Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kdenlive 0.7.4 Fills in the Blanks

As per my previous post on Kdenlive, the Linux non linear video editor (NLE), I just wanted to post a brief update. The new version 0.7.4 has been released, and for me, as I had hoped and expected, this cleared up pretty much all of the little bugs and install snafus that were bothersome in 0.7.3.

I would tentatively have to say that Kdenlive is now the best NLE on Linux. And with packages now available from a special repo making install a breeze, a lot more people on Ubuntu should be able to take a look at this great app.


The install went flawlessly using a Launchpad PPA repository with packages for Ubuntu Jaunty. There is a post on setting up the dominik-stadler repos -

Starting the app, it correctly detected the upgrade and launched the configuration wizard. All necessary components were detected and codecs were present.

Major operational improvements are that AVCHD seeking is now possible without playback problems; stability is excellent; rendering to h264 both in one pass and two pass modes seems to be fixed now. The frei0r effects package now longer conflicts with anything, so all effects are present.

The independent render process that I raved about is now even better: before, all renders started as soon as you launched them, all in parallel, and this meant a very slow process was even slower. Now, much more logically, the first render completes before the next is started, (serial rendering) meaning that you will be able to finish and watch one much more quickly. Nice.

To correct an error in my previous post, I discovered that it's actually quite possible to composite a transparent title over many tracks, it's just that the process for doing so is murky. Documentation and the manual are currently quite poor and incomplete for Kdenlive, so it's often a matter of just putzing around and trying all the buttons and hunting for ways to do what you want to do. The good news is that things are mostly logical and the layout is nice and clean, so it's fairly easy to guess and figure things out.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Should Linux and Android Fuse?

It's hard not to be ambivalent about Android if you're a fan of Linux. Android is free and open source (mostly, I think) and it's got a lot of momentum building behind it. Cool, right? On the other hand, it's not really a Linux distro in any traditional sense even though it uses a Linux kernel. It would be one thing if it were purely a smartphone OS, but it's increasingly looking like it will be a netbook and maybe, therefore, even a full desktop OS. A lot of people will probably find that a netbook and a smartphone are really all they need anyway, along with their TV and maybe a docking station at home with a large LCD. That's a very plausible scenario to me when people get used to netbooks and the things inevitably become more powerful. And having the same OS on all these devices may be a really slick thing. In this light, Android may prove to be an irresistable force.

Now, I don't believe that Windows and Mac and Linux will be replaced by Android any time soon. But a shakeup is in the air. For Linux distros and fans, this is a bit of an awkward situation. For once, a FOSS OS has a real shot at being a heavyweight market player - but it ain't Linux as we know it! Hurray Arghh!

The impact of Android is really starting to get the attention of the rest of the Linux world. For instance, today Moblin and Ubuntu announced that they were going to initiate new cooperation - after Moblin a few months ago decided to change from an Ubuntu underpinning to Fedora. Why this about face? I can only think that a big part of this is some strong competition from Android. Now, this is a good thing for Ubuntu, since Moblin is largely an Intel project and Ubuntu needs more and bigger partners like that if it's going to get anywhere. And sure, the strong showing of Windows on netbooks is a factor as well, and a big one.

Another telling indication is the announcement by Canonical this week of an Android environment on Ubuntu that will allow Android apps to run. Hmm. Is this the first stirring of an attempt to integrate Android and Ubuntu?

The fact is, the OS situation is too fragmented and it's increasingly looking like Linux is going to be left behind without a more united front and a lot more consolidation. There is a resurgence of noise in Linux circles about moving toward a 'standard' Linux distro in order to have less confusion and more compatibility. In the past this has always gone nowhere because of infighting and the very obvious lack of any one strong player on the distro scene to amalgamate power, to either unite warring factions or just plain take over. Well people, that player may have just joined the table and it's name is Google.

