64 Studio Review

Many people know the mantra – if you are a gamer or office worker, you use the OS from Redmond.  If you are a creative person such as a musician, video editor, etc you use a Mac.  Geeks use Linux.  But more and more people are moving away from Windows and seeking either Macs or Linux.  If you switch to Mac you have to spend a ton of money and if you switch to Linux, it’s free and you can use the hardware you already have.  But what if you’re a creative person?  Can you only go to a Mac?  Lots of people want to allow the creative people to come to Linux so there are more and more Linux distros for the creative types.  This month, in Linux Format Magazine, 64 Studio was bundled on the disc.  It doesn’t run as a liveCD or liveDVD so I’m running it in VirtualBox.  As you can see here, it is a Debian-based distro:

I haven’t installed Debian since Debian 3 when I installed it for my print/file server (luigi), so I’m not sure if the GUI installation begins this way, but strangely it appears to use the ncurces installation.

All the detection stuff continues in the ncurses screens.  Eventually it gets to the partitioning section.  It gives me two choices, Guided or Manual:

I go through all of the defaults including putting everything on one partition.  No biggie since I’m not planning to keep this forever as my studio box.  So it starts the partitioning and that takes a little while.  Then I set up my timezone, root password, username, and user password.  Finally it starts to install.  I think this is quite a bad idea for a Mac replacement.  There isn’t anything hard about it or bad about it, but then again, I’ve been installing Linux distros for something like 5 years now.  (wow!)  It’s just not pretty and Mac users like pretty.  I suggest moving to Anaconda or whatever it is that Debian’s using nowadays.

At first it died on ef2progs.  I restarted my installation.  (This isn’t necessarily their fault – might be a VirtualBox issue)  Once that was over and it rebooted, I was greeted with a very plain GDM screen.  In fact, I was floored at how plain it was for a studio-based distro.

So I logged in.   It took me a while to figure out what the background was.  (It is a guitar string up-close, isn’t it?)  It’s also, interestingly enough, they put Gnome on the bottom.  Since people using 64 Studio are probably coming from Macs, this seems to be a very interesting choice to me.

The preferences are in a really weird place compared to Ubuntu and Fedora.  (And most other Gnome-based Linux distros that I’ve used)   Usually they’re under the System menu, which has made a lot of sense to me.  You’re changing things about the system.  Here’s what it looks like:

Also, it’s strangely just coming out of the Gnome foot.  Will people know to just click on that?  I guess with the Macs I’ve used there’s the apple, but again, that’s at the top with Apple.  So there seems to be some kind of inconsistency where they are making it like apple where there’s just a little icon in the corner, but then they put the menu on the bottom.  (Which isn’t even standard for Gnome!)

On to applications.  Under internet they have Iceweasel instead of Firefox and Icedove instead of Thunderbird.  It’s the exact same program, but with different art and a different name.  Makes sense since it’s based on Debian.  I thinkperhaps they could use a little README file on the desktop explaining this to anyone coming from Mac or Windows so they know it’s the same thing as Firefox.

They have some very interesting choices for the office programs.   Abiword provides the wordprocessor and Gnumeric provides the spreadsheet.  OpenOffice.org is nowhere to be found.  It makes sense because 64 Studio is meant to be a creativity distro instead of a generic destkop distro.

When it comes to the applications included to make this a studio distro, they’ve got quite a few programs under graphics.

So they have some of the usual subjects like GIMP, Scribus, Inkscape, and (depending on the distro) Blender.  But they also have some programs I haven’t seen before such as K-3D, KToon, Stopmotion, and Xara Extreme.  Of course, Xara and Inkscape cover the same territory and the only reason I’ve ever heard for using Xara on Linux is because you’re used to Xara on your other platform.  I decided to see what K-3D, KToon and Stopmotion were about.

Up there you can see the startup of K-3D the first time I open it up.  Just on my absolute first impressions it appears to be designed to have a much friendlier interface than Blender.  It looks a lot less intimidating and you can see the shapes you’re going to create without having to right-click or something like that.  I’ve been using Blender for about 2 years now and now I find it very easy to use and quite natural.  But the first time I ever started it up, I closed it about five minutes later, frustrated.  I clicked a few buttons and came up with this.  I tried to render and it didn’t work.  But I didn’t feel like taking the time to figure it out.

I couldn’t quite figure out how KToon was supposed to work, but no biggie.  It’s nice that it’s there.  Here’s the Stopmotion GUI:

Stopmotion looks very interesting.  It appears as though you hook up your webcam (or other type of camera that you can tether to the computer) and then you hit the camera button over and over to capture each frame.  Sounds very, very tempting to try out and I’ll probably be installing it on my Fedora and Ubuntu computers.  Of course, under sound and video, there are a ton of applications, such as a synthesizer.  Unfortunately I couldn’t try it because the sound wasn’t working.  I’ll chalk that up to VirtualBox.

