Free Software! Yeah, buddy! (Part One)

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Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been a geek for pretty much all my life. When I was 11 years old (back when dinosaurs roamed the planet), I had a workbench in my bedroom, with soldering iron, a Simpson Volt-Ohm-Milliameter and a Knight-Kit oscilloscope (homebuilt). There was always a twin bed rather than something larger, because I needed the room for all the various junk I used to drag in to fix/cannibalize or otherwise tinker with.

That carried over to my later years as well. I worked as a counterman at an electronic parts house for a year and had to regularly inventory several thousand RCA vacuum tubes.

So, when Radio Shack came out with their first computer, the TRS-80 Model I, I had to have one. I even “lowered” myself to go to Radio Shack to buy one.

No self-respecting geek would be caught dead in Radio Shack, but with an investment of that much money, I wanted a stable brand for my first computer, and Apple wasn’t it (yet). Since then, there has always been at least one computer involved in my life and usually many more. I’ve been through PC-DOS and MS-DOS and DR-DOS, from Windows 2.0 (sorry, I missed 1.0) through Windows 7. I fooled around with BSD Unix, FreeBSD, and half a dozen different flavors of Linux, Lindows (Linspire), Mandrake, Slackware, Debian, SuSe, Knoppix and Ubuntu. But I found RedHat Linux somewhere around version 5.0 and it always made so much sense to me that it became my favorite.

What attracted me to Linux was the concept of free software. Now, the free software advocates tout it as “Free as in Freedom, not free as in beer.” But the fact of the matter is that it is pretty much also free as in beer. I bought my early copies of RedHat. Anyone could download the software for free via the internet,?but at the time, the idea of downloading a full installation copy of Linux via my 33.6k modem was a non-starter. My first application was to design a PC based router, that would let me use my single modem connection to run two computers on one connection. I had just bought a new computer and given the old one to my kids to “learn” about the internet and I needed a method to get two computers online. That required a third computer, which I dug out of a dumpster somewhere… but I digress. I learned a lot about computing building a web server, mail server and a file server for use on my home network at a time when a lot of homes were lucky to have just one computer. I had 3, even if one smelled like old fish and coffee grounds!

Let’s move forward to late 2010. I’ve been using Linux now for at least 12~15 years and I’m pretty comfortable getting around most of it. It’s improved a lot, but the complaints are still out there that it is not a user friendly environment. Suddenly, I’m playing guitar again and I want to build a Digital Audio Workstation, the heart of a home recording studio so I can record my progress as I learn. Where do I turn? Why, Linux, of course!

There is a program out there called Ardour, which runs on Linux. According to all reports it is the cat’s meow of Digital Audio Workstations, on par with Cubase and several other semi-pro and professional pieces of software for Microsoft Windows or Apple’s OSX. Best of all, it’s available for download via the internet free of charge!

So, off I go to my local CompUSA store (no not the one you remember from several years ago that went bankrupt. This is owned by Tiger Direct and is truly a geek’s paradise) to buy parts to build a Digital Audio Workstation. Within a day, the computer was built and Fedora 14 (RedHat’s experimental, free software offering) was installed. The machine breathed fire, it was so fast! Everything was wonderful, except I had to find modules so I could play MP3 files on the computer… and install another piece of software so I could play DVD’s on the computer. Then there was the issue of getting a Flash animation player to run on the computer. I had to have that, as my son is an animator on the internet and I have to be able to see his cartoons. Several hours were spent online trying to find out how to make that work with Google Chrome, my web browser of choice (which installed perfectly, thank you). Google said they had a self contained version inside the Chrome browser, but it turned out it was only on the 32 bit version of the browser and I was running the 64 bit version. Adobe had instructions on how to cobble everything together. Those directions didn’t work on my computer.

But after about a week, I had everything running on my computer to make me happy. Now was the time to make it into a Digital Audio Workstation.

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