Imagine commercial applications like Ableton Live, Sibelius, Propellerheads Reason, Steinberg Cubase/Nuendo, or Max/MSP/Jitter running on Linux. Thanks to modern development processes, this is no far-fetched scenario. I’ve been thinking along these lines for some time as you may know (often with significant prodding from you folks), but it’s nice when others are, too:

Universal Binary + Linux? [ melodiefabriek ]

Marco Raaphorst isn’t just another blog pundit, either; he’s a sound designer with credits with Ableton, Propellerhead, and others.

Need a reason to be talking about this at all? Just check this out. Microsoft seems to have created another usability nightmare:

20 Things You Won’t Like About Windows Vista (and unfortunately, a lot of this stuff sounds familiar — and sounds like it won’t be fixed before the final release)

A lot of arguments for Linux are made on principle or politics. But we’re musicians here, so I’ll say this: what makes Linux potentially worthwhile is that it could be a fast, reliable, powerful OS in which we could make music. Commercial software has appeared before on Linux (like NVidia device drivers, for instance). It could happen with music apps, too.

We’ve heard lots of promises for desktop Linux before, but they were all ill-timed; the simple truth is, until recently, desktop Linux wasn’t quite ready for mainstream users. That has begun to change. If you’ve booted up a copy of distributions like OpenSUSE, Ubuntu, and the recently-released Fedora Core 5 (among others), you’ll find that Linux has been busy maturing while the rest of us focused on Mac and Windows. A Linux install is nowhere as easy as installing Mac OS X (thank you, unified hardware platform). But it is quite a lot easier than installing Windows XP or, not incidentally, Vista beta. And once it’s there, it runs elegantly, and (as Macro notes on melodiefabriek) really fast.

Music applications could take advantage of a free OS, broad computer support (now including Apple hardware), superior inter-application and cross-network MIDI, audio, and sync capabilities thanks to the magic that is JACK, and superior speed and (certainly compared to Windows XP) reliability. Users could take the hundreds they would spend on OS installs and invest it in music software. (Windows could cost as much as US$450 list for Vista Ultimate if recent rumors are to be believed. I’ll bet Ableton would like to get that cash instead.)

The real window of opportunity (ahem) is dissatisfaction with Windows, XP and Vista alike. Musicians in particular want an OS that’s easily customized, streamlined, and focused on the task at hand, and Windows has been letting us down in some respects. Some will want to combine the advantages of commercial software with open source, and the two complement each other nicely. There’s no real open source alternative to Live or Reason, but likewise there’s nothing in the commercial realm that could really match Processing or Csound. Put the two together with a great OS that runs on custom-built hardware and you’ve got some happy users. Again, I don’t think I’ll be dumping my Mac . . . but switching to Linux (or dual-booting) on my PC hardware? Now that I might think about.

Obviously, porting to Linux is not without challenges, or it would have happened already. The simplest obstacle is that music developers are stuck in a chicken-and-egg problem with Linux as they wait for musicians to migrate. The difference now is that, should something like Ableton Live show up on Linux, users would jump to the platform. (And keep in mind, it’s possible to run Windows VSTs inside Linux.) I’ve heard rumblings from some developers, though, that suggest this isn’t the giant obstacle that you might think. The reality is that porting fully modernized code from Mac or Windows to Linux is often not that difficult; some developers (Steinberg, for one) are already compiling on Linux even though Windows or Mac is the end target.

The other problems are a little trickier: driver support and copy protection. Driver support is still an issue; there’s plenty of audio and MIDI devices that work with Linux, but plenty that don’t, and it’s tough to know what will convince hardware makers to change that. (Maybe the presence of powerful, free music apps on Linux will start to woo users; it’s hard to say.) The other issue is copy protection, and this may be the real chicken and egg problem. If PACE decided to port their copy protection to Linux, I think it’d open the floodgates on Linux music development (even though I know few here are big PACE/iLok fans). Software like Ableton Live, though, has its own copy protection scheme, which would presumably be easier to port.

Here’s the wild card: it’s 2006. Virtually all of us are using Linux on a daily basis, whether we know it or not, thanks to the Web. (Hello, Google . . . and, of course, CDM.) And more importantly, the idea of which OS will “win” is completely outdated. If Mac users are dual-booting Windows to run apps that wouldn’t run otherwise, why not Windows users dual-booting Linux for when they don’t need to run their accounting software and just want to get down to some serious music making? Why not dual-booting Linux for when you take your laptop onstage?

I think you see my point. And the question becomes no longer if this will happen, but how soon, particularly if you consider markets outside the US that aren’t as loyal to Windows as we are. Music development often moves slowly, so I’d be naive to think we’d be running any of these apps on Linux in the next few months. But I could see it happening, particularly after developers clear the x64 Windows and Universal Mac hurdles (the latter, ironically, putting them in an even better place to start thinking Linux).

