linux1_l Commercial music development on Linux is at a trickle, but a real gem as far as music production is now available: Renoise, the modern tracker tool.

Not only is Renoise a cult favorite for its unique approach to composition, but the Linux version looks to fully embrace Linux technologies. And that’s a big deal, because many music and audio users aren’t interested in Linux for political correctness. We want audio functionality and performance. Renoise promises:

  • ALSA support (the high-performance audio and MIDI system for Linux)
  • JACK audio support (for interconnecting application audio and other features)
  • LADSPA (the native, open Linux plug-in format)
  • Native Linux VST support

Renoise 1.9.1 Final and public Linux demo [Official announcement]

If you give Renoise a try on Linux, we’d love to hear about it. Renoise joins EnergyXT, another unique music creation tool — but hopefully with better native Linux support, which seemed a little less mature on EnergyXT.

Of course, “support” is an open question. We heard mixed feelings last summer when EnergyXT arrived on Linux. Part of the appeal of open source software is the ability for programmers to fix issues with code. Renoise supports Linux technologies, but it’s not open source. Still, if an application is fully supported — and you’re willing to pay the (low, in this case) price for that — I wonder if for-pay, closed software isn’t such a bad coupling with an open OS, after all.

The big question: will musicians adopt Linux, and will Linux users adopt (and pay for) payware apps. If they do, more apps could make the OS leap, too. Let us know what you’re using.

Thanks to Scott Meschke (who calls Renoise “awesome) and karhu (aka Niklas) for the tips!


Renoise 1.9 Music App Begins Beta; Why You Shouldn’t Overlook This Tracker


  • Linux audio is still quite a ways off. After this weekend I'm convinced it still isn't ready for prime-time. I spent several hours with 4 different Linux audio distributions and not one of them would install on my system. Each one had problems partitioning, some had graphics issues and conflicts with my card, etc.

    Now, I'm not suggesting that these systems – when they work – aren't solid. But the problem is that the all-in-one distributions need to be robust enough to install and go – the same way that one would expect of Windows XP or Mac OS. I shouldn't have to spend hours trying to figure out how to partition my drives, where or how to install a bootloader, etc. That should all happen behind the scenes.

    I may give it one more go this coming weekend, but this is my 4th time trying to get Linux to run (each time on a different type of machine) and I've never had an install that simply 'worked' as advertised.

  • I feel your pain, Symbiotic, but I've had some luck with Ubuntu — and you'll notice that's what's getting run above. So I wonder if sound-specific distros are really the right answer.

    Anyway, I agree that ultimately performance is the bottom line. There are times when Windows doesn't install and go — even times when Linux trumps Windows in ease of installation — but your mileage will in fact vary. (I've also had more trouble with Linux bootloaders on Mac than on PC, by the way, Intel Mac or no.)

  • I tried UbuntuStudio, 64Studio, JackLab (JAD1.0) and Ubuntu standard. No dice on any of them.

    I recognize that Windows and Mac OS have their issues – but never in my computing history have I been continually dogged by installation issues as I have with Linux. In my mind, that is the key component keeping Linux on the fringe right now.

  • And I can never figure out why half my posts show up as Symbiotic and half show up as me! 😉

  • There are still way too many problems Linux has which prevent it to grow as quick as it could:

    1. People which are involved in open source software development are often very naive. They think they will be able to support their own project just for the idea. Sometimes it does work when you have a good job and some free time. But for those who have a family, some other things to do… Developers come and go. Most software never reaches version 1.0. And even the best of the best projects do not have much regular updates. I know because I was one of such people, and yes I had to drop two projects.

    2. The kernel is not really suitable for binary-only drivers, the driver that was made for 2.6.10 won't likely work on 2.6.11. This makes it hard for hardware companies to deliver drivers, and most will not open-source them. So people have to develop their own open source drivers, and again face problem #1 above.

    3. Most of the stuff is very, very poorly designed. Really complex interfaces, ugly graphics, illogical behavior of dialogs… Stuff done by "coders", people who know how their stuff works but do not bother whether it is easy to use for others. Things change quickly with GNOME, which looks very promising.