The more I think about it, the more I think it's kind of inevitable. I think the best thing that can happen at this point is that Linux learns to love Android and joins up with it. I don't know that that would be easy or even possible, or what it would look like. I suppose it could basically just a standard Ubuntu with a Gnome interface that also has an Android mode, or that just runs any Android apps seamlessly and natively as well as all the Linux apps. As for the established Linux apps, if it were appropriate to run them on a phone or small MID, they would be ported to Android. This part would be quite a bit more tricky, but I do think it would clearly be in the interest of Android to be able to use the enormous library of apps now freely available in the Linux world. This could mean that Android would need to change and have some kind of Gnu/Linux mode that it could morph into, much as Ubuntu is getting an Android environment that could be added. I'm not saying this would be easy, but since they both run the Linux kernel, it might well be possible.

In other words, the OS would of course look like an Android interface/environment on phones and other really small devices with a touch interface; on MID tablets and small netbooks it might look like Android or it might well look more like Moblin or Ubuntu MID with Android widgets; and on larger displays/workstations it would look pretty much like Ubuntu/Gnome. And yeah, if your phone had enough hutzpah, it could run Apache and Blender and OpenOffice, and if you wanted to edit a photo in Gimp on your MID you could do that while an Android app overlays live video on top of Google Maps. When you get to the office or home, your phone could seamlessly transfer your 'presence' to your home workstation where all of your Android social networking apps would appear on your desktop while you edit video on your 30" monitor.

Interesting? I think so.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Kdenlive: Breakthrough in Linux Video Editing

In my view, it has for a number of years now been the greatest failing of Linux: video editors have been a joke. No one who is serious about video editing could really be happy in the least with the sorry state of non-linear video editing apps. There have been some decent entry-level standard def programs, such as Kino. If you were masochistic enough to play along with the quirks and straight-jacketed file format limitations of Cinelerra, well, you could spend many happy months trying to get that to work. Sure there are some nice conversion utilities like Avidemux and Handbrake and (for you command line lovers) ffmpeg and mencoder. And high definition? Well, please just forget about it, unless you really like self-torture and inevitable failure and aggavation. Trying to edit 24p HDV in Cinelerra? Been there, done that, and have very little hair left for my trouble.

The depressing truth was: any of a number of sub-$100 mid-level NLE's for Windows or Mac such as Adobe Premier Elements or Ulead Studio or Pinnacle would run circles around anything available on Linux. And the other rock in my sandal was that, for all the advances of virtualization and Wine, there's no way an NLE will run at decent speed in a VM or on Wine. Video is just way too demanding. So it was dual booting or keeping around a completely separate (and fairly highly spec'ed) Windows or Mac machine. Not happy.

I personally have always felt that I can't recommend Linux to a lot of people because of the lack of a decent video solution. You can't expect normal non-geeks to dual boot or keep two computers.


Well, I'm happy to report that our forty years in the desert for the Linux video faithful is coming to an end. Thanks to the developers of Kdenlive, as of version 0.7.3, video on Linux is no longer a joke. This is Free software, GPL, and it's impressive. Kdenlive is poised to take it's place with Blender, the Gimp, Inkscape, Audacity, and Scribus as the essential creative apps on any Linux desktop.

Now let's be clear what we're talking about: the full version of Adobe Premiere or Avid Media Composer or Apple Final Cut Pro are not quite in Kdenlive's sights just yet. But few people really need all of that firepower. Good mid-level editors can do a great deal these days, and have enough bells and whistles and effects and corrections to make most people happy, and that's really what's been a huge gaping hole in the Linux quiver.

Let's get to the truly impressive thing right away: it's almost shocking how modest the hardware requirements are for Kdenlive. You can edit not only SD, but HD - real, tough HD like AVCHD codec out of the latest solid state cameras - on a decent dual core machine. I'm not talking about proxy files, I mean direct editing. That's pretty astonishing. In this way, believe it or not, the Linux solution may actually trump that of Windows or Mac. I found that on Windows XP with Adobe Premier Pro 7, my dual core Athlon 64 just really wouldn't cut it. With footage out of a Canon HF100, one of the most popular of recent AVCHD camcorders, I could not view footage in acceptable frame rates to edit comfortably. I had to move to an Intel quad core to got acceptable responsiveness. But with Kdenlive, I'm back on Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty with my 3 year old dual core, editing AVCHD happily.

