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State of Linux Audio

Hey guys, great mag, keep up the good work. I'm an audio recording engineer and an avid Linux user. I'm currently running Windows, OS X and Ubuntu 9.04 on my MacBook Pro. I use Linux for pretty much everything I do, but it's really nice in my industry to have an OS X machine around. My primary recording platform is Steinberg's Cubase. I love the software. I go to great length to avoid using ProTools professionally. Also, I run Cubase in Windows XP. I refuse to pay $2,500 for a computer that could be built for around $1,000, so OS X is out (plus, I hate the operating system). So my question is this. With the Vista debacle, I don't have much hope for Windows 7 being a viable solution as a multimedia production platform. Not wanting to go to OS X, why haven't manufactures of professional audio hardware and software compiled for Linux? What are they waiting for? Why, oh why, MOTU, can I not get drivers for my 424 PCI in Linux? Why, oh why, Steinberg, can I not run Cubase and Nuendo on Ubuntu or Red Hat? There are plenty of home recording users and audio professionals like myself that need an alternative to Apple. I love my MOTU hardware, but I've always heard that MOTU is very Linux-unfriendly. What are they scared of? I'm not saying we need to open-source anything, but at least give me the choice. I pose this question to MOTU, Steinberg and all the other companies not tied to Apple (as in Logic Audio). There's no reason why Digidesign couldn't get in the game as well. Ardour is becoming a great piece of software, and Audacity is great as well. But, as long as both of them lack good VST support, OMF transfer and other tools that are essential to what I do, I'm forced to stick to a closed-source solution like Steinberg's Cubase (not that I mind, I love the software). What are we going to do if Windows 7 is a multimedia flop?

Michael Russo

Dave Phillips replies: First, thank you for your interest in the future of Linux audio and multimedia development. Indeed, Linux could be the alternative to hardware lock-in, but some significant factors keep it from happening.

Hardware manufacturers have been slow to adapt their products to Linux. This situation is perhaps the most significant factor in the non-acceptance of Linux in the wider professional audio worlds. After all, we can (and do) have the most amazing audio infrastructure, especially with the JACK server, but what good is it if industry-standard hardware won't work with it? A few intrepid manufacturers, such as RME and M-Audio, have entered the arena and have done well with sales to Linux users. Those companies wisely donated the driver spec sheets to the community development teams, and voilà, Linux users have drivers for some pro-audio gear. But, it's not enough.

The major music software houses are another story. We've seen pro-Linux movement from Renoise, Garritan, Reaper and a few other high-profile development houses, but I don't look for the big guns (Cubase, Logic, Pro Tools and so on) to enter the ring any time soon. Steinberg might lead the way if enough pressure is brought to bear upon them, but they need to see that a market exists before they expend the resources to create a Linux version of their products. Incidentally, those manufacturers also might consider Linux to be a support nightmare, although the crew at Renoise seems to be doing things the right way.

I don't expect the closed-source makers to embrace open-source practices or philosophies. I and many others would be happy to see working Linux versions of the major music packages for Windows, and I suspect that sales could be brisk. However, there is no denying that the Linux audio world is still very small, and any manufacturer who gets into the game at this time must be considered a pioneer.

So what can we do? We can continue to lobby the majors for Linux versions of their software. We can continue to ask hardware-makers for driver specs, and we can more actively support their entry into the Linux audio ecology. Also, the group at linuxaudio.org can act as an intermediary for companies or individuals who want to design an effective strategy for marketing their products to Linux users. We can continue to support those who already support Linux, and we can be vocal about it. We can advise builders that we would spend our money on their products if they supported Linux, and we should tell them what we will be buying instead.

Beyond these methods, I'm open to suggestions. Being harsh and rude won't be very convincing, so we must remain civil even to the most uncivil manufacturers. After all, we can't force anyone to support Linux.

Above all, the manufacturers can't resist market factors. If enough users populate the Linux audio world, the majors eventually will have to admit that their attitudes are costing them real money. Unfortunately, we can't easily draw more users into the fold when hardware choices are so limited. So, we return to the well-worn scenario of the chicken and the egg. From my point of view, it really is mostly about money. Perhaps MOTU has some ingrained anti-FOSS philosophy, but certainly even they would want to sell more of their goods in a larger market.

It's been suggested that what Linux audio really needs is a #1 hit—a song that sells strongly and has been made with Linux software. The way the music industry works, if that happened, there'd be a boatload of willing converts wanting to get on board this year's hobby horse. And, that would be fine with me, because some percentage of those converts will want to stay on board, thereby permanently enlarging the user base.

By the way, Ardour3 will include support for MIDI edition and for VST/VSTi plugins. The plugin support comes from recent open-source work that has effectively replaced the proprietary code from Steinberg, which means that a VST-enabled Ardour will be freely distributable.

Again, thank you for your interest and remarks, and I welcome further commentary.

Linux Power

I've been reading LJ cover to cover since 1999. I absolutely love it, and it's a highlight of my month when it arrives. I've built many machines and currently have about ten Linux boxes (singles, duals, quads) running 24/7. Imagine my electricity bill. I used to buy PSUs on price/performance ratings. This year, my electric bill topped $300 in the winter (in Texas). Now I look for PSU efficiency ratings, which are sometimes difficult to find. I just found the coolest site ever for determining power supply efficiency: www.80plus.org/manu/psu/psu_join.aspx. I'm sure you already knew about this, but please share it with your readers. It lists efficiencies for all the major manufacturers' power supplies, graphing efficiency vs. load, and it makes selecting a new PSU a no-brainer.

