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Ubuntu Studio: An interview with Project Manager Cory Kontros January 27, 2007

Posted by oktyabr in audio, debian, digg, linux, make music, personal, realtime, ubuntu.

I’ve known about, written about and even participated in the Ubuntu Studio project (in a limited capacity) in the past but had pretty much given it up as a project with good ideas but still a long way from any sort of maturity or release as a “distro” in it’s own right… until a link on Digg.com appeared quite recently. It seems that the project has found new momentum with new leadership and I thought I would take a closer look for myself.

After hanging around in the project’s IRC channel for a bit I got to chat with “_MMA_”, short for “MetalMusicAddict” (his handle on the ubuntu forums), who it turns out is Ubuntu Studio’s Project Manager! Traffic in the IRC was quite high as Slashdot and and Boing Boing also decided to carry the story as well but I did get Cory Kontros, also known as _MMA_, to take a bit of time with me for a quick interview on the status of this upcoming project:

oktyabr: Thanks for taking time out to talk with me… So, what is your background in music creation?
_MMA_: “Music creation”… I’m a trained audio engineer with mostly live sound experience.
oktyabr: And what is your background in linux/ubuntu?
_MMA_: “Linux/ubuntu”… I’ve dabbled with linux for many years but never found a home Until Ubuntu-Warty.

oktyabr: I imagine you have had lots of good questions in IRC since all the press on digg.com, slashdot, etc… What are some of the questions you’ve heard the most, the ones you would consider most important for people to hear the answers to? For example, I liked the one about “how are you dealing with non-free codecs” (overheard in the IRC chat)?

_MMA_: Well, Ok. Ill start with the codecs. We are completely inline with Ubuntu. We will ship nothing that might be considered illegal in some countries.

oktyabr: Ok.

_MMA_: Common questions: Will Ubuntu include a RT (“Real Time”) kernel? Yes. The kernel devs have been so kind as to provide us with a kernel that has a 1000mhz timer and PREEMPT enabled.

oktyabr: And when you say Ubuntu do you mean in the main repositories or something specific for Ubuntustudio?

_MMA_: EVERYTHING we do comes right from the Ubuntu repos. That was a goal. There are other projects that live outside of their parents. We didn’t want to do that. We work to get apps into the repos that are geared toward our audience. Actually, at the moment, most of these tools already exist in Ubuntu. We’re just trying to put them in a package for people and shine a spotlight on some of the great apps out there that people might not know about.

oktyabr: What would you say that makes Ubuntu Studio different from other distros featuring RT capabilities like Dyne:bolic, Musix, 64Studio, Studio2Go and Planet CCRMA?

_MMA_: Differences… Ok. App-wise, not a whole lot. That’s the way alot of distros are. 90% the same apps… But there’s a few… Cinelerra has license issues that prohibit it from being in debian based distros. Dyne:bolic I think includes it but I believe they aren’t under the same constraints as we are. Also Soma Suite. A great suite for managing a online radio station.

oktyabr: It looks very impressive!

_MMA_: Studio2Go is live right?

oktyabr: Yes.

_MMA_: As is Dyne:bolic?

oktyabr: Yes, although Dyne:bolic can be easily installed by dragging and dropping a single folder to an existing partition; kind of unique that way.

_MMA_: We’re not doing a live disk for now. We intend this to be installed on stand-alone workstations but we know it wont nessesarily end up that way.

oktyabr: OK…

_MMA_: 64Studio… The difference there being we’re not 64bit and they use older versions of apps. Also I believe they use a RT kernel with Ingo’s patches. And our biggest difference with them seems to be community. From what I’m told they mostly stick to mailing lists. We have the entire Ubuntu community in all its flavors and ways of communication.

oktyabr: And Ubuntu Studio’s “lowlatency” kernel will not use Ingo’s RT patch?

_MMA_: No. We dont use Ingo’s patches.

oktyabr: Interesting…

_MMA_: I’m told they’re too invasive and the patches are slowly making their way into mainline (kernel) anyway. Not using them is a slight disadvantage so I’m told because they’re supposed to better latency.

oktyabr: Will there be any sort of beta before April?