Am I crazy? Or would you consider Linux if you could get some of your favorite commercial software? (Or are you already on Linux and perfectly happy with the open source alternatives? I know that applies to a number of you now.)

  • http://www.geradorzero.com Fabio FZero

    Juts a side note: the latest Ubuntu comes with a realtime-optimized kernel as standard. This gives a considerable speed boost to audio and multimedia applications.

    As for drivers, there's already a standard for audio in Linux called ALSA which supports most major soundcards – including every class-compliant USB soundbrick like FastTrack Pro, USB Audiophile and the like. Add JACK running in realtime mode on top of this and you have extreme low-latency goodness (yes, better than ASIO).

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Actually, that's a very good point, because it means ALSA supported the FastTrack Pro long before Pro Tools (from the device's manufacturer, for crying out loud) did.

    There are still other devices I'd like to see supported, beyond class-compliant support. But it's worth picking devices that are supported by Linux when you invest.

  • http://melodiefabriek.nl Marco Raaphorst

    Firstly: thanks for the trackback!

    My main problem with Microsoft and Apple is that they push you to switch to the latest versions of their OS systems. If you don't switch you won't get any more support. This can make certain apps and drivers to be outdated quickly even if they worked fine on your current system.

    At the moment everything is running fine under XP. Vista will ruin this. Driver model is changed and all programs needs to be updated to. I don't want that. This means: trouble and trial and error again. Why would I switch something which already works nicely?

    So I do believe music applications should be available for Linux, mainly because the support for older systems is better and Linux in general provides a better system and better performance. Most webservers run on Linux or BSD. Even Hotmail has runned on these systems for years.

    Open source has also a more healthy support group and larger development team than the money driven XP and OSX systems. If you have a problem with XP or OSX, who can you ask for support? Well… nobody!

    At the moment I feel that XP will be outdated soon. I don't want to switch to Vista, because I am sure I will end up fixing all sorts of things which we perfectly okay under XP. I also see issues in Windows which were already their since Windows95.

    So why would I put time into that? Switching to a different OS takes a lot of time, so I'd rather switch to Linux. Sure that takes a lot of time too, but it would be the right investment into the future for me.

    My only issue is: I need Reason and Ableton Live to run on Linux, 2 apps I use for all my projects. I think it would be rather simple for both companies to create Linux versions for both of these programs. If Apple can push programmers to recode to G5 and then Intel… I am sure they can recode to Linux as well. Maybe they are affraid because of the Open Source 'no money' feeling. Which I don't think is true at all.

    And finally: I really don't like the attitude of Microsoft and Apple. Both are acting like little children, Apple only supporting AAC and Windows WMA. Both completely ignoring the truly brilliant Ogg and Flac formats for example. I do believe most people don't have a clue about what is going on. It's a childs act and I am tired of it. They need to grow up!

  • http://www.geradorzero.com Fabio FZero

    @Peter

    Yeah, FastTrack Pro works like a charm, I'm using it with linux right now.

  • richardl

    I guess you can dream.

    It doesn't seem that far fetched that maybe one commercial sequencer/DAW might risk a port to Linux. (Hell, Cubase supports Windows x64!)

    If that happens, and it proves succesful then others may follow.

    Otherwise this seems pretty out there.

    The one thing that would be really attractive would be a lighterweight platform that's more geared towards performance where a each computer might be dedicated to a specific application like running a synth. Compare the convenience of any dedicated sound module or processor to using computer and software for the same purpose and you will see what I mean. Neither Windows nor MacOSX fit the bill very well. There's just too much overhead and hastle in maintaining each computer and all the related upgrades for live music work. Spreading that out to several computers for multiple applications and backup computers quickly becomes a huge hastle. If a Linux music systems could make the per system maintenance and upgrade overhead a non-issue it could be a a real winner.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    You could absolutely do that with Linux. (Look at Korg's OASYS.) But I'm not sure'd you would need to. Linux's per-system maintenance and upgrade issues — at least as they apply to apps — are fewer than Windows or even Mac. There are other things about it that can be tricky, absolutely, but once you have a machine running you have far less of this (fill in the blanks) "Apple/Microsoft would like to update your QuickTime/OS/security update/random crap, thus breaking your drivers/preferences/applications."

    I definitely put this as an outside possibility. But the thing is, Linux is getting so easy to download and install, users are going to start to use it whether the major developers want them to or not. The reason there are now more Linux desktop users than, say, Windows x64, is that it's no longer hard to do.

    And ubuntu is a big part of this. I had a live CD install working of ubuntu in about 5 minutes (the amount of time it took the disc to burn). Zero configuration. We're used to that on the Mac, but certainly not the PC — Windows XP Pro can't recognize my network card, graphics card and native resolution, sound card, and trackpad without some help.

