Review of dyne:bolic 1.2: The Multimedia Linux

On Saturday March 20, I spent my lazy Saturday morning browsing the web for Linux news. I surfed over to & read the latest happenings in regards to Linux distributions. I read a news blurb on latest release of dyne:bolic 1.2. dyne:bolic is self described as a free multimedia studio in a GNU/Linux live CD. I was intrigued by the prospect of playing with a multimedia studio on live CD that won’t interfere with my PC’s current setup. I downloaded the ISO via Azureus Java bittorrent client. I burned it to CDR using K3B and booted my DAW off the dyne:bolic CD.

Before I continue, I must mention a bit about myself and my equipement. I am a amateur/hobbist musician and have rather extensive experience with PCs, OSs, and networks and have used Unix since 1994 and Linux since 1996. By myself I tend to write spacey techno/electronica music and when I am teamed up with my brothers we make hard rock & prog rock.

Digital Audio Workstation
Name: micro1
Shuttle SS51G XPC small form-factor system
Intel Pentium 4 2.66 GHz (533 MHz FSB)
One – 512 MB PC2700 RAM
Seagate Barracuda ATA/100 40GB HD
Samsung CDRW/DVD SM-332B combo drive
Sapphire ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB with VGA & DVI
M-Audio Audiophile 2496 PCI sound card
Two – Hitachi SuperScan 751 19″ monitors
Windows XP SP1 dual boot with Gentoo

File Server
Name: dualcrush
Running Gentoo and samba to serve up files & printers

Other Software & Hardware
Cakewalk Sonar 3.1.1 Producer Edition
Sonic Foundry (now Sony Pictures Media) Acid 4.0 Pro and Sound Forge 6.0
Cheap/free good quality VSTi & effects from K-v-R Audio Plugin Resources
M-Audio Radium 61-key MIDI keyboard
Behringer Eurorack UB1622FX-PRO Mixer
Line 6 PODxt
Line 6 FBV Floor Board
Fender Hot Rod DeVille 212 guitar amplifier
a cheap Fender Strat clone
a cheap Les Paul clone
Ibanez SRX300 bass guitar
Taylor 6-string acoustic guitar
Pacific Drums 5-piece drum kit with Zildjian A Custom series cymbals

Screen Shot of boot logo

The CD boots with a ASCII text logo & menu with choices accessed using the Function keys. I hit enter to have it load automatically & it loaded the kernel and I noticed it using a initrd to load the kernel modules. It detected the CDRW/DVD, HD, and ethernet network.

Screenshot of boot process

From the screen shot we can see that it loaded USB kernel drivers, ALSA driver for onboard sound, ALSA driver for the pro sound card, firewire IEEE1394, and also detected my video card. It backgrounded the DHCP request, started exim as a MTA for email routing, loaded additional IEEE1394 hardware drivers, launched opensshd in the background and started CUPSd.

Next, it began to run the X Window System, but it failed to run with the error:
(EE) No devices detected
Fatal server error:
No screens found
Screenshot of X Failed

Next it displayed a message that X will run using the framebuffer (fbdev) driver and it mentioned that I would be limited to 800x600x16bit. It started up with Window Maker as the window manager, displayed a splash screen & it played a “boot-up” type sound which I later found located at /usr/share/dynebolic/dixan-splashjingle.ogg. The dyne:bolic desktop is running the Window Maker dock and GKrellM. The dock has HD icons and a USB logo icon. Clicking on the first HD icons opens up Xfe (a GUI file manager similar to windows explorer) and is viewing /vol/hd1 which I discovered is my Windows XP C: partition. The USB logo opens up Xfe to the root / of the filesystem. Some exploring in Xfe shows me that my $home directory is /home and that it has mounted all the partitions under /vol. and and is and is monitoring date & time, CPU, Memory, Disk, and eth0 (ethernet) access.

Screenshot of X Started

The splash screen functions as both a welcome screen and as an informative overview to running dyne:bolic. The “Getting started” tab mentioned that it had mounted the local partitions in /vol, the /home directory is mounted in a RAM filesystem, and that samba is sharing the /home/shared directory with both read and write permissions. Just like the splash screen suggested, I right clicked on the desktop & out popped a menu. The menu is arranged similar to more common GUI program menus such as ones found in MS Windows, KDE, or GNOME. The splash screen is the first entry in the menu and is named “VERSION 1.2” while an X-term is a handy second entry. I opened the X-term and ran # free -mt and it showed that it was using a swap partition. It seems that the boot up process discovered the swap partition from my Gentoo install and it was activated for usage.

