Jack and ALSA should become standard Linux features

For my .net oriented readers this will have to be a little diversion to another world for you. I have been dabbling in an open source project for some time, the Demudi custom distribution of Debian. This distribution was created to provide a pro-audio capable version of Linux to support things like hard disk recording, mixing, post production, computer synthesis and other multimedia goals that the stock versions of Debian or most other Linux distributions don’t support.

Demudi contrasts other operating systems where audio functionality is part of proprietary code that tends to lead you to one camp and suite of commercial products or another. The system is built on two key parts of the architecture, Advanced Linux and Sound Architecture (ALSA) and Jack, a background process that runs with both super user and realtime privileges to route streams between applications and hardware. It also depends on modifications to the kernel that support the low latency and near realtime scheduling that make Jack work effectively. Hopefully that’s enough background to help you follow along with my arguments here.

I’ve been watching the changing world of the web and see some really important changes. Audio and video are now considered basic parts of any computer system. Debian with its roots in server operating systems never cared much about this but it is time for that to change. Basic ability to have multiple applications share a sound card has been available in Windows and MacOS since like forever. I mean watch a movie and your IM client beeps with a recorded sound. Basic functionality, chump change for any OS in 2006. Now that audio and video are daily parts of people’s computer experience, Linux systems must either embrace ALSA and Jack in the core distribution, or have a desktop base that does embrace this. The lessons learned from Demudi and others with the realtime enabled kernel must become the mainstream. All core audio applications in Linux should become Jack aware or be made compatible with a shim that makes it transparent for these applications to share the sound card. You could make a reasonable argument that the full functionality needed for a professional recording suite should not be needed for a desktop base but I would turn that upside down. If audio and video are basic parts of a desktop operating system, we may as well embrace that and give it a high priority. Literally! A the realtime priorities of the kernel are what must be embraced for all of this to work.

Because Linux is open source and places value on open protocols and standards, and because the internet depends on open protocols and standards, taking this action puts Linux in a forward facing position with these content types instead of the catch up position it seems to live in now. Combining a viable multimedia platform with the new network types like torrent networks is a killer multimedia platform. Because there are no barriers to using Linux with devices, appliances, and other commercially viable products, embracing this idea enables new products and business opportunities. At the very least it would make a distribution of Linux something others in my family could actually use where today it is not. I could never teach them to care enough to navigate


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