_MMA_: We hope to have one test release before then. Some of it hinges on when our packages make it into Universe.

oktyabr: You mention community… Will Ubuntu Studio be tightly interwoven into the ubuntu community or will it have more of a stand-alone access? In other words if users go to ubuntuforums.org will they be able to find other studio users and support there or will they need to go someplace special?

_MMA_: We have our own forums for the things that we focus on. We tend to have alot of specialized issues that the normal user wont have. Also from the feedback we got it seems that some users feel the Ubuntu Forums are a little overwhelming.

oktyabr: Hahaha! Even I feel that way sometimes!

_MMA_: So this will be a little quieter, easier place to sift through for info. But… We will still refer people to the regular forums for general info as well as point them to existing documentation. Along with that we are working heavily with the existing Ubuntu development community… We have had a crash course this go around as a lot of our team is green.

_MMA_: So far, things have been great. People have been welcoming. From Mark Shuttleworth on down. I really wish people knew how easy it is to get involved if you really want to.

oktyabr: Hmmm… That is an important topic in and of itself.

_MMA_: I was on the project for a month and got invited to the last UDS (Ubuntu Developer’s Summit). It was amazing.

oktyabr: Debian, ubuntu and many derivatives make use of the perl-based “popularity-contest” package to generate statistics regarding which packages get the most use in the operating system in question. Will Ubuntu Studio use a dedicated version of that package, i.e., results specific to Ubuntu Studio, or will the information get fed directly to ubuntu in general?

_MMA_: I think I’ve briefly heard about this. I haven’t looked into it myself. Very few packages are tagged “Ubuntu Studio” so I would just gather Ubuntu would get the data. I’ll have to look into it.

oktyabr: I actually asked that question out of order (no matter, that’s what text editors are for) because I was also interested in what sort of user Ubuntu Studio is now aimed at… The earliest incarnation was targeted very specifically at pro-audio use but lately I’ve heard much that would make this newest effort seem to be targeted more at “multimedia” in general, i.e. video, broadcasting, etc. Your comments?

_MMA_: It is a broader focus. It would have been too easy to just copy what Demudi has done or several other distros. We wanted to try to appeal to more that just the audio guys as well as bring a spotlight on video and graphic apps, video especially. The graphic department is doing well. Printing is another issue that I need to look at. It seems to have a whole host of issues… But that’s off-topic.

oktyabr: “Studio” can have so many meanings… I guess I was just trying to clarify what someone who had never heard of the project before might find when it is released. “Oh, a music distro” or…

_MMA_: I’ll touch on the name but there’s a bit of history. I met Dana Olson (Ubuntu Studio’s original founder) on the Ubuntu Forums. He had his “Ubuntu Studio” WIKI page. After a while he wanted to turn it into more. I was busy so I couldn’t help. Six months or so went by. I had just become a stay-at-home-dad so I suddenly had some time so I contacted him again and he still wanted to do something.

_MMA_: He hadn’t had alot of people to help him up until then so nothing besides the WIKI had been done. After I came on within a week we had a team built… Don’t know why, it just happened that way.

_MMA_: We looked at names. “Mubuntu” is what we went with being the obvious choice… “Multimedia Ubuntu”… We went under the name for about 6 weeks when we were contacted by M. Shuttleworth…

_MMA_: (We had had contact before… I was already coming to UDS at this point.)

_MMA_: He said there was another “Mubuntu” project.

_MMA_: Now… We had every rights to the name… But It wasnt a big deal and they had a cool reason for the name.

oktyabr: I’ve never heard of the other version!

_MMA_: They were/are working on a embedded/small version of Ubuntu.

oktyabr: Ahhh… like “mini” ubuntu or something?

_MMA_: Their “U” meaning “Micro” like the greek symbol.

oktyabr: Clever… mUbuntu.

_MMA_: So we gave it up. No big deal.

_MMA_: We started to think of names… Dana offered up his Ubuntu Studio name. The other idea was to use another African/Zulu word for “creativity” or “artistic”. We presented these couple of ideas to Mark S. and he picked Ubuntu Studio. So there ya go.
oktyabr: Interesting!
_MMA_: 🙂
_MMA_: We seem to have ALOT of support from Mark. Mostly through his actions. He has mentioned us here and there… The RT kernel, trips to UDS, things like that.

oktyabr: Since you have been on history of the project now could you sort of recap? Dana Olson started it, could you explain his role in the project to this point and why he isn’t involved now?