Since I am not much a fan of the default desktop background and the color scheme with it’s red windows frames, I choose APPEARANCE, THEMES, Checker. I discovered that I disliked my new choice even more than the default so instead I chose DyneBaby. I then went to APPEARANCE, STYLES, BlueDawn and found that I had made a great first choice.

Screenshot of theme change

Now that the environment is easier on my eyes, I wanted to see if I could reach my file server dualcrush so I might save the screenshots. I went into NET, SHARE, and discovered lineighborhood. LinNeighborhood is a GTK+ frontend to samba and allows me to browse the local SMB network. I started LinNeighborhood and it did not find my LAN’s SMB workgroup conveniently named “workgroup”. I went into Edit -> Preferences and changed the Workgroup field from “DYNEBOLIC” to “workgroup”. I saved the changes, closed the Preferences window, double clicked on the tux icon and two seconds later it found the workgroup WORKGROUP. I double clicked WORKGROUP and it displayed the other PCs & servers on the LAN. I double clicked the server DUALCRUSH and it listed its network shares & printers. I right clicked on the WRITEAUDIO share and chose the only option is the menu “mount”. The Mount Dialog asked for a SMB user name and password so I gave it my name and password for the dualcrush server and then clicked the Mount button. A Xfe window opened up with it displaying the files in /home/DUALCRUSH/writeaudio. This was wonderful as I now have access to all my music projects and can save screen shots to the server without making any changes my local hard drive.

Now that I could save my work to the server, I right clicked on the desktop & immediately went into the AUDIO and then DEE JAY sub menus and chose to run Hydrogen, a drum machine. It ran but it immediately gave the error: “Error starting audio driver”. I went into the File -> Preferences menu. In the Preferences window, the Audio System tab showed me that it is trying to connect to Jack. So I hit cancel, File -> Exit. Right clicked for the dyne:bolic menu, chose AUDIO, DEE JAY, jack daemon.

Screen shot of JACKD started

Once it started up I reran Hydrogen and this time it did not give an error on startup. From the File menu I was able to open a demo song and I hit play and it played a drum track. Next I wanted to export the track as a solid WAV so that I might have proof that it worked but every time I tried to export it, the program would vanish from the screen.

Screen shot of Hydrogen

So with Hydrogen calling it quits, I left the jackd control panel (qjackctl) running and I moved on to another program called terminatorX or what the dyne:bolic menu described as “filescratch turntables”. terminatorX opened up without error or incident and I went into the Options -> Preferences dialog and found that the program is setup to use the OSS driver by default. Since I know that I already have jack running I selected the jack driver. I hit Apply & OK and was brought back to the terminatorX main window. I messed around in the interface until I got a hang of it. The terminatorX program allows you to mix sound samples loaded into what it calls turntables. Then I added another turntable, Turntable 2 to the screen, and I loaded a WAV of my brother Thomas doing Randy Rhodes guitar solo from Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”. In Turntable 1 and loaded the drums accompaniment to for the solo.

Screen shot of terminatorX.

I panned T1 to the left channel and T2 to the right channel. I clicked on Power to activate the turntables and I discovered that it performs a simultaneous mix of both turntables on the fly and outputs is to the sound card. Further messing around let to the discovery that you can ‘sync’ one turntable to another, each turntable has its own user editable effects (EQs, filters, echoes, reverbs, etc) and adjustable pitch. I then discovered that you can not only perform tweaks, edits, increase effects and apply filter sweeps in real time but it will record your mouse movements and allow you to create your own custom mix. I added a Chorus effect to the guitar solo in a couple spots & was satisfied with the result. Now I wanted to get a final recording of my mix, so I went to the menu Turntables -> Record Audio To Disk menu option, told it to save to file tom-terminated.wav and it brought me back to the main screen. I hit the Power button and in a X-term I did a ls -lh *wav
and found that it was indeed recording the mix to disk. I was happy that the mix was now a WAV file so I saved my project with its recorded events to a file and closed terminatorX.

I ran another program called rezound which I found at AUDIO, EDIT, rezound. Upon running rezound, jackd asked me to confirm the connection of the audio output from rezound to the audio out of the sound card. After that the program completed loading and I was at the main screen. Rezound is a audio editor that is similar to Sound Forge or CoolEditPro. I opened my mix WAV file and discovered that it was sampled at 48kHz as opposed to more the common 44.1kHz sample rate that CDs use. I believe that I easily overcame the learning curve for the interface as I have years of experience with similar audio tools. I resampled the mix down to 44.1 kHz and used the LADSPA stereo amplification plugin to make track louder as track was too quiet. I saved my now final mix as a new WAV file called tom-terminated2.wav and then closed rezound.