    4. People just expect everything to be free. But it's like communism: it's just not possible at this point in time, it just won't work.

    How can I say all this? Well, I've been on Linux for 4 years. Linux only: for internet tasks, design and publishing, and of course audio. During these 4 years, nothing much changed, due to these problems and some others as well.

    So when could afford, I bough a Mac, and I got the best system I can imagine. Still a UNIX I can trust, but a very stable, dependable, thoroughly thought out, beautifully designed, amazing platform.

    Thank you Apple!

  • Hmmm; I can't agree with everything there, Artemiy.

    1. That's true … but that can happen with proprietary development, too. The upside with open source development is the code is at least out there for someone else to pick up. There are mature and immature, supported and unsupported projects really regardless of whether something is open source or not. CDM runs on open source software, so we'd be really hypocritical to dismiss open source in general.

    2. That is in fact an issue, though some would ask why drivers need to be closed-source in the first place.

    3. If we're talking Linux's UI itself at the OS level, then fair enough. But there's nothing about GNOME or KDE that says you have to do bad UI design with it. Apple's UI toolkits do tend to help steer UI designers toward good design, but ultimately that comes down to the developer taking responsibility for designing well.

    4. Well, some things *are* free that work pretty darned well … but yeah, I agree that *expecting* it doesn't make it so.

    I hear your frustration, though, and you're not alone — I've heard very few people really happy as end users on Linux making music. So there's clearly still some stuff missing.

    And I'm not necessarily advocating Linux here — curious about what real-world experiences are, and unfortunately, you're another case of the answer being "not terribly good."

  • jade

    I think this is perhaps the singel biggest thing needed for linux to get main stream – commercial apps (and games). I'm curently dualbooting windows for that reason only, as is lots and lots of people.

    Concerning ease of istallation I feel its no different from windows, just a matter of were in the installation process the problems show up. In windows they tend to come from nowere later on but in linux they come at once.

    Now I'm of to ubuntu and testing renoise.

  • Linux is not meant for audio. Linux is not meant for desktop applications period. It's a server OS–and as a server OS, it's amazing.

    Nonetheless, I highly admire the folks who are hammering away at the OS, trying to beat it into shape as a desktop/general-use operating system. Perhaps someday Linux audio apps will actually be able to hold a candle when compared to Win or Mac apps.

    Regardless of platform, though, Renoise is AMAZING. Best audiosoft I've ever used–and sooooo worth the price.

  • Wait a minute here. The UNIX subsystems on Mac OS X were a server OS. Windows XP/Vista as we now know it is descended from Windows NT — a server OS. In fact, in both cases the previous "server" OS supplanted the previous "desktop" OS because it turns out the desktop users benefited from server features for stability, security, memory mangement, and managing multiple users.

    In fact, the middleware necessary to run desktop OSes is also often a source of problems on Mac OS and Windows. I don't disagree that Linux's server strengths right now continue to outweigh its desktop strengths, or even that these two sets of users are different (like graphics card support on the desktop, for instance). But I don't necessarily see a fundamental distinction. And the unfortunate truth is, when we use desktop OSes for low-latency, high-performance audio, we're often beyond what the OSes were "meant for" in the first place. I think this next generation of desktop operating systems will — if we're lucky — go beyond what desktop OSes do now. If anything, I'm disappointed that so many in the Linux community just want to duplicate what Mac OS and Windows do already — and sometimes, what they already do poorly.

  • Hrm… leaving the zealotry about FOSS/GNU/Commercial-Sofware aside, I am starting to wonder why the feedback is in general so negative.

