Open Source

Multimedia: A Linux Achilles' heel

Jack Wallen takes on one of the problems with Linux as a desktop environment -- multimedia. His most recent experiences collide with his past to conclude the Linux desktop does have an Achilles' heel.

Every time I say something negative about Linux I feel like I should preface it by offering up some grand sweeping adoration for both the operating system and the world-wide collection of developers that work tirelessly on the development of the platform. So, consider this my proclamation of adoration. But...

There's always a 'but'.

Linux, as a desktop solution, has some issues — specifically in the audio/video arena. Let me give you the reasons why I arrived at this statement.

Recently I had to switch from my favorite desktop (Bodhi Linux) to Linux Mint. Why? I do a weekly podcast and every Saturday morning I found myself struggling to get Audacity to recognize my Blue Yeti Microphone. The problem, it turns out, was not Bodhi's fault, but Pulseaudio. If I killed the Pulseaudio daemon I could use my mic. The caveat to that was Banshee couldn't play back music without the Pulseaudio daemon running. So if I needed to play back something in Banshee (say to search for appropriate music to include in the podcast) I would have to start the Pulseaudio daemon and then kill it again if I had to re-record.

Another issue was Flash. I had a choice: I could play a flash-drive website or Banshee — but not both. If I went to a site that used Flash, Banshee would stop playing back until I closed out that page.

So to avoid having those issues, I decided to give Mint a try as my go-to distribution. As soon as I had it installed on another machine I had the Yeti, Flash, and Banshee working together. But all was not lovely music. There was another issue — the Media Player Extension (an extension that displayed information about what is being played in the notification area) caused the CPU to spike and the window manager to freeze. This issue was a much simpler fix — just disable the Media Player extension in the Advanced Settings tool. Once that was disabled, the issue went away. Easy fix, sure, but one that shouldn't be necessary. The media player extension is a nice addition to the desktop and should be available. But, for anyone looking to make Linux Mint 12 their desktop of choice, I highly recommend disabling that extension until the issue is resolved. Left enabled, you will find yourself Ctrl-Alt-Backspacing frequently.

I could go back through my nearly three hundred open source blog posts and find a number of posts addressing this issue. Multimedia has been an Achilles' heel for Linux for some time. Either media formats didn't play, played poorly, or caused conflicts with other applications or files. Of course for many of us reading this blog, the solution is little more than a log file read or Google search away. But for the average user, this is not an option. The average user doesn't want to have to spend time figuring out why their mic or audio player doesn't work — they just want it to work out of the box. And those are the users the Linux community MUST be targeting. It's time to stop preaching to the choir and to the masses. But there's no way the masses will hear the sermon if their audio players aren't working.

Linux is so very close to being a desktop anyone can use. If the developers can smooth out these little rough edges, they'll nail it. Let's face it — we are a multimedia heavy world. Across the board, PC users depend upon media and that dependency will only continue to grow. It's time for the developers to make a concerted effort to put to bed these issues so the Linux desktop can reach newer and greater heights.

What has been your multimedia experience with Linux? Do you have a song to sing about this issue? If so, share it in the comments. Let's sing it out loud enough so the developers can see that this is in fact an issue that needs to take some semblance of priority.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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