Why using Linux for (pro) audio?

There are many reasons why you should consider Linux for your audio projects, hobby and professional. We are listing some below.

If you are totally new to Linux, the second part gives you a brief overview about what free/open source software is and why it is generally beneficial for you, to use it. :-)

Why use Linux for pro audio?

1. Great platform - Linux is safe, stable, easy to work with, and free.

2. Great software - A vast amount of great, professional-grade free audio software - for recording, editing, midi, sampling, drumming, and much more - are available on Linux. There's something (usually, many things) for every workflow and CPU-class. Have a look here (→Linux audio software).

3. Better performance - You can achieve significantly lower latency than is possible on Windows or Mac systems, and there are far more configuration and optimization options (→system configuration).

4. Software interconnectivity and creative solutions - No need for 'modular DAWs', or even plugins - because almost every pro-audio software on Linux supports JACK (→bread and butter Linux pro-audio terms→jack), they can send audio and MIDI to each other, and sync with each other via JACK transport. Imagine pressing the play button in the sequencer, and your drum machine plays along simultaneously. Sort of like ReWire, but far better, far easier to use, and far more widely implemented.

Thanks to this, no software ever lacks any feature. For instance, does your preferred DAW lack video playback? No worries - run your DAW and open xjadeo (JACK-transport- and SMTE-syncing video player), and the two will work in tandem. Press 'play'/'pause' in your DAW, xjadeo will play/pause the video accordingly.

We've even seen JACK-transport-capable scorewriter Laborejo being used with xjadeo - the outcome being a scorewriter with video playback capability, perfect if you want to use a standard notation-based environment to write out film scores, and downright magical to work with. Session managers like Non-Session-Manager and LADISH make working with multiple programs in this way a breeze - one click to command *all* your programs to open, to save your work, or to close.

5. Plugins - are there too, for those who prefer a plugin-based workflow. There are hundreds of native Linux plugins - both instruments and effects - and quite a few Windows plugins are supported via WINE and Festige/Carla.

6. Combine forces - Great options for connecting multiple computers (which may be Linux, Windows, or Mac systems) and syncing audio over the network, with NetJack.

7. Support - Great support by the Linux community, in many different languages.

8. Freedom from user-restrictive policies - The Linux commmunity frowns on follies like closed, proprietary formats (bad, because if and when the company owning the format goes kaput, nothing will open that file, and your data in it is pretty much lost), or things like i-Loks, or policies that prevent you from install the same software on all your studio computers, among other things.

Such policies are significantly less prevalent in Linux software - so the format for almost everything is plaintext and user-readable, nothing prevents you from installing multiple copies of most software (or sharing them with your friends - or even reselling them for money), and so on.

Linux distributions for audio

For newbies it's highly recommended to start using a optimized Linux distribution for proaudio or multimedia. Then you don't have the trouble of doing all the specific configuration yourself. For more information see Linux Audio Bundles and Distributions.

Supported hardware

Many people wonder if their (audio) hardware is supported by Linux. The quick answer is that there's a good chance that it is. When you start working with Linux it's always good to do a little searching, and that'll likely tell you whether it is supported. Most hardware is actually supported by Linux, because of lots of work from the Linux community. In addition, more and more companies are making hardware drivers for Linux.

Here You can see which soundcard, firewire device or other audio hardware is supported by Linux. Your hardware is not on the list? Then you can ask at the LinuxMusicians forum or post a message on the LAU mailinglist.

Brief intro to free/open source software

Free software* (a.k.a. open source software, often abbreviated FS, OSS, FOSS, or FLOSS) is software that respects the rights and freedoms of the user. A lot of software out there is licensed under terms which don't respect your right to -

  • let you look at the source code of the program (the software equivalent of opening a car's bonnet),
  • modify the program,
  • redistribute a modified version of the program * *,
  • derive other programs for it,
  • let you run the program in any way you want,
  • share the program with your friends.

These software are called proprietary (a.k.a. closed-source or non-free) software. In effect, when you acquire (buy or download for free) said software, because of these terms, you are not truly being given ownership of it - it is being leased to you. Proprietary programs are, in effect, leased cars where the bonnet is welded shut and you are only allowed to do with it what its owner wants, not what YOU want.

Free software, on the contrary, gives you these liberties.

Practical upshots?

  • The software is open to peer-review, as the source code is always publicly available.
  • The software cannot die - proprietary software dies with the demise of it's company - and this can and will invariably happen. But a Free Software project, even if it were to go defunct for any reason, has the potential to be picked up by someone and developed again.
  • People from around the world are welcome to contribute changes to the software.
  • People from around the world are welcome to fork (release their own versions of) the software.
  • Society benefits - everyone, including the next generation, is free to use the code, as opposed to someone locking it in their trunk and forbidding anyone from using it's fruits in other projects.
  • You are not restricted from running the program in any way you want. You can install the program as many times as you like, on as many machines as you like, and you can share it with your friends if you like. We hardly need to tell you the benefits of that ;)


Hang on - if I can reinstall it as many times as I like, and if I can share it with my friends, and anyone can compile and run the code - how do FS projects make money?

Some choose not to - the developers take up day jobs and make FS in their free time, out of sheer passion for the work, and to give to the community.

Some charge money for the binaries (the 'installers') - the source code is free (which is the requirement to qualify as free software; installing from source code is a harder, fiddlier, and a bit of a hit-or-miss for average users like you and me, hence one could say we're charged for the convenience).

Some charge for support, as no software is ever perfect. For instance, Red Hat Inc., the company behind the phenomenally-popular Red Hat Enterprise Linux, makes millions out of support subscriptions.

Some charge for CDs/DVDs/USB-flash-drives containing said software. This might be priced to just make cost, or to make profit.

Some employ crowd-funding for addition of features.

Almost all are open to donations. In fact, for the first type, this is the only way they make money (and, sadly, such a small percentage of the users donate that these projects rarely get enough to profit or to at all break-even).

Many such Free Software business models exist, and new ones keep evolving - two of the most recent being -

  • OpenAV Production's Sorcer plugin's system of finishing a program, setting a release deadline, and setting the deadline earlier by a month each time someone donates 10 USD
  • Aaron Wolf ('wolftune')'s innovative Snowdrift.coop ( http://snowdrift.coop/ ) platform for donations to FS.


If everyone's free to use the source as they like…don't companies steal from Free Sofware projects, then?

Fortunately, people know them all too well ;) Some people banded together to stand up for the promotion of FS and the rights of users and made a foundation - the Free Software Foundation.

(mention GPL, the most popular of all FS licenses, mention the Share-Alike clause)

You may read about them, their licenses and how they came to be evolved, their campaigns to promote free software and to respect user rights, privacy and dignity, and more about the concept of free software, here - http://www.fsf.org/

*Free as in free speech (freedom), not as in free beer (free of cost), although the two coincide a lot of the time - i.e. Free software is often, but not necessarily, free of cost as well.

* *This is GOOD, as long as the original creator is credited. And most if not all free software licenses have a minimum requirement of crediting the original author.

wiki/why_linux_for_audio.txt · Last modified: 2014/03/26 11:33 by digisus