    The hardest part of running Linux is that we're tied to apps on Windows, and that's a big deal. But it's not hard to imagine a music app with the runaway success that Unreal on Linux had. Ironically, that illustrates all the wrong conventional wisdom about Linux: 1) you can't port commercial apps to Linux, 2) the open source community won't like commercial apps, and 3) users will pirate it once it's out. Piracy was vastly DOWN (because the Linux community was grateful for a great game on their OS), and people ran out to buy it. Now, fill in Reason or Live, for instance, any app with a following (Cubase is a poorer example because Linux has some pretty usable DAWs), and I think you could see something happen. Plus, support for things like audio drivers falls on the community rather than on the developer.

    Also, you don't even need an installed user base, because, again, in about 10 minutes you can be up and running on a live Linux CD and run your app and files off an external FAT32 drive. Or put your entire OS and song set on a flash drive and have that ready to go in case your laptop dies.

  • carmen

    certainly havent heard any buzz about this anywhere else. the vast majority of audio software developers simply dont care about linux, and the small sliver that do proably wonder if its worth competing against all the great free DAWs, modular synths, etc. plus most windows audio software works fine in WINE, and WINE even hooks into jack…

  • carmen

    thats not to say i wouldnt like to see it. ive got a copy of Samplitude i'd love to upgrade, if they made a version for linux.. and ableton would certainly be cool too.

    a while back Jules mentioned he ported the library that Tracktion is built with, and even dangled a screenshot or two, but afaik never released it..

  • carmen

    oh and, if the hybrid of commercial software on a free base sounds outlandish, just check out the 3D world, with people running $$$ XSI/Flame/etc stuff on off the shelf Fedora installs..

  • carmen

    finally, theres at least 3 open-source alternatives to reason. lmms, wired, and reshaked. reduz has even promised a windows port of the latter..

    anyone curious should check out Gentoo's Pro Audio overlay, to see the kind of hotbed of activity in new software that easily compares to WinXP in the early 00's, and Mac in the early/mid 90s..

  • carmen

    and proabbly Amiga in the 80s, although i wouldnt know..

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Carmen,

    Really? Audio software performs well enough in WINE to be usable (as opposed to just rebooting Windows)?

    And yes, it's definitely not outlandish to think the winds might change on OSes. After all, there was a time when people thought Windows would never catch on. (Or, alternatively, OS/2 would.)

    I'm intrigued by "Reshaked", but I've never heard of it. Got a link? Google couldn't hook me up. ;)

    Watch this space for a look at lmms, etc., from a non-Linux person (i.e., me!)

  • http://idlemachine.blogspot.com/ alex dante

    To save others from having to hunt them down:

    Reshaked: http://reshaked.berlios.de/
    Wired: http://sourceforge.net/projects/wired
    LMMS: http://lmms.sourceforge.net/

    Live & Reason are the only things keeping me using Windows, at this point in time…and if I hadn't already heavily invested in the tech – or if Apple would release a hardware agnostic x86 version of their OS – I'd be using OSX instead. Desktop-wise I've been very happy with Ubuntu for a year now.

  • http://selectparks.net/~julian Julian

    a good article..

    having 64bit's of processing power is considered one of the chief advantages of using Linux in the motion picture industry; Linux is now an industry standard where animation, rendering and video-compositing/editing is concerned (albeit it with very expensive proprietary applications like Maya, Shake, Smoke etc).

    that said, working with digital video in a 'professional context' has far less driver-level dependencies than that of audio due to the wide array of external peripherals, controllers and sound cards that typify a musicians studio these days; i imagine this means hardware vendors will need to start cooperating with kernel developers before proprietary application developers will consider Linux a commercially viable platform for their software.

    regardless several popular pro-audio cards are already well supported in Linux via the ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) driver shipped with recent kernels (the RME Hammerfall being a popular pro-card amongst Linux audiophiles for this reason). perhaps device manufacturers should take a lead from RME..

    one advantage of running Linux in live and production context are very low latencies when talking to the soundcard. the scheduling contexts in Linux are also really robust and flexible, making it hard to consider working elsewhere when you've had a taste.

    FYI one opensource DAW i've enjoyed using the last year or so (was pretty hairy before that) is Ardour. i hear is pretty dreamy on a 64bit architecture too.

  • Pingback: ::Metaphreaq:: » Blog Archive » Linux audio future?

  • http://www.thosearemypants.com bufflo

    Are Linux people into paying for software? I mean the kind of prices we're used to.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    There's a growing set of commercial software for Windows. Now, a lot of it is enterprise stuff, of course, but there are other examples — Unreal being one of them.

