Curious about what will change for music and audio in Windows Vista? Microsoft’s Channel9 site got up close and personal with Vista’s audio developers in an extensive video, featuring Steve Ball and Larry Osterman:

Steve Ball – Learning about Audio in Windows Vista [Channel9] (thanks to our resident Windows watcher, Adrian Anders!)

Vista will have a completely rewritten audio stack with lower latency and per-app mixing — so you can mute annoying Flash music in your browser, finally, among other things. That much we knew, but here you get to see the guys who worked on it and watch it in action. (And yes, I know, these features have long existed in the ALSA and OSS sound systems for Linux and UNIX.) Oh, and they’ve finally replaced the ancient Sound Recorder app, as pictured.

Still missing, though, are any real details on how this will work for pro audio developers. In fact, Steve Ball tellingly says those features are the least complete in the current beta. My suggestion to any of you with a spare machine or the chops to dual-partition boot Vista alongside XP? Go grab this thing and break it, then submit bug reports. Do it now, not in January. (Ball actually requests that we go do just that, and he wants feedback from musicians.)

Now, how about that Mac OS X box that’s nailed to the wall of Steve Ball’s office? Steve explains in comments:

… last year, I went to the Apple store and bought a G5 with my own money. I use a Mac at home for my own music work. I’ve been recording music on Apple machines since 1992. I also work in parallel on music on Windows machines. I live in both worlds. Until late 2001, there was not sufficient will (read: defensible business justification) within MS to address Windows audio and video performance, quality, fidelity, latency. We are now in a different landscape.

In my self-acknowledged, kool-aid driven view, it is the beginning of new era for Windows Audio and Video. Perhaps more precisely, it is also the beginning of a new era for Windows users (consumers, prosumers, and pros) who wish to work and play with audio and video in their daily lives. Certainly, we also still have a long, long way to go. Perhaps, not as long as we think if you believe Ray Kurzweil. But what a great time to be alive and working in this medium.

I’d say the good news is, Microsoft is fully aware of the fact that right now Mac OS X works a lot more seamlessly for pro audio than Windows does. But I’m not sure yet how that will translate into Vista. Will we be able to use Microsoft’s standard audio drivers to get decent performance on all our audio gear for music, without having to resort to ASIO? Will legacy audio drivers work? What hardware will be supported? What happens to ASIO under Vista? Has Microsoft addressed the lack of inter-application audio and MIDI routing, something every other consumer OS has? Will Vista keep forgetting my audio and MIDI drivers the way XP does?

The current beta build doesn’t seem to be finished enough to figure this out. I’m going to keep digging. I’ll wager that these features are ultimately far more important to people in music production than the more mainstream features are to consumers: they’re our whole lives. But I am encouraged that some people at Microsoft understand that.

In the meantime, Apple isn’t standing still, so it’ll be interesting to see if they’re doing anything with audio in OS X 10.5, something we should find out in August.

And, incidentally, there’s no reason for this to be about OS vs. OS. There are plenty of musicians on both Mac and Windows. The better each works, the better it is for music. I’d rather spend time making music than arguing the merits of different operating systems.

For still more breaking info on Vista:
ExtremeTech has been talking to the DirectX people (Microsoft’s proprietary 3D API, a la the open 3D standard OpenGL)

WinFS, the file system overhaul that was to replace NTFS in Vista, is now deader than dead. I’m not sure how it could be more dead than it already was, but it sounds as though it is — possibly forever dead, as opposed to just “delayed indefinitely” dead. On the other hand, NTFS works for me, and a new file system might make it even harder to read PC drives on other platforms, unless I’m missing something.

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