_MMA_: He left for personal reasons.
_MMA_: As far as his involvement he was key in setting its initial goals and putting me in contact with the people he knew. He had also had a following through his wiki. And of course the name. It was his and he donated it to the project.
oktyabr: Ubuntu Studio a year from now? Will it keep up with ubuntu’s development cycle or stop somewhere at a usuable state?
_MMA_: No. We will release right along-side K/X/Ubuntu (every six months).
_MMA_: This first release in April will be called a “beta” although it will be as stable as the current Ubuntu.

oktyabr: Do you have any sort of timeline you can share with me as far as major goals or landmarks? A livecd/installable in the future?

_MMA_: I wouldn’t totally count out a Live cd but for now Ill say no.
oktyabr: How about archs? Macintel, 64 bit support or only 32 bit?
_MMA_: Only 32bit on this first release. PPC support will probally not happen as Ubuntu is also changing its support for PPC. 64bit is a goal for the next release (7.10, October of 2007).

oktyabr: And how about this “ubuntu for windows” thing? Has your team touched on that at all?
_MMA_: Were not looking it at the moment… I understand that is something that will help the transition for windows users but… we see what we’re doing as more aimed at someone already familiar with linux. Linux audio and video aren’t things you can necessarily jump into. Add not knowing linux to that and I think alot of people coming from windows will be disappointed.
oktyabr: My personal angle is that I am very interested in anything I can do to try and steer the current mindset of “multimedia needs a mac…. or at least windows” mentality at least a little more in favor of the excellent software available in linux. At least a serious look at linux for production value without immediately jumping on some sort of proprietary fueled fanboy wagon…
_MMA_: I know this will defiantly happen but i would like to see people get familuar with Ubuntu then use Ubuntu Studio. Great thing is they wont even need a new install. 😉

oktyabr: Do you think linux audio in general, Ubuntu Studio specifically, is (will be) usuable for a mac/pc user that is already familiar with DAWs, plugin effects, etc. without a break-in period in ubuntu before hand?
_MMA_: Let me think. Hmm…

_MMA_: I think that people with a open mind and the genuine desire to learn the OS/software will be fine.
_MMA_: If not… I think they will be frustrated.

oktyabr: What do you think could be done to further ease that adjustment?
_MMA_: There are a lot of barriers to us in linux. Namely audio codecs.

oktyabr: For example, suppose I’m a musician and I really want to record. My usual hard/software is out of the equation… I need a DAW right now. Whether live or installed, what can be done to make it easier for someone simply interested in using a familiar looking piece of software without having to take a course in how to use the underlying OS? Or is this even achievable?

oktyabr: Same with something like Soma Suite… how can someone that doesn’t know a thing about linux sit down, boot up a machine and get down to the nittygritty of learning that one specific piece of software? What can be done to make this process easier, in your opinion?

_MMA_: At the moment. I dont think the kinds of things that user is looking for are there yet.

_MMA_: It would probally be the same learning curve as someone coming from windows and jumping to Pro-Tools on a Mac.
oktyabr: I remember Dana put together a sort of launcher app. Do you see a value in the future for that sort of tool?

_MMA_: The launcher is still there. We’re looking how best to use it.

oktyabr: Hey, which brings me to LASH. You have anything to say on what the status is of LASH in Ubuntu Studio?
_MMA_: This is something I’m fuzzy on honestly. A problem we’ve had is that while people like the ideas we have and ask about LASH we have nobody willing to do the work.

oktyabr: Could you describe your team and how you work together?
_MMA_: Ahh… This I can do.

_MMA_: I have a great team. Including the whole Ubuntu dev community.
_MMA_: Our team as it is…
_MMA_: Our immediate team actually… I do consider the Ubuntu devs part of my team.
oktyabr: That’s a pretty nice resource to be able to draw on, I’m sure!

_MMA_: We are highly motivated. Into getting this done but still a little green. As a group we are pretty easy going and all have good attitudes. This was important… I’m very concerned with how someone gets along personally with us. If they have a bad attitude I dont want ’em no matter what they can do.
_MMA_: I understand people have their cranky days but it’s important for everyone to work and get along well. Having said that if you are are a good spirited person with a willingness to help us we’re always on IRC though depending on what you want to do, we might steer you towards MOTU.
oktyabr: MOTU?