    Renoise is a great piece of software that takes the experience of music production on linux to a completely new level. since most linux audio tools are either highly academic, too specific/experimental or generally geared to multitrack-recording only. the release of renoise has quite an impact to the scene of music producers that are not happy with a complete windows/osx based workstation/desktop-solution. the number of those people shouldnt be underestimated – they might not be your next favorite professsional producer but they are there, otherwise the linux-audio-landscape wouldnt flourish that much.

    regarding the installation issues – sorry but look at how many people are using ubuntu, although they aren't computer nerds and not fancy about tech-shit. they all managed to install it on their various hardware systems. if yours

    has some esotheric hardware that disallows it – bummer, but don't blame it on the system, the culture, the mindset or the people that invested their efforts and time (mostly for free) to create such beautiful pieces of software that make a distribution up.

    regarding the neverending "server only debate". check your numbers and compare the latency of a rt-patched linux-kernel against your favorite os. and then look how many embedded (and professional audio-production-devices) run on linux – including the automobile industry where latency issues or anything like that in your beloved e.g. bmw would be fatal. there is a cause why you can modify and compile your kernel to your needs (or get an optimized kernel via your distribution).

    regarding the pro-class audio tools: the plugin stuff is messy currently, yes. there is dssi, ladspa, ladspaV2 and vst/vsti (you can also run windows ones) I guess it will take a while until that scenario boils down to one commonly adapted standard. on the other hand all those standards are open and there are plenty of tools that allow connecting them in various manners (jackrack, jost,…). but such standards pay off, look at jack, you don't get a comparable tool out of the box (&for free) on other platforms (yes, there is soundflower and jackdmp, but that isnt a _standard_ that is widely adopted). try to control pure-data from renoise on windows, for example: you either need jackdmp (which still got some issues) or hope that the renoise devs adopt rewire (or hope your asio-driver supports some nifty features and patch it physically). in the linux environment applications are meant to interact in such a way via jack (audio&control-data), that's why all new applications support it.

    and because jack plays nicely with alsa you get low-latency drivers for even trashy on-board audio hardware and don't have to install asio4all or anything like that, in fact, if your distribution is halfway sane, you never have to install any drivers if your hardware isnt bleeding edge or your new hardware supports open standards and you do an e.g. "apt-get upgrade" once or twice a year.

    so for my (possibly biased) point of view it is mostly people that "do not mean to use linux for audio" (which is ok) and not that linux isnt meant for audio.

    pam pam

  • Steve Lindsay

    Just to balance out some of the opinions here, linux+audio has worked well for me for quite awhile now. Ardour in particular is great, and the ability to fling audio between different apps via Jack is brilliant.

    I think if you're not experienced with linux then the "not ready for the prime-time" stuff is not really very helpful. Windows has a long way to go before it'll be ready for me to use, doesn't mean it's not fine for others.

  • Aaghaaz

    I'm very willing to pay for entertainment, such as movies, or games, but never for software that I will use as a tool. That's my major beef with the GPL, that it actually allows the selling and restricting of software/source code. To me, free software doesn't just mean open-source, it means that the software should come at absoluetly no charge, and no one should be allowed to take the work that the community has developed for itself and sell it.

  • Vincent Voois

    For as far as Linux and Audio, the only thing i can say that really make a difference if we speak about mature platform for audio is that Windows has a long way to go in terms of latency whereas Linux and Mac hardly show these issues. Specially on the MIDI area Linux and Mac OS still excel Vista by miles. (And Vista is going to be a big fat failure, at least not such a success as Microsoft hoped it would be)

  • Michail

    Maybe thats a reason to check out Renoise a little bit more… I always had the feeling, that its a programm for making breakcore and such only.

    My dream would be Ableton on Linux though.

  • If you want to see the current state of things in Linux audio, you may want to drop by for the Linux Audio Conference end of Feb. in Cologne, Germany. See for details. There will be 3 concerts and 4 days of talks plus a soundart exhibition. The talks will be streamed as audio and video. See ya!

    Your LAC2008 team.

  • I've been using Linux for audio production for quite a while now, and I wouldn't want to miss it anymore. Using pure-data in combination with any other (jack-aware) music application is just pure gold. Jack is the best thing, that can happen to a producer like me (yes.. I am a bit nerdy, but that doesn't make my opinion less relevant, I guess).