TerminatorX is a really cool DJ program I discovered.  I definitely want to check this out on my Fedora and Ubuntu computers.

So, what do I think of 64 Studio?  On the one hand, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference on the surface between 64 Studio and just taking a vanilla Debian install and installing the same packages as 64 Studio.  On the other hand, there’s something to be said about a distro that already has all the packages installed and that you can just hand to a technologically-minded creative person and they can install it and start getting creative with free software.  Minus points for not having a graphical installer and minus points for having the menu bar at the bottom.  Also, it’s possible that a lot of the benefits of 64 Studio vs Vanilla Debian are below the surface.  If they have a custom kernel tuned for creativity and have the jack audio framework all setup for you already, then that’s a huge plus for them.  I’d definitely check it out, but you might also want to try Ubuntu Studio to see what they’re up to.


8 responses to “64 Studio Review”

  1. The 64 Studio Kernel is personalized with real-time and SMP patches. And yes, it’s already “jack ready”.
    I found it to be a bit more focused than Ubuntu Studio, but that’s just my opinion, of course…

  2. I’ve followed 64Studio for a while (although I’ve only tried the 32-bit version). The stuff the team have done under the surface is quite a lot. As above, the kernel is real-time and jack is configured, but also all the other sound stuff is linked together to work together with very little fiddling around. 64Studio is based on Debian etch and therefore the installer is from etch. I’m sure when lenny comes out as stable, the installer will change to the graphical one. I’ve found it to be the easiest sudio distro to use.

  3. Yeah, I figured that was part of the problem of a review like this. I had a feeling that a lot of what they had done was under the surface so it would be hard for me to tell what the true advantage was. If I worked for a computer mag or website I probably would have installed a vanilla Debian install to compare the kernel customizations. And, of course, I mentioned that I was pretty sure they had hooked up the audio stuff in the background – it just didn’t work in VirtualBox for some reason.

    Thanks for the info on the installer. For some reason, I thought back when the last Debian came out (etch?) that there was all this hoopla over the fact that they FINALLY had a graphical installer. I didn’t know that it had been pushed off until the next version. I could have sworn I read tons of LinuxToday.com articles about how Debian had finally joined the rest of the distro world in providing a graphical installer.

  4. Sound was not working due to Virtualbox?

    Are you really not aware of the awful reality *nux sound-solutions are in?

    Sound on linuxes doesn’t work 2/3rds of the time due to Pulseaudio. Or due to Alsa-OSS-Esound conflicts. I have seen it so many times it makes me cry.

  5. @Soundlessnux – I don’t know what strange chipsets you and others have. Linux has never given me any audio problems on any computer or laptop I have ever installed it on. Even when they went to PulseAudio in Fedora 8 it worked for me. Perhaps my audio hardware is just that generic that it always works, I don’t know. I know you’re not the only one to complain, but I can’t say that I’ve ever had a problem with it across 5 different computers from five different manufacturers.

  6. “Also, it’s possible that a lot of the benefits of 64 Studio vs Vanilla Debian are below the surface. If they have a custom kernel tuned for creativity and have the jack audio framework all setup for you already, then that’s a huge plus for them.”

    Well it is so, and I should say this is a very superficial review. 64 Studio is all about jack (realtime-kernel, special repos with lot’s of backports of new audio software, gstreamer works with jack out of the box, etc). Actually 64 studio is mostly an audio oriented distro. An there are live CD’s. But if you really want to experience the advantages of low-latency with jack you better make a partition and try it for real (not in a virtualbox).

    Next time you write a review about a distro like this one, you better make a little bit more research.

    That said, I have also tried ubuntu studio. It looks prettier but is more unstable, jack does not work as well as in 64 studio and I did not like the fact that the left linuxsamplet out.

  7. I have to agree with Federico, this is a pretty piss poor review. You took a distro designed mainly for audio work which brags about realtime kernel features and installed it in a VirtualBox machine with no audio support configured. You barely grazed the surface when it came to software packages aside from just listing them off and instead focused on where the menu bar was located which is the very LAST design decision that even matters. Once you are in a program working no one cares where the menu bar is. It really sounds like you just installed it as an easy way to sample a bunch of creativity software because again, instead of really taking 64 Studio for a test drive you just continued to reiterate that you would like to try said package on your Fedora or Ubuntu machines. On a side note I have tried Ubuntu Studio and it was slow and clunky. No offense to Canonical because Ubuntu is a great product but they really missed the mark on a distro streamlined for creativity.