Is Linux Good For Multimedia?

The computer is the most ingenious device man kind invented as far as the world of multimedia and digital entertainment is concerned. The lifeline of the computer has been altered in tremendous ways with the advent of multimedia applications. Hardware has been revamped, high performance processors have been designed, software has been optimized and people themselves have begun to demand more out of computes solely because we all like to have fun with our digital partners!

Multimedia, What Is It?

The universe of multimedia spans from text, graphics, animation, audio, video, to interactive media such as video games. The newspapers and magazines you read everyday embody the particular flavor of multimedia known as text and graphics. Audio and video multimedia reach our senses through music and movies. The computer however, has managed to bring all these forms of entertainment into a confined space that fits comfortably atop your desk.

Because computer scientists foresaw the potential in the field of digital entertainment, a separate branch in computer science is dedicated to the study of multimedia applications. This particular science focuses basically on optimizing computer hardware such as the processor, video card, display units, developing operating systems that support efficient running of multimedia applications, as well as designing and building state-of-the-art multimedia application software.

The Choice of Operating Systems

Running multimedia applications on a computer requires a high performance operating system mediating between the hardware and the application software. The most dominant operating systems in the market at present are Microsoft Windows, Linux flavors and Apple MacOS. Although Microsft has  long since held the upper hand over other operating system vendors in terms of market share, Apple has always been the front runner in providing the most suited operating system for multimedia applications. Linux operating system, however has a rich diversity with respect to user requirements. For instance, RedHat Linux is a commercial operating system designed mainly for industrial computer systems running in networked environments. Edubuntu, a flavor of Linux is designed to be used in class rooms and schools.

Not all flavors of Linux, are optimized for heavy usage of multimedia applications. It is important to be aware of a few distributions of Linux so that you are guaranteed the expected levels of performance as far as your computer system is concerned.

Linux Flavors

There exists several distributions of Linux, which are designed especially to be used with multimedia application software. Ubuntu Studio, ArtistX, and AGNULA are few such operating systems. The reasons why these versions of Linux are treated as designated multimedia supportive operating systems are:

  1. They come bundled with the necessary device driver packages, which utilize the hardware features to the fullest capacity
  2. The availability of free and open-source multimedia application software.

Multimedia on Linux

Ubuntu Studio running media editing applications

Multimedia Software for Linux Platform

The catalyst in multimedia software market would undoubtedly be Adobe Systems Inc. They have been the dominant vendor of multimedia software for both Microsoft and MacOS platforms for over two decades. Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator are the most popular desktop publishing packages at present. These software suites are commercial. However, they are available for Microsoft Windows and MacOS platforms only. Linux systems suffer a great deal from the absence of such resourceful graphics processing packages. The closest contender to Adobe Photoshop available for Linux is GIMP (The GNU Image Manipulation Program). The alternative for Adobe Illustrator for the same operating system is Inkscape. However, graphics experts always commend on the illustrious nature of Adobe products as opposed to its Linux counterparts for its application features quality of products and support after sales.

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)GIMP

Audio and video based multimedia stream is again dominated by Adobe with its products Adobe Premier, Adobe Aftereffects, Adobe Soundbooth and Adobe Audition. The list of software for Linux based systems is extremely fuzzy, lengthy and would most certainly cause a little bit of a stir for a novice. Audio software available for Linux is application specific. Amarok, and Banshee are popular audio players. Additionally you can also find a host of application packages that act as synthesizers, sound servers, effects processing, recording and editing tools that are produced exclusively for Linux systems. Similarly video productions on Linux are supported by players in the likes of Mplayer, Gnash, KMPlayer etc., video recorders such as Moovida, editors like Avidemux, Celtx and so forth.

3D animations have tickled the fantasies of many multimedia enthusiasts in way of video games and movies. The most widely used 3D animation package is Autodesk’s 3Ds Max and Maya. Once again these products are designated to run exclusively on Windows and MacOS platforms only. The Linux based alternative software package for 3D animation production is Blender. Blender, however ran in close contention to its rival 3DsMax in terms of features and strength of expression. Blender successfully contributed in producing the animated movie Big Buck Bunny.

Adobe Flash is the exclusive choice for developing 2D animations and interactive websites/presentations. Unfortunately Linux family has failed to spawn a software solution capable of meeting the bar Adobe Flash has set.

Linux Multimedia Why Not?

Although multimedia application package support for Linux based systems covers a lot of ground in terms of product features, and availability several issues have led to the slow rate of acceptance among the user community. One disadvantages is the licensing problem. Software available on Linux platform are free and open source. This means that application source code can be used and customized by any user of the system. If the source code is closed, the software must be sold for free. This openness has caused application package manufacturing giants to be weary of venturing into manufacturing products under open-source license. The open-source community however constantly tries to come up with software solutions to match with the standards set by Microsoft Windows doctrine as closely as possible. However, this takes a lot of time and effort due to the freedom in the community, hence the slow rate of production.

The other reason is the scarcity of device drivers and application codecs. Unlike in Windows environment where most device drivers come built-in, ready to run at a click, Linux based application packages more often than not require a substantial amount of customizations before it is ready to be used. Sometimes the hardware drivers may not be available at all. The simple act of playing an mp3 file on a Linux system requires you to install a compatible player. These do not come with the standard Linux distributions, hence require quite a bit of digging. Users would always prefer to see a ready-to-run application than having to go through installation manuals trying to figure out how to install the software with countless dependencies. Linux based software packages usually come with strict installation guidelines, which has made many application developers quite resistant to using them.

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