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A Linux Day of Gratitude
Many Reasons to be Happy
June 10, 2009
I was toiling into the night on my studio computer (which is a dedicated machine for audio recording and managing digital photos) and I had one of those "wow, this is really excellent" moments. It's an average PC that runs Kubuntu 8.04LTS with special tweaks for audio production: a real-time kernel, the JACK low-latency sound server, and special libraries like FFmpeg and LAME.
I'm writing a book on doing audio production with Audacity (coming soon! Buy early, buy often!) and Audacity, like much of FOSS, is a moving target. I stick with Kubuntu 8.04LTS because I ran into some problems with the later versions and don't have time right now to deal with them, or even file intelligent bug reports. But it has only Audacity 1.3.4, and I wanted 1.3.7 because it includes a wonderful feature that I want for myself and for the book: an integrated FFmpeg exporter.
Why is this a big deal? Because it provides a nice pointy-clicky menu for exporting audio files to closed, proprietary, and patent-encumbered audio formats. Audacity is GPL so it cannot include support for these. So it has always had an export option for "external program" to handle this; which I think is a wonderful, elegant method for dealing with the thorny legal issues that weigh down so many audio codecs. All you had to do was install any encoder of your choice, and then run the appropriate commands from inside Audacity. But the hangup was knowing what commands to use, and they can get pretty complex. Not an insurmountable hurdle, and once you know which command options do what you want it's just copy-and-paste. But initially it is more work.(Figure 1 shows the old way.)
Getting a Newer Version
There are a couple of ways to get Audacity 1.3.4. I could grab the source tarball and build from sources. I could look for a backport. I could install a different Linux version that has it. I opted for installing a new Linux because it also gives me the opportunity to check out a different distro. OK so the one I chose isn't so very different-- Ubuntu 9.04 with KDE4, Gnome, XFCE, and a couple of other desktop environments. I have two hard drives with something like a gazillionbytes of storage, so I used GParted to create a 60-gigabyte partition for the new installation.
I already had an installation CD, so in twenty minutes I had a nice new dual-boot Buntu machine. An hour later, because I have old slow DSL, I had all the updates, a batch of extra desktops and games, a new RT kernel and headers, and a big batch of audio libraries and applications.
What other operating system lets you do that? Free/Open/NetBSD. Any others? Not that I know of. It's easy. It's fast. For the user it's as free as can be-- I don't have to worry about the license police, or having enough money, or phoning home to the mothership for permission to do what I want with my computers. I don't have to hassle with proprietary software vendors who lose all of what little motivation they ever had to please their customers after they've made the sale. Even better, I don't have to waste my life fighting with corporate overlords who have their own plans for what I can do with my own computers. Therefore I nominate today, and every day, as Linux/FOSS Gratitude Day.
Carla Schroder is the author of the Linux Cookbook and the Linux Networking Cookbook (O'Reilly Media), the upcoming "Building a Digital Sound Studio with Audacity" (NoStarch Press), a lifelong book lover, and the managing editor of LinuxPlanet and Linux Today.