    Renoise is an awesome application. I've bought it in my Windows days and using it on Linux now is just great.

  • Kyran

    I am definitely going to try out Renoise. They'll probably get me as a new customer because of their linux release.

  • very interesting. I don't know much about trackers. can renoize work without a grid, without quantisation? that is major for me.

  • I just tried Renoise, I am not acquainted with it though. I use Linux (Kubuntu) for everything, but music. So far my musical experiences with linux are not so successful (soundcard drivers and rt-kernel…) but I am really amazed about having renoise in my linux machine, and working without doing anything but uncompressing the .tar archive.

  • Vincent: I don't think Windows is significantly behind in "latency" for anyone using ASIO (or now, if you can find them, WaveRT) drivers. Yes, the old DirectX driver model, the consumer model, is awful, but Linux hasn't historically had anything like Mac OS' single Core Audio driver, either. But the bottom line is that real-world latency on any of these three platforms is dependent on a lot of variables.

    As for Vista, the MIDI jitter bug was resolved in SP1. The verdict is still out about other performance issues; I haven't seen hard numbers. But the equivalent on Linux would be, you're likely to disable some of the newer eye candy and more experimental stuff — the stuff the blogosphere has gone nuts about for reasons I really don't understand — when doing music production.

    I think there are other reasons to choose Linux — the ability to run a music-specific distribution, for instance, supported by a community of like-minded individuals is something that's only on Linux. And there's the fact that that community has the ability to adjust the code to get a fix — rather than needing to beg Apple or Microsoft.

    But if you expect something as complex as better audio performance on Linux, you're likely to be disppointed. I even know people who made the switch to Mac OS with similar magical expectations who were disappointed.

  • Oh, Dave — one thing to try would be actually NOT using the real time kernel. Relevant to Vincent's comment about Windows, it's actually possible with a good driver setup and the default kernel to get the amount of performance you'd need without defaulting to the RT kernel — particularly if you don't have the drivers to support it.

  • I try, as best I can, to base my opinion on personal experience, rather than anecdotal evidence. The number of users successfully using Ubuntu (or any other Linux distro) is irrelevant to me if I can't get it running on my systems. As previously mentioned, I've tried on four difference machines – some older, some brand-spanking new with high-quality and mainstream components – and have never once had a successful and fully-functional install. Is it the fault of the system or the fault of the OS? To me, the point is moot. The fact is that it simply hasn't worked for me, and as a professional user – someone whose income is dependent upon functional systems (i.e. I don't get paid to spend days attempting to install Linux – I do it out of my own masochistic tendencies!) I just can't afford to keep wasting my time with it.

    It isn't for want of desire though – I'd LOVE to check out Renoize, Ardour, and some of the other Linux audio software. It simply isn't practical for me at this stage.

    But it is making huge strides, and I'll continue to attempt an install probably about once a year or so – just long enough for the wounds to heal. 😉

  • Conner

    Personal experience is by definition anecdotal evidence.

    Linux users are statistically significant.

    You may be paid to use a system, just like a race car driver is paid to drive a car, but at the end of the day the racer is merely a well trained individual using tools built by countless others, involved in "cars" as much or more than the racer.

    Sucks that your experience with Linux was unpleasant, but the landscape OS is constantly changing. Linux is an interesting offering on that landscape, always on the horizon of change.

    Also, nothing is stopping you from checking out Renoise. It runs on Windows/OS X *and* Linux.

    Good times.

  • Once upon a time (and not so long ago, actually), Digidesign released ProTools for Windows. The world was thrilled. The world was excited.

    Then Digidesign mentioned that they would support PT on one and only one hardware system – I recall it was a single overpriced model from IBM – and no other systems were certified to be used with PT.

    I understand the frustrations and positions taken by people for whom 1 or more Linux distributions fail to install on their hardware. I would just ask them to remember that the proprietary systems they rely on for their income (or that many of them do) have often come with restrictions on whether they can run on "your system". At least for some time. I believe that Digi still has a fairly narrow set of hard drives that are officially certified for use with ProTools, though perhaps this has changed now that SATA has changed the landscape rather drastically.

