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Do something nice for a change

October 6th, 2010 1 comment

Open source software (OSS) is great. It’s powerful, community focused and, lets face it, free. There is not a single day that goes by that I don’t use OSS. Between Firefox, Linux Mint, Thunderbird, Pidgin, Pinta, Deluge, FileZilla and many, many more there is hardly ever an occasion where I find myself in a situation where there isn’t an OSS tool for the job. Unfortunately for all of the benefits that OSS brings me in my daily life I find, in reflection, that I hardly ever do anything to contribute back. What’s worse is that I know I am not alone in this. Many OSS users out there just use the software because it happens to be the best for them. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, many of these individuals could be contributing back. Now obviously I don’t expect everyone, or even half for that matter, to contribute back but I honestly do think that the proportion of people who do contribute back could be much higher.

Why should I?

This is perhaps the easiest to answer. While you don’t have to contribute back, you should if you want to personally make the OSS you love even better.

How to I contribute?

Contributing to a project is incredibly easy. In fact in the vast majority of cases you don’t need to write code, debug software or even do much more than simply use the software in question. What do I mean by this? Well the fact that we here on The Linux Experiment write blog posts praising (or tearing to shreds supplying constructive criticism) to various OSS projects is one form of contributing. Did I lose you? Every time you mention an OSS project you bring attention to it. This attention in turn draws more users/developers to the project and grows it larger. Tell your family, write a blog post, digg stories about OSS or just tell your friends about “this cool new program I found”.

There are many other very easy ways to help out as well. For instance if you notice the program is doing something funky then file a bug. It’s a short process that is usually very painless and quickly brings real world results. I have found that it is also a very therapeutic way to get back at that application that just crashed and lost all of your data. Sometimes you don’t even have to be the one to file it, simply bringing it up in a discussion, such as a forum post, can be enough for others to look into it for you.

Speaking of forum posts, answering new users’ questions about OSS projects can be an excellent way to both spread use of the project and identify problems that new users are facing. The latter could in turn be corrected through subsequent bug or feature requests. Along the same lines, documentation is something that some OSS projects are sorely missing. While it is not the most glamorous job, documentation is key to providing an excellent experience to a first time user. If you know more than one language I can’t think of a single OSS project that couldn’t use your help making translations so that people all over the world can begin to use the software.

For the artists among us there are many OSS projects that could benefit from a complete artwork makeover. As a programmer myself I know all to well the horrors of developer artwork. Creating some awesome graphics, icons, etc. for a project can make a world of difference. Or if you are more interested in user experience and interface design there are many projects that could also benefit from your unique skills. Tools like Glade can even allow individuals to create whole user interfaces without writing a single line of code.

Are you a web developer? Do you like making pretty websites with fancy AJAX fluff? Offer to help the project by designing an attractive website that lures visitors to try the software. You could be the difference between this and this (no offense to the former).

If you’ve been using a particular piece of software for a while, and feel comfortable trying to help others, hop on over to the project’s IRC channel. Help new users troubleshoot their problems and offer suggestions of solutions that have work for you. Just remember: nothing turns off a new user like an angry IRC asshat.

Finally if you are a developer take a look at the software you use on a daily basis. Can you see anything in it that you could help change? Peruse their bug tracker and start picking off the low priority or trivial bugs. These are often issues that get overlooked while the ‘full time’ developers tackle the larger problems. Squashing these small bugs can help to alleviate the 100 paper cuts syndrome many users experience while using some OSS.

Where to start

Depending on how you would like to contribute your starting point could be pretty much anywhere. I would suggest however that you check out your favourite OSS project’s website. Alternatively jump over to an intermediary like OpenHatch that aggregates all of the help postings from a variety of projects. OpenHatch actually has a whole community dedicated to matching people who want to contribute with people who need their help.

I don’t expect anyone, and certainly not myself, to contribute back on a daily basis. I will however personally start by setting a recurring event in my calendar that reminds me to contribute, in some way or another, every week or month. If we all did something similar imagine the rapid improvements we could see in a short time.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Ubuntu 14.04.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.

My Search for the Best Audio Editing Software

October 6th, 2010 7 comments

Lately, I’ve been doing some audio recording. In addition to a couple of podcasts that I work on, I occasionally like to record my own musical compositions. While there seems to be no shortage of high-end audio editing applications on either Windows or Mac, the situation on Linux is a bit more sparse. Faced with some frustration, I went out and downloaded a number of linux-based audio editors. I used Wikipedia to find the software in the tests below, and following are my totally subjective and highly biased reviews of each.

Each piece of software was used to edit some raw recordings from a podcast that I have been involved with lately. This source material is almost 100% spoken word, with some music and sound effects sprinkled throughout. It’s important to note these details, as your needs may vary drastically depending on the type of audio project that you’re working on.

Audacity:

The Audacity Project is kind of the Linux standard for non-professional audio editing. It was the first application that I tried to use, mainly because I was familiar with earlier versions of the program that I had once used back in my Windows days. Audacity includes a great number of features that make it ideal for post-processing of any audio project, including a wide array of effects, some great noise generators, and a few analysis tools that make it perfect for cleaning up your finished file before publication.

