Sunday, November 14, 2010

Distro Hoppin`: Dream Studio 10.10

I am certainly no expert when it comes to creating, configuring and managing a multimedia studio, but I do know that the hardware needed is very expensive and I also know that the software required to record, edit, etc. takes up a comparably large portion of one's budget. 

But what if, instead of acquiring expensive licenses, one could invest that money in better equipment or, why not, sound proofing the REC room? So, if anybody is on the market for acquiring multimedia-creation software, first take a look at what the open source world has to offer and then take a decision.

There is quite a surprisingly large number (10+) of "studio" distributions out there, but this article will focus on one of the newest of the bunch. Based on Ubuntu 10.10, Dream Studio brings you most of the tools needed for creating and editing video, audio or 2D/3D graphics. 

Dream Studio comes packaged in a Live DVD ISO that's 2 GB in size. At the moment, it seems there's only a 32-bit version available. The project's website is clean and provides to the point information about the operating system as well as user feedback.

Booting the live environment is reasonably quick, but there is a small annoyance once you get to the desktop. Trying to install Dream Studio to the HDD will ask for the administrative password, which I have discovered to be blank, after trying several usual combinations like root, linux, etc. :D

The revamped installer from the latest Ubuntu release is, of course, present in Dream Studio too and packs quite a few useful features, most importantly, the ability to add MP3 and Flash support as well as proprietary wireless drivers, depending on your configuration. Also, if an Internet connection is active at installation time, Dream Studio can download any updates that may have been pushed by the Ubuntu team. 

Yes, this a reversed Robot made of snapshots

The drive space allocation step still lacks an option which I would love to see: installing on existing Linux partitions. As a distro hopper, it would save me quite a number of seconds of manually specifying said partitions. But for a clean install using the entire HDD or for someone who wants to double boot with Windows, it is a piece of cake. Once you decide what setup you would like to use, the installer actually begins to create partitions and copy the necessary files to the HDD, even before setting up the username, etc. The obvious advantage: reduced install times. The downside... if you decide at the last step that you don't want Linux, well, it's too late. :D

The location detection still works like a charm, but if you are not connected to the Internet, you don't have to pixel-hunt anymore, as you can quickly type your city name in the designated box. With the process complete, if you choose to "Continue testing" rather than "Restart now", you won't be able to select restart from the top-right corner, leaving two options: either hard reboot your machine (which is what most newbies will do) or pop open a terminal and 'sudo reboot'.

Booting the now installed OS is fast, but not so pleasant to the eye. There's a blinking terminal cursor and the low resolution Plymouth is not on all the time. Oh well, I really couldn't care less about the boot sequence anyway. :)

The exact same wallpaper that is default in Ubuntu 10.10 welcomes you in Dream Studio too, but other than that, there are enough visual differences to contribute to the distro uniqueness. The theme consists of dark grayish colors and a beautifully contrasting bright red X for closing windows. The folder icons are of an elegant gold and the applications icons look great, though some of them have lower resolutions than the others. Also, why does the "Education" category have an electrical drill as its icon? :D

The Red X from HELL! I like red.
Before moving on to the juicy part, most of you in the business of audio production will know the importance of a realtime kernel. This, unfortunately, is not used by default in Dream Studio, but, in the website's tutorial section there's a link to the said kernel package.

Hit the road JACK Audio Connection Kit and don't you come back no moooore
As some of you may expect, JACK Audio System starts along with Dream Studio. JACK is a real godsend when it comes to tackling multiple audio inputs or outputs and the connections between them. I didn't play around too much with it, but it worked just fine.

One more randomly placed warning: if you have an USB A4Tech multi-button mouse, you will probably lose your ability to left click when you activate NumLock. And no, deactivating it will not make the mouse work again. There are two fixes that worked for me: install a package that is now not available anymore, or type the following two commands: 'xinput --list' and, 'xinput set-int-prop 11 "Device Enabled" 8 0' (where 11 could be another number, attached to the second "A4Tech USB Full Speed" entry in the list that is displayed after typing in the first command. In most cases, 11 will be the correct number. This is not a Dream Studio bug, it is an Ubuntu 10.10 bug and surely a huge turn off for new users.

To compensate with the bad news, I noticed a really nifty feature that I'm not sure if it was available in previous Ubuntu releases: depending on where you activate switches or press buttons on the screen, the audio feedback (clicks, beeps, etc.) will play back in the corresponding speaker/headphone. So if you click a button on the right side of the display, you will hear it only on the right headphone (is headphone even a word? :D I guess it's how you would refer to the right or left side of your trousers: left/right trouser). Certainly not an immensely helpful addition, but it adds to the pleasant experience. 