Jim Peterman

I must admit, I've never considered buying PSUs for their efficiency either. As my electric bill recently has been more than $200/month, perhaps it's time I visit that site and begin to shop a little more wisely! Thanks for the tip, and thanks for the kudos.—Ed.

ssh-copy Tip

I have not written to your publication before but felt compelled to comment on Kyle Rankin's, “Lightning Hacks Strike Twice” [June 2009]. First, kudos to Kyle for showing us new and useful tricks. I appreciate the little time savers like cd - that he wrote about.

However, one item he talked about seemed needlessly complex. While discussing the “SSH Key One-Liner”, Kyle used ssh and a redirected cat to append an SSH key to a remote server. I have had to manage dozens of remote servers, and I've found the ssh-copy utility to be much more effective. Kyle's example could be simplified as:

$ ssh-copy -i ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub user@server.example.net

The nice thing about ssh-copy is that it verifies that the key being added to the remote server doesn't already exist, which, of course, Kyle's solution does not.

Keep up the great magazine, and keep giving us great tips. I, for one, love them.

Mark K. Zanfardino

Kyle Rankin replies: Thanks Mark! On my system, that tool appears to be called ssh-copy-id. I'm always game for learning an even simpler solution, and it looks like ssh-copy (or ssh-copy-id, in my case) certainly beats a long one-liner.

Re: “Free to a Good Home: Junk”

Regarding Shawn Powers' “Free to a Good Home: Junk” [in the May 2009 UpFront section] it's good concept, and I have some responses. First, I understand that you want to support sister print media (newspapers), but realistically, it makes more sense to “get with the times”, and offer the equipment in the free and computer sections of Craigslist if you are in one of its covered markets. Although some papers do not charge for advertising free stuff, still, more tech-oriented people look to Craigslist first.

Second, if you're giving away PCs (desktop or notebook), when in the process of wiping your info from the hard drive (good idea!), install one of the more-common Linux mini-distros. I have found that most of the current mainstream distros are almost as bad as Vista as far as hardware demands, and they will not install (or run well if they can be installed) on many of the older PCs that folks would want to give away. Also, many of the distros, large and small, are challenged with supporting the huge variety of devices in x86 PCs, especially notebooks, so it may not always be possible to advance the OSS cause this way.

Third, a mixed success story for re-use (PCs to needy kids, but all Windows) is happening in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill “Research Triangle” of North Carolina, a huge techie area. The Kramden Institute (www.kramden.org) is a nonprofit that has collected and refurbished more than 3,000 PCs that it has given to needy middle- and high-school students in the area. I think it has gone as far afield as military families at nearby Fort Bragg (yes, many of them are needy, unfortunately). Aside from its Windows-centric bias, it is having an impact with PC re-use. It seems that M$ offers the Kramden Institute sweetheart bulk-OS licensing deals that have gone from Win 2000 to XP, last I knew (I do not know if this has “progressed” to Vista, but I see now the Kramden folks want at least a 700MHz CPU for donated systems vs. the original 300 or so). Despite the inclusion of OpenOffice.org in the PC build, my efforts a few times to interest them in using something like Puppy Linux for lower-end PCs, otherwise inadequate for Windows, has not gotten anywhere.


You make a good point with Craigslist—I just mentioned the newspaper, because in the area where I live, most folks who would be looking for giveaway computers still don't have computers at all, much less Internet access. As to what distro to install, there are arguments for common distros vs. more efficient smaller distros—ultimately, the right answer will vary from instance to instance.

As far as Windows installation on giveaway computers, it's true Microsoft is making some incredible deals on bulk nonprofit purchases. My suspicion is Microsoft is concerned that if people's first experience with computers is with Linux, they'll have little motivation later to switch to Windows—a “get 'em hooked early” type of thing. We just need to keep doing what we can and not become discouraged. Thanks for your letter.—Ed.

Squid Clarification

Regarding Mick Bauer's Squid series in the April, May and July 2009 issues], I set up my system (Fedora 8) to use Squid. I set up my other computer to use Firefox and set the proxy the same as Mick specified in the article. I issued the tail command and waited to see the display...nothing. After some fooling around, I discovered that the firewall on both my Windows box (ZoneAlarm) and on the Fedora box was not allowing the port to work. After setting both firewalls to allow port 3128, it worked great. I don't know if Mick was going to say anything about firewalls in the next installment, but he needs to, because it won't work without the firewall set correctly.

I also should mention that when I started Squid (Fedora 8), it complained about not having visible_hostname set in the squid.conf file. After I set it, Squid would start.

John Bruce

Mick Bauer replies: You're right. I completely forgot to mention personal/local firewalls, which, as you correctly point out, need to be set up to allow access to/from TCP 3128 (or whatever port Squid is using) on the Squid server and all client systems. Regarding the visible_hostname setting, on both my Ubuntu 9.04 and 8.04 systems, this option is not set at all, yet I've had no problems. Either Squid is figuring out its hostname on its own via the local DNS resolver, or Ubuntu's version of Squid (2.7) behaves differently from Fedora's (Squid 3.0, since it's Fedora 9). Either way, I'm sorry for the omission. I try to make my tutorials as comprehensive as possible!

Photo of the Month

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I am sending this picture of myself wearing my GNU/Linux T-shirt as a way to say a big thank you for the free Linux Journal digital subscription I won a couple of months ago. I have eleven years' experience in ICT, and, as an experienced Linux user, I wanted to tell you that your magazine is, in a word, magnificent. This picture was taken on April 13, 2009, in Valbrevenna, Genoa, Italy. GPS coordinates are 44.5516 N and 9.0793 E. It is a beautiful place not far from Genoa, where I live.—N. Gianluca Falco.

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