Audacity audio editor with a demo project loaded

Audacity audio editor with a demo project loaded

Unfortunately, I found that it lacked a usable GUI for editing podcast material. In particular, it seems to be missing the ability to edit a single track in a multi-track project without unduly affecting the other tracks.By default, if you use the selection tool to grab a portion of audio that ought to be deleted from one track in the project, it seems to delete that portion of audio from all tracks in the project.

I found this out the hard way when I played back the master track that I had assembled my finished podcast on, only to find out that significant portions of the audio had mysteriously gone missing at some point during the editing process.

To make matters worse, I closed the application, lost the undo record for the project, and had to start the editing process from the beginning.

This lack of GUI polish also exhibits itself in the way that you can interact with the audio tracks themselves. Unlike in most DAW solutions, a portion of audio that has been clipped out of a larger track cannot seemingly be moved around in the project by clicking on it and dragging it across the stage with the mouse. At least I couldn’t figure out how to do it, and ended up relying heavily on my cut, copy, and paste functions to edit my project. This is a poor way to work on a project of any kind of complexity, and makes projects that rely on audio loops a pain to assemble.

Ardour:

Where Audacity is suited more towards hobbyist recording setups, Ardour aims to be a professional audio solution that is capable of competing with mainstream software like ProTools. It is a fully featured audio suite that can allegedly do most everything that you may require, but as such, can also confuse the hell out of first-time users with its complicated GUI and lengthy manual.

Granted, this is hardly a slight to the project, because it really isn’t suited to my needs. It is a pro-level audio environment that can be used as the centrepiece to a full recording studio or stage

Ardour wants sole control of my audio interface

Ardour wants sole control of my audio interface

show. If you just want to edit a podcast, it may not be the tool for you. As such, if the GUI seems challenging and you find the documentation to be long-winded, you may just be using the wrong tool for the job.

The biggest issue that I had with this piece of software was getting it to run at all on my machine. It uses JACK to attach itself to your audio interfaces in the name of providing a perfect sampling environment that doesn’t get slowed down by having to share the interface with other pieces of software.

Unfortunately, this means that in order to use it, I had to quit all other processes that are capable of generating sound, including this web browser. This is a pain if you are trying to run Ardour in a multi-application environment, or need to reference the internet for anything while working.

After reading the introductory documentation and adjusting the settings in the startup dialog for about 15 minutes, I simply gave up on Ardour without ever managing to get into a workspace. It seems to be far too complicated for my needs, and doesn’t seem worth my time. Your mileage may vary.

Jokosher:

From the moment that I started reading about this project, I like the sound of it. Jokosher is a multi-track recoding and editing environment built on top of Python and GStreamer that was

Jokosher may look cartoony, but it may be exactly what you need for small projects

Jokosher may look cartoony, but it may be exactly what you need for small projects

created by a podcaster who was unsatisfied with the audio editing tools that were available on Linux. The application focuses on being easy enough to use that non-technical people like musicians can pick it up and get their ideas down with minimal hassle. Think of it as Garage Band for Linux.

Indeed, just as the website promised, I was able to get a working environment set up in a matter of minutes. The editing tools allow for splitting the audio, grabbing it and moving it around, and non-destructively editing multiple tracks at the same time (I’m looking at you, Audacity). The GUI also has a beautiful polish to it that, although a tad cartoony, really makes the program look and feel simple. For editing something like a podcast, I’m not sure that this application can be beat.

The only issue that I encountered in my short time using Jokosher was with its support of LADSPA plugins. These are free audio plugins that can be used to apply effects to the different tracks of your audio project. When I tried to use them from within the application, it instructed me to download some from my repositories. Upon checking Synaptic, I saw that I already had a number of them downloaded. Even after installing more, the program did not seem to pick them up.

All in all, this project lived up to its hype, and I will most certainly take some time to break it in, and may write a more in-depth review once I get used to it. If you’re doing podcasting, you owe it to yourself to check this app out.

In Conclusion:

Each of the three applications that I tried to work with while writing this piece deserve your respect. The underlying audio framework of most Linux systems is a veritable rats’ nest of subsystems, platforms, daemons, plugins and helper applications. I would wager a significant amount of money on this situation as the reason that we don’t have ProTools and its ilk on our platform of choice. I’ve done a little bit of work with GStreamer, and even it, as perhaps the prettiest and best supported of all audio libraries on the platform, left me scratching my head at times.

When choosing audio software, it’s important to keep in mind that you need a tool that’s uniquely suited to your project. Since I’m editing podcasts and fooling around with drum loops and samples of my guitars, Jokosher does just about everything that I need and more. I may use Audacity for post-production, or to record my source audio (simply because I haven’t tried recording in Jokosher yet – I know that Audacity works), because it falls somewhere in between a simple editing tool and an advanced platform. Ardour, meanwhile, is probably suited towards the more hard-core audio engineer slash system administrator types who are so fanatic about recording quality that they are willing to sacrifice an entire box for running their DAW software. It’s simply more power than the majority of hobbyist enthusiasts really needs.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.