Picking A linux Distribution – 64Studio

If you are “going open source” for the first time the sheer volume of information to sift through can seem unmanageable. One of the first decisions you will have to make is which distribution to use. I’ve taken time to investigate several distributions and from what I can tell 64Studio (developed by free) is the most stable and full featured distro that is focused on media centric creative tasks.**

Notable features of 64Studio:

  1. RT-Kernel – Without a real time kernel time critical I/O operations can be delayed and cause problems. Luckily 64Studio ships with an RT kernel so all your time critical operations will be prioritized. This isn’t anything that the end user will (usually) need to do anything about.
  2. Based on Ubuntu – 64Studio is based on ubuntu. Ubuntu is one of the most popular and visible linux distributions out there. Basing 64Studio on Ubuntu was a great move by free because it provides a larger base for end user technical support (aka user forums and newsgroups). A problem with many smaller linux distributions is that the community just isn’t large enough to have the active user forums. This can make finding solutions to technical problems difficult. This problem is significantly mitigated in 64Studio because many problems will be common between 64studio and Ubuntu. Please note that while 64Studio and Ubuntu have many similarities there are also significant differences. It is always best to seek information first from 64Studio forums/newsgroups before looking at Ubuntu community resources.
  3. Bundled Software / Drivers- 64Studio has the same great hardware support* as ubuntu. This means that most common hardware peripherals work out of the box. Additionally 64Studio comes with JACK installed. JACK will be discussed in a future thread in more details but basically it allows for inter-application audio and midi routing. It is similar to ReWire in functionality but instead of having support built in at the Application level JACK routes at the OS level. What this means is that ANY application that sends/receives audio/midi data can be routed to any other application. JACK provides support for FFADO and ALSA drivers for audio interfaces.  As always you should check linux compatibility before buying new hardware. 64Studio also comes with a bunch of software (DAW/Sampler/Audio Routing Software…etc) already installed.
  4. PDK – The Platform Developement Kit allows anyone to create a “custom” linux distribution based on 64Studio that is tailored specifically to ones needs. Although I have not yet experimented with this personally the chatter about it on the forums has been almost completely positive.
  5. Active and responsive developement – This isn’t exactly a feature but I felt it was important to list. Free Software the developer of 64Studio seems to be VERY quick to respond to bug reports and feature requests. Currently the third version of 64Studio is in beta. Since February there have been 3 beta releases. Having a responsible and responsive developer at the other end was the number one consideration for me when choosing which distro to go with. I feel confident that Free will continue to provide an excellent product in the months and years ahead.

Although 64Studio was my ultimate choice for this project there were several distributions that I tried out along the way.

  1. Debian – Didn’t like the feel of debian all that much but I only used it for a short time before moving on to Ubuntu.
  2. Ubuntu – This has the obvious benefit of being one of the most widely used linux distributions in the world. Ultimately, it’s not really made for media centric creative tasks.
  3. Ubuntu Studio – This “flavor” of Ubuntu is somewhat similar to 64Studio but the developement seems to be dead. Still it might be worth a look. The version that I tried looked fairly polished and had many of the same applications bundled with it as 64Studio. It comes with JACK pre-installed as well. I also believe that Ubuntu Studio runs on an RT kernel.

** DISCLAIMER – Although 64studio is very impressive I’ve still had my share of headaches setting up my Macbook Pro. The 2.1 version doesn’t install at all on the MBP and the 3.0 version is still in beta. If you are experimenting with linux you may have better luck with a PC. Some of my testing was done on a PC Desktop.

~ by contractcooker on April 27, 2009.

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