    But I don't think we're talking about selling to "Linux people." I think we're talking about selling to us. And if you don't believe me, seriously, try one of these live CDs. It's incredibly easy to run Linux on Windows hardware. The thing that is NOT incredibly easy is dealing with partitions and Windows booting, since Windows is really finicky about how it boots. If they can make that more seamless, I think desktop Linux will stand a better chance. There's not much point in marketing to the current Linux user base, because it isn't that big (at the desktop level). But Windows and even Mac users wanting better performance and a more robust audio OS? That's another story.

  • Gary

    I have been looking at linux in various forms for the last couple of years and I will swap to this platform if I can get drivers for my sound cards.

    My roland UM-1 and UA-1D already work and I have had some success using them under a live CD install.

    Personally I want migrate. And soon!

  • ogami1972

    I would love to see these apps on linux, but in the meantime, i found a way around it: i run proprietaries like ableton, etc, on a seperate windows machine and record into my linux machine. I am continously amazed with linux' abilities.

  • elemental

    I would also love to see apps like Ableton Live run on Linux. Especially since people are saying you can still run windows VST plugins in Linux.

    I use Ubuntu at work now, and while there are things that can take ages to work out (like getting my Wacom tablet working properly) in general things are much more stable and nicer to work with than Windows… I think a lot of Ableton users (amongst others) would be very much into a streamlined system just for music production and/or performance.

    I for one would immediately install Linux on the laptop I use for live performance if Ableton released a build for it.

  • Oetzi

    Never used linux but love what I've heard about it. Would probably move to it if Cubase and Live were ported but to be honest I'd miss WIndows.

  • http://www.2KoAN.com KoAN

    I'm also an Ableton/Reason, Reactor/Cubase user and the only thing that keeps me from getting into Linux Ubuntu 64bit are those dam drivers!

    Open source is the future. As 4 music, I'm truly amazed by some Vst pluggins been developed FREE at KVRaudio.com (Linux supported!!)

    Meanwhile i'm still running XPpro – on a AMD X2 4400+ with 4Gb Ram (only using 3gb :| 10x 2 32bit crap xp), M~Audio Delta 1010 – in dual independent boot (BIOS disk priority change – that means 2 Windows in 2 different HDs, fully independent, no partitions for the OS).

    It works fine…but since i've seen Ubuntu + Beryl/xgl running so f***ing smooth on a p4 2400, 512Mb (4 years old)…well…i can imagine a world of Music power production if audio software/hardware companies toke more advantage of open source programs, like Linux.

    Well, one thing is for sure…it's comming soon!
    :D

    As 4 Vista…well…all has been said about it

    KoAN

    ~

    2k

  • http://mp3death.us/k9d/ starpause

    this is the first shit that comes up when you google "ableton linux" from the united states.

    not even people trying it in wine …

    energyXT is out for linux now, interesting! but still not as good as ableton for mixing =(

    mixxx is not bad for linux! getting better every day.

    my eee will be a happy cpu =)

  • Retrievil

    All is actually well and good in the Linux world when it comes to working with sound, it's just that we all have gotten used to our fancy plugins and presets…..if you take the time to figure out what you are actually doing instead of getting blown away by a fancy GUI and 1200 samples/presets delivered in the bag, you already have lots of stuff to play with. AND you can actually say you made it yourself, as compared to the soundmakings done in eJay and the like.

    For PRO audio, it's Linux or Mac. (I used to be strictly windows when it came to sound, even though Linux has been my main OS for several years, but the software now is so good, the effort in swapping is minimal.)

    My 2 cents

    -Retrievil

  • http://www.jupitterg400.be sebk

    I've created a facebook group :

    Please music softwares, plugins and soundcards adapt to Linux !

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=8965463105

    Please join !!!

    PS : i've added this page as a link.

    Tell me if i should remove it…

    Thanks.

  • alienprdkt

    ABLETON LIVE 6 ON KUBUNTU

    I am going to all of these forums to let everyone know that yes I have successfully installed Live 6 on my Kubuntu 8 machine with wine;

    apt-get install wine

    then I copied the Live 6 folder from my windows pc located within Program files, to my Wine program files directory. Then installed!!!! Worx Great!!!!! ;)

    hope i answered your question,

    alienprdkt

  • Retrievil

    alienprdkt:

    If you were successful in this, you should tell the wine-guys, there are a lot of people trying to get Ableton to work, the main problem being empty dialog boxes…I have only the 7.x edition myself, which does not work, due to a DDRAW issue with wine…..hopefully resolved soon, though……(I might give v.6 a try now that you mention this though….

    Please drop a line here if you actually got a stable Ableton installation doing this, I am a bit confused when you say you copied the original folder and then installed. Did you install again over the old dir that you copied?

    -Retrievil