Screen shot of rezound

I wanted it as an MP3 so I opened an X-term and ran the lame command line mp3 encoder with the following command #lame -V 8 tom-terminated2.wav tom-terminated.mp3 and 4 seconds later I had a mp3 of my mix (430KB).

At this point I decided that I had explored enough of the audio tools for one day and I moved on to the other tools. I used mplayer to play season 4 episode 22 “Home” of the TV show “Angel”. I also experimented with xaos which a fractal viewer & zoomer which makes great trippy graphics. I tried to figure out how to use cinelerra but video editing is not my forte and I failed to get beyond the main screen. Instead I ran the FreeJ program from VIDEO, VEEJAY, FreeJ. FreeJ is to trippy & glitchy graphics as terminatorX is to trippy & glitchy audio mixes and is written by the creator of this dyne:bolic distribution. I opened up one of my screen caps for this article and added an effect and made this trippy dynamic image.

Screenshot of MPlayer

Screenshot of FreeJ

Once I took the time to explorer the menu, I found that dyne:bolic includes a collection of free software programs to allow the user to get some work done. I found familar programs such as LinNeighborhood to access files on my samba server. I used gaim to stay in contact with some friends & family, firebird to browse the web, abiword to write this article, xmms to listen to music, played frozenbubble for my bubble addiction :), used gimp for screen shots & image editing, and xsg for screen caps of programs that I could not capture using the gimp.

While writing this review, I remembered that dyne:bolic had mounted my Windows XP partition as /vol/hd1. In an X-term I ran the command # touch foobar and found that it successfully created a file called foobar. This means that it mounted the XP partition with full read write capability and not read only as how Knoppix mounts the hard drive. I prefer the Knoppix method of mounting as it will prevent the user from accidentally losing data.

I thought about perhaps burning a CD but I realized that on this DAW I only have 1 optical drive and dyne:bolic was using it. Then I remembered that the boot menu mentioned an option for CD burner, so shut down dyne:bolic on my DAW and booted up another PC that has both a CDROM drive and a CDRW drive. The boot menu explained I would have to boot the CD using the command Linux hdd=ide-scsi which will tell the Linux kernel to load the ide-scsi kernel module to enable SCSI emulation for the IDE CDRW drive at /dev/hdd. I entered the command and about 1 minute later was greeted by the dyne:bolic splash screen. First I opened a X-term and ran gcombust, a GTK+ GUI frontend to the widely used cdrecord and other CDR tools. I ran LinNeighborhood so that I might be able to access the dualcrush server and perhaps burn some files to CD. I added some mp3s and TV shows in MPEG format to the file listing and successfully wrote them to the CD.
Screenshot of gcombust

dyne:bolic includes a plethora of great applications such as frozenbubble for gaming, vnc & rdesktop for remote desktop connectivity, network tools such as ethereal and kismet for network analysis, openMosix for high performance clustering, icecast for audio streaming, bluefish for HTML editing, and blender for 3D modeling. Even though dyne:bolic seems have everything including the kitchen sink, I did notice that it does not include Ardour or Rosegarden which are multi track digital audio workstation applications similar to Cakewalk Sonar or Steinberg Cubase.


I would recommend dyne:bolic 1.2 to anyone involved in media creation as long as they are aware that it will require learning & patience to become adept in using dyne:bolic and it’s fine assortment of applications. I have found dyne:bolic 1.2 to be a great niche linux distribution and congratulations to the dyne:bolic team for this latest release.

Dyne:bolic 1.2 – free multimedia studio in a GNU/Linux live CD.

Dyne:bolic GNU/Linux User’s Guide (a work in progress.)

– Autodetected all my hardware.
– Live CD that doesn’t require installation on a hard drive
– Great collection of media tools.
– Familiar programs such as xmms, gaim & firebird.
– Freely distributable

– Requires patience before one can fully use the media creation tools
– Hydrogen crashed & vanished without any warning or error
– It mounted my partitions as read/write & not read only
– Forced to use frame buffer at 800x600x16bit

About the author:
James Pryor is employed by Computer Associates Intl. and has a BS in Information Technology from Rochester Institute of Technology with concentrations in System Administration & Networking. He lives in Long Island, NY. He loves cooking, friends & family, and has a real passion for Free/Libre/Open Source Software. His web site is here.


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