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Wine, Linux and Multimedia Software (Part 1)

I have been an unashamed Windows user for longer than I care to remember. However, I took a big step about six months ago when I commenced my adventure with Linux. This was partly triggered because I was curious to learn more about the operating system I was reading so much about on technology websites. Moreover my then operating system, Vista, was becoming increasingly irritating to use. Vista's User Access Control had annoyed me from the outset, but this was only one of many problems haunting me on a daily basis, not least the constant reboots, and security issues.

Installing Ubuntu was easy, with all of my hardware being automatically detected including my laser printer. I was immediately impressed with how simple everything is to use. Some of the software that I used under Windows is also available under Linux. Skype, FireFox, and OpenOffice are three of my most frequently used applications, and the transition to Linux for these applications was painless. However, there remained one significant barrier to becoming productive under Linux. Unfortunately, the developers of many of my favorite Windows software have decided not to release a Linux version. Whilst there are Linux alternatives for many of these applications (some of which, no doubt, are just as good or in fact even better than what I had been using in the Windows world), this did not alter the fact that I would need to learn how a large set of new software worked. Do not get me wrong, I love experimenting with fresh software. But to be faced with having to learn about so many new applications simultaneously was a bit daunting.

In a roundabout way, this brings me on to the subject of this article, which is the Wine software. This is an open source implementation of the Windows Application Programming Interface on top of X, OpenGL, and Linux. I am not exactly sure what this means, but in plain English, it means that Wine is a compatibility layer between Windows programs and Linux. When running a Windows application with Wine, the software actually believes it is running under Windows. The name is derived from the recursive acronym, Wine Is Not an Emulator.

By way of background, the Wine project started way back in 1993. However, it was not until 2008 that a stable release of Wine was finally released. There are not many software applications that take this long to come out of beta status. But Wine is not like a typical software program. It faces a mammoth task to hit what is a continuously moving target.

The purpose of this article is to try out some of my favourite Windows multimedia software in Wine. This is not intended to be an exhaustive survey of Windows multimedia software, but merely to capture my thoughts on software which I used on a regular basis under Windows. The first part of the article explores 3 proprietary Windows applications.


Spotify

Spotify is a proprietary peer-to-peer music streaming service that allows users to listen to tracks or albums on demand. The service describes itself as "A world of music. Instant, simple and free". Audio streams are provided in the Vorbis format. Due to licensing issues, Spotify is currently only available to use in the UK, France, Spain, Sweden, Finland and Norway.

Spotify is particulary useful because it provides free legal access to a huge library of music covering all different types of music such as pop, alternative, classical, techno, and rock. It is a great way of dipping into new music. The service has the support of major labels including Sony BMG, EMI, Universal, and Warner Music, as well as independent labels and distribution networks like Labrador Records, The Orchard, Alligator Records, Merlin, CD Baby, INgrooves as well as classical music labels such as Chandos, Naxos, EMI Classic, Warner Classics, Denon Essentials and many more. The breadth of music is expanding at a phenomenal pace. This month alone the service added over 7,500 new albums.

Whilst the premium service requires the payment of a monthly subscription, there is also a free version available which provides the same range of tracks and albums albeit at a lower streaming rate (160kbit/s as opposed to 320kbit/s). The free version also has audio adverts between tracks, and graphical ads within the graphical user interface, but these are not too intrusive.

There are free software clients for Spotify which run on Linux. Unfortunately, they only work with a premium account, and do not provide all of the functionality provided by Spotify's own graphical user interface. Regretfully, the developers of Spotify, Spotify AB, do not provide a Linux client for either the free or premium versions, and appear to have no plans to do so in the future. However, on their website they do at least provide a brief article which explains how to run the Windows version of Spotify in Linux, using Wine.

I am pleased to report that Spotify runs really sweetly under Wine. First, music tracks are played without any audio glitches whatsoever. The interface has no visual bugs, and searches for tracks and albums work exactly as expected. The software has been very stable in use, not crashing on a single occasion, and works without any noticeable speed slowdown. A big thumbs up for Wine here!

Spotify is one of my favourite applications. It is the fastest way of playing music, and allows me to explore a huge range of new music. I would be lost without it!


DigiGuide

Moving on, DigiGuide is a popular television and radio listings program for home computers, produced by GipsyMedia Limited. It is proprietary software which has an annual subscription fee, and runs under Microsoft Windows only.

The main features of DigiGuide include:

  • Minimum of 14 days of TV and Radio listing, but for many channels it provides 4-6 weeks more
  • Automatic downloading and updating of listings
  • Different ways to view listings including on a grid and in single- and multi-channel lists
  • Ability to search listings by programme name, episode name, category and keywords
  • Default and user-created markers for highlighting programmes, series or search results
  • Reminder alerts on screen, by email and by SMS
  • Customizable appearance settings (skins), plus various add-ins and extensions
  • Ability to report listings issues and support via forums and email

Linux has a number of TV guide programs that run natively such as Maxemum TV-Guide, and the Java based FreeGuide. These applications use XMLTV as their back end to grab listings. Unfortunately, the quality of the listings is significantly inferior and covers a shorter period than that provided by DigiGuide. Moreover, DigiGuide has many other advantages, such as being more visually appealing with different ways to view listings, a useful Explorer bar which makes it a breeze to find interesting tv programmes, and the software is hugely configurable.

Whilst GipsyMedia has mooted the idea of releasing a Mac OS X version of DigiGuide, they have repeatedly stated that they have no plans to produce a Linux client.

Fortunately, DigiGuide is easy to install and really works under Wine. In fact it runs just as well as any program that I use regularly (and that is quite a few). I have read reports that there were previously problems with DigiGuide updating its listings with Wine, but I have experienced no problems whatsoever with Wine 1.1.28. The fonts look great under Wine, the software is really slick, and feels like its running natively under Linux. Another pat on the back for the Wine developers.


VideoReDo

VideoReDo is proprietary MPEG video editing software for Windows produced by DRD Systems. It provides a simple and fast way to edit MPEG1 and MPEG2 video, with automatic commercial detection, auto repair audio/video sync, with transport stream mux and demuxing.

One of the key features of VideoReDo Plus is that it edits in native MPEG, making it very quick to trim, cut and/or join MPEGs.

VideoRedo is one of those rare pieces of software where the developer's claim are true: it makes it so simple to cut video from MPEG/VOB files.

In the video editing department I recognise that Linux has strong alternatives. I have read a lot of good things about Avidemux, Kdenlive, and Lives, and in time probably Avidemux will become my video editor of choice. But for now, I am perfectly happy editing with VideoReDo.

Stability of VideReDo under Wine is the biggest issue. In general the software crashes under Wine on a fairly regular basis. Whilst most of the tools run without any problems including the Ad-Detective tool, trying to start the Quickstream fix causes VideoReDo to fall over every time. However, providing the media file does not need to be repaired, it is still possible to use VideReDo under Wine to edit MPEG files. Watching the video in the playback window is unsurprisingly a bit jerky, but then VideReDo was never intended to be a media playback tool. The jerkyness does not prevent the user from locating the parts of the file to edit, and so VideoReDo is functional under Wine.

Whilst it is still possible to use VideoReDo under Wine, it falls significantly short of being a recommended way of editing video files under Linux. At least Linux has real viable alternatives released under freely distributable licenses. But I hope that a later version of Wine will improve matters, as I will always have a soft spot for VideoReDo.


The next part of this article focuses on my experience with 3 freeware Windows applications running under Wine. Read on:

Part 2: mp3DirectCut, CDex, Mp3tag


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Last Updated Sunday, September 06 2009 @ 09:18 AM EDT


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