Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s MacOS have long been two dominating forces in the world of music production. Unfortunately, considering the often large paywalls that block viable music production software from the common person and the creative restriction imposed by the design of certain software products down to the technical level, many resort to illegally pirating software, which is not a resilient solution to overcoming the redundant cost imposed on useless proprietary software. However, there is another way that many do not consider because they either were not aware of it or were afraid to take the leap. I understand this very well.
G’day, Arkforest here. I’m going to discuss with you why you should use a Linux distribution, particularly for music production.
What is Linux?
Linux, contrary to popular belief, is not a single operating system like Windows and MacOS are. Instead, it is a large collection of different operating system distributions that share many different software packages and components, including the Linux kernel, which was created by Linus Torvalds in 1991. It is heavily based on the original UNIX operating system developed by AT&T at Bell Labs. There are many different Linux distributions designed to target a wide range of different needs. You will find a lot of electronic gadgets you may be familiar with use Linux. This includes your car’s entertainment system, your television, the in-flight entertainment system on commercial aircraft, the traffic lights in your city, and even your own smartphone (Android runs on the Linux kernel).
What makes Linux special?
What makes Linux so great for these use cases and many others? The biggest reason is that it is free and open-source, and this influences the design of the kernel and Linux distributions such that they are more secure, more stable, and yield higher computational performance than Windows or Mac would on the same computer. If a piece of software is free and open-source, that means that anyone can freely obtain, use, modify and distribute the software, and that the source code for the software is publicly available. Additionally, this transparent software design practice makes it difficult to leverage software vulnerabilities for malicious purposes, as they are more likely to be spotted in the source code. This makes free and open-source software more secure and stable than closed source software, since the end users of the software have the freedom to initiate and execute modifications of the software to improve it as well as the main developers. This is typically enforced with the use of software licences like GNU’s General Public Licence, which states (I will paraphrase here) that any forks derived from the original software must not be made proprietary. This differs from permissive software licences, like the BSD licence used in the closely related BSD operating system distributions. which do not have such clauses in place. Excellent examples of free and open-source software (FOSS) include Ardour, the digital audio workstation that I currently use to produce my music with, Blender, the best 3D modelling and animation software, Krita, the best painting and drawing software, Inkscape, the best vector graphics and logo design software, and Mozilla Firefox, my preferred internet browser for using the internet to find derivatives of itself to use instead, like Waterfox.
How does it work?
For the most part, Linux functions very differently from Windows and Mac. It is more similar to MacOS, however, since MacOS borrows a lot of its software from the open-source FreeBSD distribution, which is licenced permissively. However, since I personally have a limited experience with using MacOS (mostly at educational institutions), I am mostly going to compare Linux to Winodws, since I have extensive experience using both.
Firstly, the command line is commonly used in Linux, regardless of distro. Most new users gravitate to easy distros like Ubuntu and Manjaro because it is easy to avoid using the command line to do anything on those distros. However, knowing how to use the command line gives you more control and efficiency with your workflow. Linux distros have common commands that you can type to make the operating system perform certain tasks. The “sudo” command enables users to execute a command with root access when it is typed at the start of a command. Root is the superuser account that a user account can temporarily access by typing “sudo” at the start of a command. Usually a user needs root access to install packages with their package manager. The commands for package managers are either similar or different depending on the package manager. Typically, this involves typing “sudo package-manager command package”, where “package-manager” usually substitutes for the name of the package manager, “command” substitutes for a command specific to that package manager (usually for installing, uninstalling and finding packages and dependencies) and “package” substitutes for the package that is either going to be installed, uninstalled or searched for, like “gimp”, “firefox” and “youtube-dl”. Package managers have much more commands that are useful in certain scenarios, but these are for common use cases, which leads me to the next section.
