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Standards, Methodology, Test System Specs, And Legend

Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Audio Production
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Standards

This is a collection of easy-to-install intended for those making, or even thinking about making the switch from Windows to Linux. These apps must fall in line with the realistic expectations of an average end-user in either a home or office desktop environment.

The three main criteria for the applications are: usability, quality, and popularity. Our test bed includes the top three Linux distributions (distros): Ubuntu, Fedora, and openSUSE. For an app to even appear in this article it has to be available in the official repositories (repos) of one of these distros, or as DEB or RPM files from the software vendor's official Web site.

If you need a refresher, please reference Desktop Linux for the Windows Power User for an explanation of package management. Apps with too many bugs, crashes, or fails were left out. The quality of an app is determined by comparing its feature set to the industry-leading title in that category (whenever one exists). In the event that there are no clear industry-leading apps to compare against, don't worry. Anything that looks like it came out of a Win9x time-capsule doesn't pass.

Since Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is in a constant state of bug reporting and fixing, the most popular apps will have the most complete sampling of users, in turn producing an even better title. Also, because support is mainly handled by the community of users, popular software naturally has more documentation and fewer issues with compatibility. Therefore, popularity greatly influences the order in which equally usable apps of comparable quality are listed. This includes extra weight given to multi-platform applications. For a more comprehensive explanation of the standards applied to these applications please reference the Standards and Methodology page from the first segment: Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Internet Apps.

Exclusion #1: Web Apps & Online Services.

Almost every article showcasing Web-based apps and online services is applicable to Linux as well as Windows, even if not specifically stated.

Exclusion #2: Windows Apps

Though we will include a page on virtualization and emulation, it is to showcase the actual virtualization/emulation software. We do not go into the details of getting any specific Windows app running in Linux.

Exclusion #3: Preferences

User preferences like 3D desktop effects, screen savers, panels, and launchers are not covered in this series. There is a planned how-to piece for preference options.

Exclusion #4: Games

Native games, casual games, free games, indie games, and retail games, as well as virtualized platforms and emulation, will be covered in a future rundown of Linux gaming.

Exclusion #5: Servers

This series is a follow-up to Desktop Linux For The Windows Power User, and therefore concentrates on Linux as being an alternative OS for consumers. This means desktops and notebooks, not servers.

Methodology

This article is the sixth part in Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup and the test system has gone through a few upgrades since the series began. The latest hardware and software configurations are listed in the tables below.

64-bit Desktop Test System Specs

Host OS
Ubuntu Studio 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat" (64-bit)
Processor
Intel Core i5-750 @ 2.8 GHz (quad-core)
Motherboard
Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD7 (F7 BIOS)
Memory
8 GB Crucial DDR3 @ 1333 MT/s (2 x 4 GB)
Graphics
AMD Radeon HD 4870 Reference Board (512 MB GDDR5) PCIe 2.0
Storage
Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500 GB SATA 3 Gb/s 7200 RPM, 16 MB Cache
Optical
Asus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS
Power Supply
Corsair TX750W (750 W max)
Chassis
Zalman MS1000-HS2
CPU Cooler
Scythe Mugen 2 Revision B


In order to determine Ubuntu compatibility we used a fresh and updated virtual machine (VM) installation of Ubuntu 10.10 (32-bit) with the default GNOME graphical user interface (GUI). For Fedora, we used Fedora 14 (32-bit) with GNOME. To check openSUSE compatibility, we used openSUSE 11.3 (32-bit), with KDE.

Virtual Machine Specs

Version
Oracle VirtualBox 3.2.10 r66523
Guest OS 1
Ubuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat" (32-bit)
Guest OS 2
Fedora 14 "Laughlin" (32-bit)
Guest OS 3
openSUSE 11.3 (32-bit)
CPU
1 CPU--AMD-V and Nested Paging enabled
Base Memory
1536 MB
Video Memory
128 MB--3D Acceleration enabled
Storage
8 GB--Dynamically Expanding
Audio
PulseAudio Audio Driver


In order to test drive the feature set of the applications (and to determine 64-bit friendliness), we fell back on the host OS, a native (non-VM) and fully updated installation of 64-bit Ubuntu Studio 10.10. The version number that we looked at appears in parenthesis next to each application's name. This may not necessarily be the latest version, or the same version available via your distribution's software repository.

