[linux-audio-dev] Linux and Standards

Ivica Ico Bukvic ico at fuse.net
Sat Oct 30 07:23:04 UTC 2004

Hi all,

As some of you may already know, I am going to present a paper/demo at the
upcoming ICMC 2004 conference in Miami on Linux titled:

Linux as a Mature Digital Audio Workstation in Academic Electroacoustic
Studios – Is Linux Ready for Prime Time?

As promised I will be posting an expanded version of the paper online right
after the presentation that is slated for the Wednesday next week.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank all the members of this
wonderful community for their insight and help in making my final paper as
accurate and objective as possible. Furthermore, I would like to thank
everyone involved in the development of audio software for the GNU/Linux
platform because without you none of this would've been possible.

Finally, just a couple days ago I was invited to serve as one of the panel
members on Matthew Wright's discussion titled "Standards From the Computer
Music Community" that will take place on Saturday November, 6. He wants me
to present the Linux audio community's angle on standards and considering
that this conference encompasses faculty as well as researchers and
programmers from all across the World, I feel that this is a perfect
opportunity to voice out our angle on the given topic and perhaps that way
further expose the strengths that Linux can offer.

I would like to share with you a short overview of my thoughts on this issue
and would like to encourage those of you who may have additional thoughts to
please send me your suggestions and/or corrections. Your help in this matter
is most appreciated! However, please bear in mind due to fact that I am
leaving for the conference on Sunday afternoon and am not sure how regularly
(if at all) will I be able to check my e-mail while away from home, I would
really appreciate it if you would please send me your responses before
Sunday 2pm or so. I would of course appreciate also belated comments just in
the case I do get to check my e-mail, I just cannot guarantee I'll get to
read them prior to the presentation. My sincere apologies for the unusually
short window of opportunity.

At any rate, here's my blurb:


My initial presentation will be limited to 5-7 minutes since panel will
consist of a number of members. Following everyone's initial presentation,
there will be a discussion driven in part by the questions from the

I feel that considering linux as a standard is on one hand a kind of a
paradox as it is built on the premise that individual truly can tweak it to
heart's content and therefore it is relatively unlikely that any two Linux
boxes would look and/or perform the same. Yet, on the flip-side of the coin
Linux stands as a most successful offspring of the GNU movement and as such
it is the most revolutionary and therefore the standard-setting OS in a
category where it has no competition. Furthermore, this diversity it offers
perhaps stands in its own light as a kind of a standard offering the
end-user to shape their computer as a personalized instrument.

The diversity seemingly suggests lack of standards, yet the software
packages in most cases seamlessly compile on various distributions. This
diversity is simply a byproduct of the diversity of the commercial Linux
distributions. This is where lies perhaps the biggest problem with Linux,
and that is the issue of different file tree across the different
distributions which introduces hurdles for the "compile-from-the-source"
crowd and in part feeds the demand for the prebuilt distros and subsequent
fragmentation (a vicious circle if you like).

There is no "standard" audio kernel even though some of the kernel releases
in conjunction with patches yield better performance. This diversity is
however irrelevant as most of the applications work just fine on different
sub-versions of the same kernel without a recompile. Therefore such
disparity is more of a nuisance for the end-user than a potential
standard-breaking anomaly. Furthermore the fix for such disparity is
provided via aforementioned distributions.

The powerful thing about Linux is that while everyone is welcome to
contribute their own ideas or even design their own applications from
ground-up, the strongest concepts rather than most developed applications
are the ones who set the standard (i.e. JACK, ALSA, etc.) which is not
always the case with the commercial proprietary World where often PR plays a
critical role (i.e. VHS vs. BETAMAX -- although this is not the best example
as this is not software-related but you get my point). Eventually, the
strongest concepts do become also the most developed ones, but due to the
fact that the source is readily available and that other developers choose
to implement and therefore support those interfaces which look most
promising, should there ever a new standard arise it will always have the
chance to rise and overcome the leading standard, no matter how well the
leading standard is established, and will likely do so in a least painful
fashion for the end-user (i.e. ALSA vs. OSS as opposed to OS9 vs. OSX
transition). Finally, open-source nature of the software minimizes the
potential for misrepresentation of the format's features (a.k.a. false
advertising in the commercial world). This is where Linux truly shines.

That being said, Linux has its own share of disparate formats which impede
the development of a standard (i.e. every sequencing software has a
different format for saving the sessions). However, it is my feeling that
this is simply a transitional phase and in due time the strongest will

As far as the standard or core applications of the Linux community are
concerned, I really do not wish to go there as that may spawn heated
discussion which may completely detract from my goals. Besides, it is
exactly this individualized preference that drives the diversity in Linux's
software offering.

order -- it's 3am, give me a break ;-)
Jack, LADSPA, LASH, ALSA, Ogg/Vorbis, others?
(Lash is especially interesting as it is designed to unite seemingly
different standards under one umbrella session controlling mechanism which
is something unique for the Linux platform -- other proprietary formats are
imho harder to unite under such a meta-standard, if you like, because they
are often conceived to work just by themselves and do not necessarily
encourage efforts from various competitive companies to conform to them;
they rather come up with their own standard unless the existing standard is
too strong to compete with which in either case results in a less adequate
solution for the end-user)

What is both interesting and in part detrimental (at least in short-term) to
the Linux audio community is that many formats due to their openness are not
readily supported by the proprietary world as they have no profit-making
value (i.e. Apple's DRM-ed AAC is safeguarded by Apple so that they can
profit from licensing it to other companies and/or locking in their
iTunes/iPod market).

One final remark on Linux standards as a whole is that Linux holds an upper
hand when it comes to longevity of their standards as they are not
encumbered by the IP limitations imposed by a particular company and
therefore directly dependant on the company's longevity.


Sorry for the messy spill of thoughts, hopefully you'll get the main points
of my ideas. I am just too tired at this point to try to clean-up my prose.

I would really appreciate your thoughts as well as any potential additions
you may have. Many thanks!

Best wishes,

Ivica Ico Bukvic, composer & multimedia sculptor

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