Origins and Futures for Linux Audio infrastructure

Scheduled: Wednesday, September 23, 2009 from 10:00 – 10:45am in Salon D


The Linux audio environment is a mess. Everybody who develops Linux audio software knows this; anybody who uses anything more than basic desktop playback applications (and maybe even just that) knows this too. How did things get to be this way? Can it be solved? What is required to solve it? This talk will be less of a presentation of novel technical material and will instead focus more on the differences (and similarities) between Linux, OS X and Windows and how this has affected the audio environment on each platform.


Most Linux plumbers will be aware that the audio environment is a mess. But how did it get to be this way? Because you can’t understand the future without understanding the past, this talk will start by examining history of the OSS kernel drivers, how they were replaced by ALSA, and the design assumptions and goals that went into ALSA. I will then talk about early sound servers such as esd and artsd and how these represented an extremely limited conception of what “audio on a computer” meant. Many of the problems faced within the Linux audio environment come from an inadequate understanding of the many different kinds of audio applications that exist, so I will survey the dramatic range of these apps both in terms of use cases and technical requirements, and discuss why solutions like JACK and PulseAudio are so different. I will then leap into the bigger question that arises from a casual glance at OS X – how did Apple “solve” the problems that appear to exist on Linux for audio applications and users, and what can we learn from their approach? Similar consideration will be given to Windows. Finally, I would like to discuss whether the fundamental problem is technical, or political inasmuch as it reflects the federated nature of Linux rather than the heirarchical model of Apple Inc. and Microsoft.


linux, Audio, jack, pulseaudio, coreaudio, asio, wdm, phonon, ALSA, sound server, music


  • Paul Davis

    Linux Audio Systems


    Paul Davis is the original author of the JACK Audio Connection Kit and the primary author and architect of the open source digital audio workstation “Ardour”. He has worked full time on libre audio and MIDI software for 10 years, initially funded by his adventures starting, and later by corporate and user support which continues to pay his income today. Paul also contributed to the design of ALSA, and wrote device drivers for a couple of high end audio interfaces now widely used on Linux by pro-audio users. He has been an invited speaker at many FOSS conferences and participated in the first two Linux Architects meetings in Portland.

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