Now, I'm not saying that Kdenlive is quite the equal of my previous favorite NLE, said Premiere Elements. That app is quite polished and mature and stable. Kdenlive is not quite at that level yet. But it has a lot going for it. A beautiful clean modern interface, a decent and growing set of effects, as many tracks as you want of audio or video, and pretty incredible input and output format support.

So what's lacking? The DVD menu's and the titler function are pretty bare bones. There's no function to record a voice over while editing. Cut edits can't be set to automatically slide the following clips backwards on the timeline, you have to take an extra step and do that manually. At this point it doesn't seem to be possible to composite a title over multiple tracks. Judging by the rapid rate of current development however, I would guess that these and a few other little failings will be remedied shortly in future updates. And in the best tradition of Free software development, it's incredibly easy to chat with the actual developers and submit feature requests.

On the other hand, there are actually some things that, like the aforementioned advantages on modest hardware, seem to outstrip the proprietary solutions. Another such advance is the separate render pipeline. You can actually set up a render - or multiple renders - and then go back to editing. On all the proprietary editors I've tried, your app is completely tied up during render - which can take hours for a longer movie. But in Kdenlive you can set up multiple renders at once and then leave the machine to do them all. Say you want a full resolution file for local playback, and a smaller or shorter version for YouTube or Vimeo. Just set up the renders and come back when they're all done. You can change your mind and stop one render while the others continue. (I'm doing two while I write this.) This is some very slick work indeed.

The reason Kdenlive has come together at this point is really thanks not only to the Kdenlive devs, but also to key advances in other projects. In true open source Gnu Linux fashion, these projects effectively divvy up the extraordinary complexity of dealing with digital video: ffmpeg, which handles all of the format and codec matters, as well as MLT, the Inigo renderer, libdv, QImage, and lets not forget the KDE toolkits that serve as the basis for the user interface. (But don't worry, the app runs just fine on Gnome without adding a huge number of KDE libs.)

Another prerequisite to get the kind of performance I'm talking about on a mere dual core machine: you'll want to make sure you have a recent, decent Nvidia graphics card, as well as the latest proprietary nvidia drivers in the 180.xx series or later with all VDPAU libs as well. A large part of the success of HD editing (and playback for that matter) is due to an advance in the Nvidia drivers and graphics API called VDPAU. This offloads much of the video processing to the video card. Very smart. Not all video software has been re-written to take advantage of VDPAU by any means. But Kdenlive, ffmpeg, and mplayer all have recent builds that allow fairly modest machines, even singe cores, to, for instance, play back HD 1080 video in H.264 codec full-screen. (You might even be able to get away with a single core, though rendering/encoding would be quite slow. VDPAU only works with playback, not encoding.)

There have been some hiccups along the way, as I can attest to having followed the development builds for a couple of years now. But as of May of 2009, things are finally coming together. Kdenlive 0.7.3 is very much worth checking out, though with the brand new version of Ubuntu just come out and lots of changes to all the dependencies and to Kdenlive itself, there are some packaging and install and stability issues remaining. But new releases have been coming every couple of months, and the remaining bugs are being knocked down with admirable persistence. I would say that by the next release 0.7.4 most of these packaging difficulties should be ironed out. If you're editing HDV or SD video, I think you'll be extremely happy now. For those of us with AVCHD cameras, editing is generally solid in my experience, but the odd glitch remains.

So go download Kdenlive and give it a run. While you're doing so, marvel at one more thing: the entire packages of Kdenlive, it's dependencies, and the frei0r effects package all add up to a mere 19MB. You read that right: nineteen megabytes. Kdenlive starts up in five seconds on my dual core. (Adobe Premiere Element occupies a minimum of 300MB on disc and takes 35 seconds to start on a Vista quad core.) Really makes you understand how ridiculously bloated commercial software has gotten to be.