_MMA_: Thats if you want to do packaging, which we need.

oktyabr: Could you define MOTU please?

_MMA_: “Masters Of The Universe”. They’re the team that run the Universe and Multiverse repositories (for Ubuntu).
_MMA_: All of our packages go into Universe. We try to have a close relationship with those guys. It’s actually a great way to get involved with Ubuntu… Becomming a MOTU.

oktyabr: Excellent information!

oktyabr: Ok, so suppose you rub a digital bottle hidden away in the depths of some ancient repo and a magic linux genie grants you three wishes for this project… what would they be?

_MMA_: For “this” project?

oktyabr: Yes, for this project.
_MMA_: Hmm…
oktyabr: If you want them to be for linux in general, that’s ok too.
_MMA_: I’ll do both.
oktyabr: Great!
_MMA_: 1) For Ubuntu Studio to be used in a production studio environment.
_MMA_: 2) That the project gains support and gets development for the apps it spotlights.
_MMA_: 3) That we can get disks pressed by Canonical… This isn’t a end-all be-all but would be nice from a distribution standpoint.

_MMA_: Linux in general: That some things become standardized.
oktyabr: Do you have an example?
_MMA_: All the different sound servers we have. OSS, ESD and such.

_MMA_: Theres many pieces to the audio stack that can be moved around. Makes it nuts for users (and myself) trying to understand how it works.

_MMA_: Do you know how our disk will work?

oktyabr: Disk? No. I assumed a gnome build with a studio metapackage on top.

_MMA_: Well the idea is that near the end of the install you will get four options of metas to install: ubuntustudio-audio, ubuntustudio-video, ubuntustudio-plugins, and ubuntustudio-graphics.
oktyabr: Nice.
_MMA_: If you pick nothing you will get a base install with nothing but the art and a kind of striped-down Ubuntu.
oktyabr: So this will rely on an internet connection or are plans to stuff all of them on a cd/dvd in the works?
_MMA_: ALL the normal Ubuntu system config stuff is there… On the DVD it will be there.
oktyabr: Ah, a DVD! Nice!
_MMA_: We’re still looking at the CD.

oktyabr: Ubuntu has always clung to the smaller cd iso’s hasn’t it?
_MMA_: The DVD might be the only option now… It’s up in the air.

_MMA_: So the normal ubuntu will have all the same system tools to use minus apps like OpenOffice, Ekiga, GAIM, things like that. Also a goal of the project was that anyone could use the metas so if you run Kubuntu you could “sudo apt-get install ubuntustudio-audio” and it will pull everything for you… So if you don’t want a new install you can simply grab a suite.

oktyabr: How will ubuntustudio-audio differ from ubuntustudio-plugins and what if someone wants all of the metas?
_MMA_: You will be able to pick a mix. It will be “X” boxes you mark with the spacebar, like with other options. It’s not a this-or-that-only thing… You can pick everything or nothing and any mix.
oktyabr: Excellent. And your other two wishes for linux?
_MMA_: Hmm… Standards in general. I think it’s one thing thing that hurts us. Don’t get me wrong, I love the choice but sometimes it gets to a point where we need focus and too many choices can make things cloudy.
_MMA_: The last being better vendor support… Our guys do a great job at doing drivers. It would just be nice to see a company do it with open drivers.
oktyabr: I agree.

oktyabr: Hey, I really appreciate your time!

_MMA_: No problem!

I’m definately looking forward to seeing (and reviewing) the official result of this project later this April. Stay tuned!

Reference Links:


The link and comments on digg.com

Boing Boing article on Ubuntu Studio

The article and comments on slashdot

Ubuntu Studio’s main information IRC channel is #ubuntustudio @ freenode.net



1. name - February 2, 2007

lash is crucial. if lash was all cool and a breeze, we’d be overrun by users. maybe that’s why lash is still so uncool.

2. oktyabr - February 3, 2007

I have to agree. Wide spread Lash support would definately be a useful improvement in the general scheme of things… Being able to move a Lash config from machine to machine or user to user would sure be nice too.

3. Conor Schaefer - May 4, 2007

Great post, thanks for taking the time to interview and sharing it. =)

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