Software packages are commonly downloaded from curated software repositories and then installed on the system. This is usually achieved with a package manager via either the command line or a graphical user interface frontend for the package manager. On Windows and Mac, many users commonly acquire precompiled binary installers for their software from websites on the internet rather than via an inbuilt graphical package manager frontend, or as they’re more commonly called, an “Application Store”. I mention package managers first because many Linux distributions use different package managers. Debian Linux and its derivative distros, including Linux Mint, MX Linux and Ubuntu, use dpkg for low level tasks and apt for high level tasks. Red Hat Enterprise Linux and its derivative distros, including Fedora, CentOS and the now defunct Mandriva Linux (I used this distro when I was 5 or 6), tend to use yum and dnf, which rely on rpm to function. Arch Linux and its derivative distros, including Manjaro, Garuda and Obarun (this is the distro I currently use) use pacman as a package manager. Additionally, Arch-based distros have access to the Arch User Repository, a user-submitted public repository of software that is not usually available in the main Arch repos. Another difference to note is that different package managers suit different update schedules based on whether their distro is a point release distro or a rolling release distro. Windows and MacOS are point release operating systems, which means they undergo massive upgrades between versions. Rolling release distros like Arch Linux, in comparison, undergo small and incremental upgrades on one constant version. I have used apt, dnf and pacman myself, so I know those package managers pretty well. The apt and dnf package managers tend to use lowercase full-word commands to perform tasks, like “install” for installing packages and “remove” for uninstalling packages, while pacman uses single case-sensitive letters for individual tasks, like “-S” for installing packages and “-Syu” for updating the system. Knowing how to use the package manager of your chosen distro is one of the first steps in getting good at Linux.
The file systems that Linux typically uses are different from those of Windows and MacOS. While Windows and MacOS tend to use their own proprietary file systems, Linux has a larger selection of file systems that a user can choose from for their system. The most common is ext4, which is default in many popular distros. There are others, like zfs and btrfs, which also are capable of logical volume management, which adds a virtualisation layer to data storage, allowing it to be transferred over hard drives or SSDs. Additionally, many directories accessible from the root directory (not including the home directory) are not modifiable via a graphical file manager, which means incompetent Linux users can’t accidentally destroy their system by accidentally trying to delete the /lib or /usr directories without passworded root access. This is in contrast to Windows, where a user can easily delete system32 with just a couple of button presses and no password input. However, MacOS, being a UNIX-like operating system, shares the same file hierarchy as Linux, but it doesn’t share the same file system.
Linux distributions are very modular with the extent to which you can modify packages or even replace them, even down to the kernel. Linux distributions are very commonly packaged with the GNU software collection, which contain essential core utility packages and other related things. However, some Linux distributions, like Alpine Linux, instead use BusyBox for the same purpose. Additionally, systemd is a (unfortunately) popular collection of system programs that act as a link between the userspace and the kernel. However, systemd is popularly hated by many to the point that distrowatch.com offers the option of “no systemd” in its advanced search. I personally use Skarnet’s S6 software suite with Obarun Linux, and I believe it is much better than systemd in what it does and how it goes about doing things. Desktop environments are a collection of software packages such as window managers, compositors and graphical user interfaces that give users the ability to visually interact with the operating system. Most popular distros are bundled with the same desktop environments as options, though some use different ones that capture the attention of many. Common desktop environments include KDE (I use this one), GNOME, Xfce, LXQt, MATE, Cinnamon and Budgie. Despite popular thought, there are a wide variety of programs available to Linux for many purposes, and despite what you may think, they work just as well as Windows and MacOS programs, and often much better and faster. With digital audio workstations for music production, Ardour stands out as an excellent program among others such as LMMS, Audacity, Qtractor and Rosegarden. In addition, since I installed Ardour from the pro-audio package available in the Arch Linux repos, I also acquired a large number of audio plugins that I regularly use in Ardour as well, and despite the less appealing GUIs of some plugins, they sound better to my ears than proprietary plugins I’ve used in the past, and are generally more feature rich.
With that said, I ask that you consider installing Linux on your computer for a better computing experience where you don’t deal with spyware and paywalls. Also, I ask that you consider subscribing to the Arkforest Music Repository at arkforestmusic.com, where it costs $10 for a gold membership to access my official releases, official lyrics and also get a shoutout on the blog for supporting me. It is $20 for a platinum membership if you want to stay updated with the little changes I make to current music projects of mine and also if you want to access the lore behind my music. For $40, you will get a CD for every official release I put out on my website, prepared and mailed to you by me. Otherwise, if you enjoyed this blog post, please subscribe to my mailing list. I’ll see you next time. Bye.