And spread the word: video editing for Linux with Free software is finally here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ubuntu getting unprecedented raves at PC Mag

Just a quick note: I actually think this is a first for Linux in a mainstream PC media icon. No less than PC Magazine in it's online edition today has not one but two major raves about Ubuntu. Firstly, noted skeptic and curmudgeon John Dvorak has a headlining article that says everyone should go and try Ubuntu. He's running it on his latest machines (plural) and thinks it has fully arrived as an OS.

In a separate featured review by Nicole Price Fasig, a deluxe netbook from HP is lauded, both for the hardware and for it's custom Ubuntu build. "Providing a seamless, user-friendly Linux experience is exactly where the new Mi (Mobile Internet) edition of the HP Mini 1000 ($424.99 direct) excels." Also noteworthy to me is that this one of the most aesthetic, well designed - and expensive - netbooks on the market right now. Is Ubuntu really only appealing on the low end because of cost? Methinks not so much.

Now, remember that PC Mag started out and has continued to be mostly about Windows and all things Microsoft PC related. They occasionally have had token articles showing that they are aware of Apple and Linux, but really the focus has always been Windows. Dvorak himself, who is one of the most senior and well known computer commentators in the US, admits that he basically makes his living off Windows, which is his excuse for why he can't fully abandon it.

"I cannot wean myself off Windows altogether because, well, I write about Windows. But for ancillary machines that I put together where I need reliability and low price, I'm always going to see whether Ubuntu works. And if it does, that's what gets installed."

That's pretty amazing praise from a guy who has forgotten more about Windows than most people will ever know.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's Not the Cost of the OS - It's the Cost of Apps

I'm a professional sculptor and product designer, a photographer, and an amateur musician, among other interests and hobbies. And I use computers intensively for most of it. And I use Ubuntu Linux and absolutely love it.

Here's one fallacy that some people seem to have about Linux: people are drawn to it because it's a no-cost operating system. I have news for you, the cost of an OS is just the tiny little beginning of what the proprietary software world has in store for you. It was really the unsupportable cost of apps that first put me onto open source applications, to begin with, and then onto Linux itself.

What, an artist with no Mac?

A lot of people familiar with my work are surprised that I don't use a Mac, since most artists and design and media people seem to gravitate towards that. Macs are unquestionably great machines. But for a number of very concrete reasons I've never been an Apple fan. Apple is the most proprietary of all computer companies, and that alone has always rubbed me the wrong way. In that sense, Apple and the Mac system are, in root philosophy, the exact opposite of the Free-libre software movement. And I should state up front that I'm pretty much in agreement with Richard M. Stallman's views of why software ought to be free-libre and open source. But one of the other aspects of Apple is that the hardware comes from only one company, and they really don't like people opening up their cases. Some do, I'm sure, but there certainly are not a lot of people who go out and build their own Macs and install their own OS's and hard drives and network cards, like I do. That's not what Mac's are really about.

At any rate, this puts me in an awkward situation. The worlds of graphic design and multimedia production are drenched in proprietary-ness. Photoshop and all things Adobe have an ironclad grip on most pro graphic designers. Video and audio codecs are a proprietary patent-laden minefield. Beyond that there is the world of architecture and engineering, where companies like Autodesk are a virtual monopolies in their professions.

Like most design professionals, I need sophisticated software. I had an expensive software habit to maintain: 3D Studio Max, AutoCAD, Adobe Creative Suite, CorelDraw, Cakewalk, Adobe Premiere - these programs run from a couple hundred dollars each to well over $3,000 for a programs like 3DS Max and AutoCAD. At one time I was running well over $8000 in applications on my one little machine. Plus the myriad little pieces of sub-$100 software and utilities all grind down your wallet as well. ACDSee is a nice photo browser, much better than what comes with Windows. It's about $80. Quicktime Pro has some nice Quicktime video coding features, $30. Need an MP3 codec for that audio or video editor of yours? Bingo bango, that'll be $15 bucks, thanks. Want some nicer DVD menu designs? Unlock this hidden feature of your video editor for $10. Etc, etc. And of course it's not just once, it's every couple or three years. The upgrade hamster wheel was getting real old real fast.

