State of the Art: Linux Audio 2008, Part II
In this second part of my survey of Linux audio development, I focus on the application side of things. I would have liked to have included many other tools and applications, but time and space always are in short supply. So, my apologies if your favorite program isn't listed; feel free to let me know what you think I'm missing.
People coming to Linux from the Windows/Mac world of commercial sound and music software might think they've stepped backward in time. Linux audio and MIDI production software usually is not as visually attractive as the rainbow of products advertised in the major music magazines, but most musicians will agree that the sound is the thing. In that regard, Linux can stand tall and even can claim some colorful packages of its own.
ALSA supplies command-line utilities for simple recording and playback of audio and MIDI. These tools (arecord/aplay and arecordmidi/aplaymidi) are useful for quick uncomplicated purposes, and most distributions provide GUIs to ease their use. At the next level, LMMS (Linux MultiMedia Studio; Figure 1) and Jokosher are good examples of desktop music production software designed in the manner of Apple's popular Garage Band. They engage the user quickly with colorful uncomplicated GUIs, but they are quite powerful within their design constraints. Both programs are in current development and have active communities of users and developers. Wouter Boeke's AMUC (Amsterdam Music Composer) is another less-weighty program that includes many attractions for the desktop composer, including an integrated synthesizer, notation capability and very light resource requirements.
Ardour dominates the professional-grade category of serious recording tools for Linux. Paul Davis continues to lead Ardour's programming team, and the project remains one of the finest examples of Linux audio software development. Ardour 2.5 is a mature application, and the developing Ardour 3.0 promises to bring the program to a new level, thanks especially to Dave Robillard's work on its new MIDI recording and editing capabilities. No strict timetable exists for Ardour's releases, and I certainly can't predict when 3.0 will make its public debut. However, Ardour's development track record is well defined, with a consistent series of releases, so I hope we may see it before year's end. Of course, SVN sources are available to anyone who wants to test the cutting edge while waiting for the public release.
Smaller but still powerful alternatives are available. Rui Nuno Capels' QTractor is a multitrack/multichannel DAW (digital audio workstation) with a design similar to the portable studios in the digital audio hardware world. QTractor also distinguishes itself by its support for natively compiled Linux VST plugins, along with the usual complement of LADSPA and DSSI plugins. Remon Sijrier's Traverso employs a highly efficient interface, is very easy to use and provides a complete production system, from recording your first tracks to burning an audio CD.
Kai Vehmanen's Ecasound occupies a unique position in the Linux audio software world. Ecasound is a command-line DAW, a complete audio recording and processing solution that requires no graphics displays. It runs in an interactive mode or can be driven by user-composed scripts; it is fully JACK-aware; it records in multichannel modes—the list of Ecasound's capabilities stretches on and on. Ecasound is a long-lived project, and I'm happy to report it's still developed and maintained by its original author.
Fervent Software's Rosegarden is another venerable Linux music application with a long and healthy development track. Rosegarden always has supported common-practice notation as a composer's interface, and its developers now plan to strengthen that interface further. Given its JACK support, there's little need for Rosegarden to repeat all the duties of a DAW, and it's a win for notation-based composers to have their notation-based GUI JACK-sync'd to the DAW of their choice.
Developer Werner Schweer has moved his MusE audio/MIDI sequencer in the opposite direction—he has removed its notation interface and refocused that code into the MuseScore program (see below). Meanwhile, MusE continues to evolve as a dedicated audio/MIDI sequencer, and version 1.0 is currently in alpha release.
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