    It would be wonderful if we could just guarantee that Linux would install smoothly and function perfectly on every piece of hardware out there. Too often, hardware manufacturers don't help us, and the end result is that there are several real cases where problems arise. Were you to buy a machine for this purpose from a suitable vendor, you wouldn't encounter this issue. However, I understand that you'd like to try Linux on the hardware you already have, otherwise its of no interest.

    Keep on hanging on, since the Linux audio environment gets better week by week, and eventually you'll find a suitable conjuction of lack of hassle and sufficient motivation to make it worthwhile for you too.

  • Well, wait a minute, Paul — I hear you, but that's a comparison of Linux audio to Pro Tools. We've got people happily using really heterogenous setups — hardware and software alike — on Windows and Mac, and one of the reasons is that there's excellent hardware and software support on those platforms. These are systems without the restrictions Digidesign imposes. That's not to say there aren't restrictions on the source code, but that's a very different issue for most end users. And, on the flipside, it's the reason we run open source software on Windows and Mac, too.

    Personally, I'd like to see more open source driver support on all three platforms — I think the rising tide would, um, lift all three OSes. But I don't know the specifics there; I expect at least some of these driver developers have used code or libraries that can't be fully open sourced legally without some rewriting, and they may not have the resources to do that. But I don't know the specifics — I'd be curious to hear.

    Anyway, I can't see comparing either open source Linux or commercial Windows/Mac platforms to Pro Tools; I think Digidesign has a unique model that no one else has fully emulated (or, perhaps, *wanted* to emulate … seems to work for Digi alone, for better or for worse).

  • eagle

    "2. The kernel is not really suitable for binary-only drivers, the driver that was made for 2.6.10 won’t likely work on 2.6.11. This makes it hard for hardware companies to deliver drivers, and most will not open-source them. So people have to develop their own open source drivers, and again face problem #1 above."

    This is absolutely as intended. And it makes it easier, not harder, for hardware companies to support the kernel. Instead of releasing a new driver for every Windows version (such as Windows 95,98,ME,NT,2000,XP, and so on…), the hardware company releases one open source driver that will be updated for compatibility with each kernel release, by the open source community. The hardware company also has the option of simply releasing the hardware specifications and the driver will be written for them, by the open source community. For the end user, they can buy Linux-supported hardware and know it will continue to be supported in future OS versions, even if the hardware company does not support those versions. In the Windows world, when the hardware company stops releasing new driver versions for future Windows OS versions, then you're often stuck with hardware that will simply not work any more!

    I am curious how you have been working with Linux for four years, Artemiy, and missed this key point.

  • That's generally true, eagle, except that the Windows driver model hasn't changed with each release. Vista clearly broke some previously-functioning drivers, but not every Windows release has. Then again, as I said before, I think this makes a decent argument for open source Windows drivers … and at the very least can't be read as an indictment of the Linux kernel, so long as you buy into the argument for the need for open sourcing the drivers.

    And there's always the non-real-time kernel, which some people seem to be pretty happy with.

  • Peter, my point was not to directly compare Linux and ProTools. My real point was that even systems that people now consider "standard" for "commercial" work sometimes start out in a state where the restrictions on what they will work with seem too much for some users. PT on Windows is now ubiquitous in the broadcast world, even though when it first came out it was a complete PITA. Linux is much further along the curve of usability and system compatibility, and I suspect that most of the "it won't run on my system" objections will be gone in 12-18 months.

  • Ah, okay, I follow you now. But you have to admit, people are going to be wary of any promises for what may work in the future, just because they've heard them before. I suppose what we should hasten to add here for those who don't read regularly is that Paul happens to be close to just those development efforts. And yes, my sense is that the support situation is improving in material ways, not just theoretical ones.