Legend

An application's logo links to its homepage (e.g. Firefox = mozilla.com/firefox).


indicates availability in the default Ubuntu repos.


indicates availability in the default Fedora repos.


indicates availability in the default openSUSE repos.


links to an available .deb package download.


links to an available .rpm package download.


links to an available Windows download.


links to an available Mac download.


indicates that the application is a retail product.


* The icons used in this article were borrowed from the hydroxygen icon set by deviantdark and hosted on GNOME-look.org, along with a ton of other high quality theming elements.

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  • 1 Hide
    nekromobo , March 2, 2011 4:56 AM
    Now I remember why I read tom's.

    A great article!
  • 1 Hide
    akorzan , March 2, 2011 5:00 AM
    I found using WINE with, don't laugh, FL Studio works great. Latencies are on par with Windows. Only problem is some VST plugins have mouse problems... I.E: double-clicking has to be absurdly fast. Another trivial problem is that battery life in laptops is nonexistent with WINE and FL Studio.
  • -3 Hide
    longshotthe1st , March 2, 2011 5:04 AM
    Why would anyone even bother? Time is money, I'm going to just stick with what works.
  • -1 Hide
    damiensturdy , March 2, 2011 9:43 AM
    Great read. FLStudio is one of only two pieces of software that keeps me tied to Windows. Sure, it runs under Wine, but getting it working is a pain, and you're lucky to get 100% of the functionality. As an advanced user of FLStudio, I use almost everything the app provides, and I need it as low latency as possible. 20ms is too much- 10ms is better. In general I've never achieved
  • 0 Hide
    damiensturdy , March 2, 2011 9:49 AM
    Damn, it cut my post off. No way to edit that? ah well. I was basically saying that this article has helped me decide what software to use when I build my synthesizer this year.
  • 0 Hide
    g00ey , March 2, 2011 10:45 AM
    Has anyone tried running software such as FL Studio in Linux using a virtualization software such as VirtuaBox? VirtualBox can even run in seamless mode which allows you to have Windows windows next to Gnome/KDE windows in the same screen.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 2, 2011 12:03 PM
    Very nice article you could also have covered comercial productos on Linux like:

    Harrison Mixbus; Renoise; EnergyXT; WusikStation; PianoTec...

    BTW there is big updates soon for Ardour (3.0), MuSe (2.0) and Rosegarden (?).
  • 1 Hide
    damiensturdy , March 2, 2011 12:09 PM
    @g00ey, yes. Latency and audio are weak through a VM, and the audio still has to travel through whichever audio library the Linux distro is using, it's a no go.
  • 0 Hide
    caeden , March 2, 2011 12:14 PM
    g00ey, as a general rule of thumb you don't want to virturalize your workstations whether they be for audio or video editing. In part due to stability, and in part due to speed/latency.
    I was surprised at the scoring software. Looks about as good as my wife's version of Sibelius, with the exception that she had to pay for hers.
    Personally I just do editing and cleanup, and while it looks like it is much improved on Linux from what it use to be, it has improved more on the windows side. But nice to know that there are options available if I were to ever cross over.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 2, 2011 3:44 PM
    I'm really looking forward to the Video apps review since that is my main sphere of interest.
    But it really sounds like it is time to get the 'ole midi keyboard out of the closet and try some of those synth apps!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 2, 2011 5:35 PM
    No love for Pure Data?
  • 0 Hide
    adamovera , March 2, 2011 6:44 PM
    nekromobo: Thanks! Great name BTW.

    g00ey: If you're only using samples and not recording, going live, or hooking up to any other apps, I don't see why it would be a problem. Although that would definitely reduce the functionality of FL Studio. Oracle VirtualBox is free, if you already own a copy of Windows it can't hurt to give it a try.

    adsgdVery nice article you could also have covered comercial productos on Linux like:Harrison Mixbus; Renoise; EnergyXT; WusikStation; PianoTec...BTW there is big updates soon for Ardour (3.0), MuSe (2.0) and Rosegarden (?).