Now, I suppose if I had been just a video pro, or just a 3D designer, or just an audio recording producer, or just a photographer, I could have lived with it. I know a photographers who charges a couple thousand bucks for a day's photo shoot, so what's the cost of Lightroom and Photoshop in that light, right? But for a lot of people like me, computers are not a narrow-aspect tool. A professional sculptor like me needs a wide variety of applications, not just to design and produce sculpture, but to photograph my work, produce and print photo portfolios, edit a web site, produce promotional videos and advertising.

So what's the cost of a $200 operating system? Honestly, my last gripe was the cost of Windows. (Though that's probably because it was a hidden cost, built into the computer I was buying.) But still it's nothing compared to the hundreds or thousands of dollars a designer will spend on applications. I guess in the old days, when I was paying $3000 for a nice 'fast' computer, the cost of software seemed almost reasonable, or at least, not completely out of line. And I think that's how Apple users felt as well, because the extra cost of a Mac was really no big deal compared to software: it undoubtedly seemed well worth it.

Software costs now dwarf hardware costs

Times have changed though, pretty thoroughly: at this point you can get a pretty rocking computer loaded with RAM, a quad core processor, a great graphics card, and a gi-normous fast hard drive for about $700. And have room in the budget for a great big gorgeous color LCD to see it all on and maybe even a nice big graphics pen-tablet. Meanwhile, the cost of Photoshop and all the other creative software has not come down one iota. Something's gotta give.

So it was the lure of free-libre programs like the Gimp, Blender, Audacity, Inkscape, and Rawstudio that first drew me in. Actually, I think it was probably OpenOffice that was the first FOSS program I downloaded and installed onto Windows 2000. You see, with the relatively small amount of word processing and office type stuff I do, it seemed crazy to keep buying office software. (I used WordPerfect ages ago, and I've never used MS Office at all.) So I tried OOo and guess what? It was just brilliant, exactly what I needed and more. Wow, I thought, how can a program this good be completely free?

At that point, there didn't really seem to be a lot of free software for design. Gimp I found to be a strange thing I tried in lieu of Photoshop. But all the weird windows that opened up really confused me. So for a year or two, OpenOffice was really all I used. But then I discovered Audacity, and then - holy smoke! - Blender for 3D design. You mean someone wrote this free, brilliant program that can completely replace my $3,400 copy of 3D Studio Max - and it downloads in only 25MB??? Now I was really beginning to think that this 'free open source' thing was the real deal. I even gave Gimp a second try and actually liked it.

Eventually I got interested in actually trying Linux itself, the mothership of all open source. I bought a book with some live CD's of Mandrake, and then ran Fedora for a couple months, and eventually discovered Ubuntu Dapper. On balance it seemed to work better than anything, and what really got me was the pace of improvement, the great people in the forums and the community of people helping each other out, and mostly, the ease of finding and installing software. Software - the apps - that's what I wanted, and Ubuntu made it really easy to explore a lot of free software. You mean you just click on all the software packages you want, and it will download and install all of them with another click, and . . . keep them updated forever? f-f-wowww . . .

Can you really design things with Linux only?

Now, all is far from perfect in the world of Linux and design and multimedia software. There still is no first-rate video editing software, for instance. (And yes, I've tried them all and follow their development, I promise you.) Gimp still can't edit 48 bit color images or CMYK. There is nothing like AutoCAD on Linux. On the other hand, I can get an enormous amount done and NEVER worry about upgrades. In fact, I look forward to upgrades with relish.

IN THE NEXT POST: Linux - the OS - is plenty good enough already. It's the apps we need to be bootstrapping . . .