  • Peter: re: drivers: Linus has said over and over that the driver API breakage is *intentional*. He doesn't want companies getting comfortable with the idea that they can just release binary drivers and everything will work around that choice to keep things stable. The kernel crowd want two things (in the following order): (1) the ability to keep improving internal interfaces within the kernel so that its development is not hog-tied by internal (binary-level driver) back-compatibility and (2) to encourage as many drivers as possible to be open source.

    As you are no doubt aware, companies like Nvidia and ATI "work around" (2) by releasing stub drivers that simply glue their (windows-based) code to a very minimal subset of kernel functionality, and they allow the user to recompile the stubs to work with their particular (customized) kernel. This is not, from the kernel developers perspective, an ideal situation, but it keeps most people sufficiently un-distressed that it could be said to be "a solution".

  • eagle

    To: Derek C. F. Pegritz

    To comment on where you said, "Linux is not meant for desktop applications period. It’s a server OS"

    Actually, Linus created Linux as a desktop OS. I heard a recent interview where he emphasized that he mostly cares about Linux on the desktop, and he never really cared very much about Linux on the servers. He said most developers for Linux get involved because they enjoy controlling their own workspace environment.

    People have these terrible misconceptions about the Linux environment — We do a disservice to the amazing power of Free Software when we limit the expectations of what it can do.

  • Vadim P.

    Great news. I'll give Renoise a try 🙂

  • ian

    i absolutely love linux audio, jack is the best thing since sliced bread, and this news of renoise is pretty badass. unfortunately since there's not the funding on a lot of projects comparable to win/mac apps. it'll just never get taken as seriously, since as people have mentioned, free/opensource stuff can progress at crawls, just because of the other responsibilities the developers have to deal with. no worries, just means more Pd/ardour/jack/supercollider/freej/etc. for me 😀

    and if i can respond to symbiotic for a minute, most of the benefits of linux come from its flexibility – it's not windows or OSX where you're meant to just "install and go", you need to tweak it a bit for your system, and sometimes newer machines have problems that haven't been addressed yet (when i got this 'vista ready' gateway laptop last fall, i couldn't get any sound in linux – or even XP!)

    forums + IRC + google are your friends in this situation (and in my case, the linux issues were resolved before the XP ones!)

    i wish other developers would go the route of renoise and give us multiplatform support, beyond the typical win/osx offerings. i'm also an avid linux gamer too (anyone up for some true combat: elite?)

  • stijn gysemans

    it works fantastic!

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  • I've been practically begging for a Linux version of Renoise for years. I'm very excited that it is finally here! 🙂 I hope other vendors will follow their example some day (hello Ableton and NI!)

    When I read most of the comments here the general sentiment seems to be that Linux is for nerds only and not well-suited for Audio stuff. I don't agree, but even if that would be true it is a short-sighted thing to say. I've used Linux since 1995 and I've seen it (and the community around it) grow exponentially over time.

    10 years ago nobody, except the nerds, even heard of Linux

    8 years ago, Linux "was not stable and secure enough to handle real workloads, unlike UNIX."

    6 years ago, Linux "didn't have the support and backing of ISV's and hardware manufacturers"

    4 years ago, Linux was something for servers, not for desktops.

    2 years ago, Linux on a desktop only made sense for basic needs, like email and webbrowsing.

    Today lots of people, not just nerds, are at least trying out Linux. Some go back to Windows or OSX, some stay.

    Can you imagine how the landscape will look like in 2 or 4 years from now? A lot can happen in that timeframe! And if you follow the recent developments in FOSS land you would be excited too.

  • I recently acruired a little v200 thinkpad w/ a 12" 1280×800 screen. I installed Ubuntu Studio, and I am rocking the linux Renoise demo. I can finally track on-the-go; Schism Tracker, too.

    The only speedbump I ran into was having to install the realtime kernel to get Renoise to run without severe latency and choppy sound issues. The difference between the standard and realtime kernel is night-and-day, including the display drawing/refresh rate. I am not certain if the rt kernel is necessary for everyone, or just necessary for my hardware configuration, but it is definitely something to keep in mind for all you n00bs out there!