    Not sure how Harrison Mixbus packages the Linux version, no trial available either. Renoise, EnergyXT, and PianoTec don't qualify due to the package/repo rule - see page 2. I don't think WusikStation has their Linux version ready yet.

    boombipNo love for Pure Data?

    Doesn't qualify due to package/repo rule - see page 2.
  • 0 Hide
    g00ey , March 2, 2011 7:00 PM
    @damiensturdy & caeden, I can imagine that latency could be an issue when it comes to virtualization but the software I have tried (such as graphics, video playback, office and DTP) works surprisingly well under virtualization so I just figure that maybe audio production software works inside a virtual machine.

    So called Type 1 hypervisors have support for something that is called passthrough which means that some hardware can be assigned to communicate directly to the virtual machine without intervention of a virtual abstraction layer (that usually manifests itself as a ring buffer between the hypervisor and the VM) this is commonly used on network interface cards to ensure a good throughput and lower latency on virtual machines that require this.

    For this to be possible the hypervisor has to be run "on the metal" and not as an application inside an OS (such as the VBox or the VMWare Workstation). Xen is one such example that is integrated with the operating system. The ESXi/vSphere is another, but it is its own operating system.

    Moreover, the hardware needs to support either Intel VT-d or AMD-IOMMU which provides this passthrough feature.

    Edit: Not only Xen is supporting PCI passthrough, we are also beginning to see this on KVM and VirtualBox. This is possible since one has managed to add type 1 like attributes on type 2 hypervisors and the distinction between the two of them is getting fuzzier. This is possible by patching come parts of the (type 2) hypervisor into the kernel. KVM can pass through up to 32 PCI units and it also supports multi-function passthrough. It currently does not support passthrough of graphics cards (or VGA passthrough, which is due to advanced BIOS features of a GPU in a computer) like Xen does, however. I don't know about VirtualBox but I expect it has similar capabilities, but only on Linux. VB currently has no support for this on other host platforms.
  • 0 Hide
    pelov , March 2, 2011 9:49 PM
    Love the entire series. Great work
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 2, 2011 9:59 PM
    Fantastic article, thanks Adam.
  • 0 Hide
    mc84ss , March 3, 2011 12:25 AM
    What would anyone reccomend for taking mp3s and "mixing up" any profanity. I work in a secure building and my boss frowns upon any music with profanity.
  • 0 Hide
    pocketdrummer , March 3, 2011 8:40 PM
    Linux is definitely not the OS to use for Audio Engineering. Not only is it seriously restricted in the drivers department (most decent interfaces do not support linux), the Sequencers (or DAWs as this article slightly misrepresents) are not sophisticated enough to really stand up to the likes of Cubase, Sonar, Pro Tools, or even Ableton Live. There's no real point in trying to build a Linux system for recording unless you just love working around severe limitations.

    This is coming from an Engineer who uses Ableton Live and Cubase on Windows and Mac systems (depending on the application and gig).
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , March 4, 2011 6:43 PM
    I agree with pocketdrummer here, and I must add that i have used Lunix for audio engineering and music making for many years and I can assure you that nothing in the lunix world is as powerful and stable as even a simple DAW like Garageband on the Mac.. Linux is nice for daily computing, but don't go there for serious work...
  • 0 Hide
    salsaman , March 9, 2011 5:32 AM
    I hope you will mention LiVES (http://lives.sourceforge.net) in the upcoming video roundup.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 22, 2011 5:59 PM
    Mixxx is a fun mixing application, that I'm a little surprised didn't make this article. http://mixxx.org/
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