I’ve been through a few linux distros over the years, neatly getting progressively easier to install and configure as I get less willing to spend time recompiling kernels, culminating in ubuntu, enjoying the attention to detail and simplicity of use. Recently though, I’ve had to give ubuntu up and go back upstream to the rather higher maintenance Debian again. Linux suffers from creeping featurism in its layers of audio APIs, it started with OSS, a straightforward API based on files, then came ALSA, a wildly complex API with broken documentation in a wiki you can’t edit, and an architecture that somehow means only one OSS application can write sound at a time. It seems to me that it’s a failing of ALSA that further layers of abstraction are piled on top of it, creating a rather complex landscape for sound hackers to navigate.
Ubuntu has joined in the fun by shipping with PulseAudio, which is probably great for general users but a pain for those needing to work with audio on a low level without using loads of CPU. Pulse is not straightforward to remove, and when I removed it had problems with volume controls not working, and the likelihood that future system upgrades wouldn’t work so well. That’s why I switched to debian sidux, but then I couldn’t get laptop hibernation, or my firewire sound card working, and had the stress of maintaining an unstable distribution.
However this week Puredyne carrot and coriander came out, and it’s really great. The kernel is optimised for realtime sound, and jack audio runs solidly without any drop outs, something I haven’t seen before. My firewire sound works reliably, better than I managed under ubuntu. It has a really nice logo and clean look, with no plump penguins in sight. It comes with all the best a/v software beautifully packaged, including all the live coding languages. The people behind it are super friendly and helpful. It’s downstream from ubuntu, so all the software is available. It’s a dream!
They make a big deal out of it being good for booting off a USB key, and I think have worked out some nice practicalities of working that way. This makes it great for doing workshops and running linux in a non-linux lab etc. It installs and works just as nicely on a permanent hard drive though, and that’s what I’ve done.
Anyway, heartily recommended, a dream come true, congratulations to all those involved.