Firefox comes with Conan O'Brien support out of the box!

Ouuukay, on to the application suite! I'll skip the boring parts that we all know about, like calculators, text editing,  character map, etc etc and enter head-first into the Education category that is absolutely crowded with... one program. :D It goes by the name of GNU Denemo and is known to harness the musical notes like no other. Or so I've heard, cause my theoretical music knowledge is equivalent to zilch. But I used to be pretty darn good at drawing the "Clef" (Cheia Sol in Romanian) on the blackboard during my troubled school years. Eh, add that to hours of shower singing and I guess I'm not that bad after all, now am I? Blink blink. 


The "Graphics" section is where things really start to get interesting as you'll be ambushed by all sorts of useful open source goodness for providing answers to most of your graphicking needs. Thanks to its parents who were slick enough to give it a name that begins with an "A", Agave sits at the very top, flashing its suspiciously looking leafy logo, ready to give a really helpful hand to designers everywhere on their quest to find the perfect colour scheme for a particular project. Well done Agave, you have earned your place. But the superstar of this category has to be Blender with its windowed and fullscreen shortcuts, bragging around with its acclaimed creations in the CGI industry. 

CinePaint is very familiar looking to those who use The GIMP, but, apparently, it can handle huge resolution images better and is actually used in professional movie studios.

Darktable is also a favorite of photographers wanting to organize and non-destructively edit the RAW images contained by countless SD cards.

While FontMatrix helps you keep a clear record of your font collection, FontForge is an awesome tool to create brand new ones from scratch. Just don't exaggerate on the coffee, you don't want trembling hands when trying to create the next Helvetica. Or ComicSans.

gcolor2 is a simple, yet oh so effective tool to find out the color codes of ANYTHING on your screen. This is how I found that the seemingly black font of this very text in gedit actually has BLUE pixels in it! Mind-blowing, huh? :D

The GIMP is next and that's all I'm going to tell you about it cause you know what it does.

If you're a fan of panorama images and like to make people scroll horizontally, than you'll be thrilled to find out that the good people at Dream Studio have included the Hugin Panorama creator which does a marvelous job of stitching up the images you took into a glorious panorama. It also comes with its sidekick, the Batch Processor. Speaking of batch, the most notable absence from Dream Studio is Phatch, the tool I use to watermark all the photos that go up on ITLure.

But let's focus on what we have and stop complaining! For example, Luminance HDR, a tool that is specialized in achieving the Nirvana of photography: HDR! Yes, I am being sarcastic, but only because all these people HDR-ing everything they can put their hands on. If done by someone with taste and talent, the effect can be strikingly beautiful.

Scribus, the next item on the list, is, as far as I know, the only desktop publishing application for Linux that matters. Use it! If you need to. If you don't, don't use it. Heck, uninstall it, see if I care!

Showtell Photo Manager also performs decently at organizing your photo collection so it's nice to have it around. And finally, the last two notable pieces (in this category) of software: Stopmotion and Synfig. While the first one is self-explanatory, with the second you can draw and animate all sorts of characters or scenes.

The Internet and Office sections are filled with the usual suspects: Empathy, Firefox, OpenOffice and so on... nothing worth lingering about for.

The LuxRender app has its own special space inside the "Other" category. As I feel my own words on this program will not do this program justice, here's the description on the project's website

LuxRender is a physically based and unbiased rendering engine. Based on state of the art algorithms, LuxRender simulates the flow of light according to physical equations, thus producing realistic images of photographic quality.

And boy, what AMAZING work had come out of LuxRender... you should really check out the gallery

"Programming". Code::Blocks IDE and Eclipse. Ok bye.

Sound & Video, another central gathering point for this distribution, is filled with goodies: DJing apps, hardware mixer control interfaces, loop makers, digital audio workstations, converters, synthesizers, video editors, basically everything you'll ever (well, not ever. unless you'll die soon. ha ha) need for pursuing your multimedia dreams and passions. Just to name a few titles: Audacity, Ardour, PiTiVi, Cinelerra, Mixxx, LiVES, Echomixer, etc. 

Dreaaam, dream, dream, dreaam, dreaaam

If you are dreaming of a free software suite to run your studio, then stop dreaming and download a copy of this distro and install it on your machine and be happy, your dream has finally come true.

And you, my exquisite audience, please accept my thanks and a virtual bottle of your favorite beverage for letting your eyes transmit the information gathered from this article to your brain.