributions tailored to a particular usage such as gaming, networks or even music creation.

The diversity of Linux is often thought of as strength, and indeed it is, but choosing the proper distribution sometimes takes some care and patience, as well as diligence, but can be extremely rewarding.

What follows is a short list of music related distributions with accompanying links that will perhaps help in choosing a Linux distribution for audio/music or general use.

General Distributions – These distributions are meant as normal operating systems and have a wide range of uses and packages often available for them. For a complete switch from Windows; as a complete operating system, these are a good place to start. Both covered also have extensive audio applications available from related projects.

OpenSuSE 10.1 – “The openSUSE project is a worldwide community program sponsored by Novell that promotes the use of Linux everywhere.” (from the OpenSuSE homepage).

OpenSuSE is one of the most professional distributions I have used and excels with installation, hardware detection and in having a wide range of available programs. OpenSuSE’s has strong multimedia support. Even with just the applications on the base installation disc, the user can be up and playing on apps such as Aeolus, Zynaddsubfx, and more.

SuSE JackLab is an effort to make a collection of the best Linux music applications readily available in SuSE packages so the user can be up and running without any extra work. There are a number of excellent packages available. While they are now individually downloadable and installable packages, at some point, they may come as a complete CD. SuSE Jacklab also comes with a realtime kernel essential for good performance.

Fedora Core is another heavyweight in Linux distributions. This is another good complete replacement for Windows. Like SuSE, it can come as a DVD.

Planet CCRMA is a collection of audio apps for Fedora core that are easily installable.

While both of these offer excellent solutions for Linux Audio, they may be somewhat heavyweight for a user who is only interested in the Audio aspects of Linux, or who wants to keep using Windows / OSX as their primary operating system.

Linux music distributions are tailored specifically for audio usage (sometimes also video). The kernel is optimized for it, and the included packages all relate. These distributions are excellent for getting started quickly, and having everything you need. The downside is that if you use your computer for a number of other things, you may feel somewhat limited as they are focused generally on media.

Musix is an excellent distribution for getting into Linux audio or even if you’re already there. Although still in a somewhat early form (version .50 is the newest), there are a tremendous amount of useful music applications, including Ardour (DAW), Hydrogen (Drum machine), Zynaddsubfx (Synth) and a number of other useful audio applications: “tracker” style apps, sound editors, MIDI and even a number of non audio apps such as a word processor, web browser, mail client and more.

Musix is a Live bootable CD, meaning it can be run without being installed on the hard drive at all. This is an excellent option for anyone wanting to investigate Linux audio without having to install or commit hard drive space or time to it. The apps are instantly available though without a permanent install, they can sometimes be a little buggier or prone to crashing. Musix also comes with cutting edge realtime kernels and lightweight window managers for the best audio performance.

While still in a somewhat early form, Musix is an excellent option for anyone investigating Linux Audio or wanting a distribution tailored specifically to it.

The Agnula/DeMudi project used to be the premier Linux audio distribution to many, but has gone a long time without updates, with perhaps the future of the project in question. This was a pretty slick distribution, however, with GNOME and a number of well organized and useful applications. I don’t recommend this, however, unless a new version is released at some point since it is quite outdated.

Dynebolic is another Live CD that is also installable. This is a very polished distribution, optimized with a lightweight windows manager for good efficiency with sound applications. One can easily move from computer to computer using the Live CD feature while saving data on a USB stick. There is also a unique clustering feature allowing one to utilize multiple computers to make calculations quicker.

Dynebolic comes with a good mixture of audio and graphics applications, streaming programs and much more for any media project, video or audio. This is another excellent distribution.

Getting into Linux audio takes some patience and time, but is quite rewarding. Check out the different distributions and find the one that suits you. Frozentech offers some of the general distributions on CD or DVD for very reasonable prices, or one can simply download an ISO image and burn a copy. All are freely available and can be copied for friends/fellow musicians thanks to Open Source/Free Software/GNU.

Posted by DCZX @ 2:59 PM

Read or Post a Comment

Great overview! Thank you for putting this together. I'm sure I'm not the only musician wondering what it's like in Linuxland.

Posted by J Donald @ 6:18 PM #

Another useful distro is 64Studio which, as the name suggests, is designed on 64-bit CPUs, though they now offer a 32-bit version too. Based on Debian with a Gnome front-end, good selection of audio apps, though I wish they offered more synths as standard, and DSSI in addition to LADSPA.

Posted by Brian @ 1:03 AM #
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