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If I had a dollar for every person who told me they’re switching to Linux because it’s free, I could buy a few copies of Windows 10.

It’s a wise reason to choose Linux; after all, financial responsibility How to Fix Bad Financial Habits With a 30-Day Money Challenge How to Fix Bad Financial Habits With a 30-Day Money Challenge Read More is something everyone should practice. The point of free and open source software is the liberty to access and modify the code (“free as in speech”), but it doesn’t hurt that the majority of Linux distros are available free of charge (“free as in beer”).

If you’re an independent artist, a creative professional, or a hobbyist dedicated to digital art, you might appreciate Linux even more. Investing in education, equipment, and materials can quickly drain your wallet; the last thing you’ll want is having to pay for software. And you don’t have to. There are specialized distributions for music production, video editing, graphic design, and 3D modelling, with a wide range of software covering basic and advanced needs.

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Don’t be mistaken: these distributions are not merely collections of apps slapped together. Most of them are optimized for multimedia-related tasks from the ground up. For example, they can:

The downside of Linux distros for artists is that they’re often maintained by a very small team, or just by a single person. The risk of being discontinued is much higher with such projects than with big, popular distributions.

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On the bright side, most multimedia distros have a stable, well-documented base like Debian and Ubuntu LTS releases, and you can use them even if they haven’t been updated in a while. Any problems will likely have been spotted and resolved upstream, so you can always turn to Debian and Ubuntu forums for help.

Now you know what to expect, let’s glimpse into the colorful world of Linux distributions for multimedia production.

Fedora Design Suite: Best of the Basics

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Just like Ubuntu comes in different “flavors” (Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Edubuntu…), Fedora has Spins and Labs alongside the standard edition. Fedora Design Suite is brought to you by the official design team that creates all Fedora-related artwork. It’s a collection of tried-and-true apps that can be added to an existing installation, or downloaded and installed as an independent version of Fedora. The Design Suite inherits features from the main Fedora release, including the Gnome desktop environment.

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The default selection of apps is modest, and leans in favor of image editing and desktop publishing software. The fact that it doesn’t overwhelm you with dozens of unknown apps makes Fedora Design Suite perfect for artists who are just starting with Linux.

Highlights: Fedora Design Suite does a great job of introducing you to graphic design via its extensive list of tutorials, which is accessible from the main Applications menu. As for bundled software, Entangle is a fantastic app that lets you control a digital camera from your computer.

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Alternative: If openSUSE is closer to your heart than Fedora, try Newt OS Studio. It’s a project similar to Fedora Design Suite, but based on the latest stable version of openSUSE. Newt lets you choose between two slim DEs (LXDE and Loki), and the apps it offers — Gimp, Inkscape, Darktable, Audacity, Scribus, Sweet Home 3D… — should sound familiar to everyone.

Ubuntu Studio: All-Around Simplicity

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Probably the most popular multimedia Linux distro, Ubuntu Studio has been a part of Ubuntu family since 2007. There’s a lot to love about this distribution: from a rich software catalogue and a bunch of fonts installed by default to a low-latency kernel and helpful JACK tweaks. For example, Ubuntu Studio makes it possible to use Pulse Audio and JACK simultaneously, and it comes with a graphical tool called Qjackctl that serves as a user-friendly control panel for JACK.

The default desktop environment is Xfce, and you can use a LTS version if you’re aiming for stability, or upgrade every nine months Why You Need to Upgrade Ubuntu Every 9 Months Why You Need to Upgrade Ubuntu Every 9 Months It's that time again, when Canonical announce that support for one of its standard Ubuntu builds has come to an end. But what does this mean to the end user? Read More to keep up with new Ubuntu releases and features. Like its Ubuntu cousins, Studio is simple to use, and should you require more apps, they’re only a few clicks away in the repositories and PPAs.

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Highlights: Ubuntu Studio offers more than just one app for every category, so you’ll find both Darktable and Rawtherapee for RAW photo editing 4 Great Tools For Editing RAW Photos In Linux 4 Great Tools For Editing RAW Photos In Linux These days most digital SLR cameras include the ability to shoot in RAW, an uncompressed image format that gives you great control over a number of photographic variables. This can vary from the basics like... Read More , Kdenlive, Pitivi, and Openshot for video editing, and a long list of audio tools, including complete workstations like Ardour and Rosegarden. Among the most interesting apps is Synfig Studio in which you can make your own high-quality 2D animations.

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Alternative: Musix sounds like it might be just for music production, but it nicely covers everything else, offering several video editors 7 Free Open Source Video Editors For Linux 7 Free Open Source Video Editors For Linux Read More (Cinelerra, Avidemux, Kdenlive), Gimp, Inkscape, and Blender, alongside audio tools. What makes Musix special is that it contains exclusively free software, without any proprietary parts. It’s 32-bit-only, based on Debian, uses a real-time kernel, and your default DE options are LXDE, KDE, and IceWM.

KXStudio: Focused on Sound

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If you’re serious about making music with Linux, KXStudio is for you. Like other multimedia distros, it offers a bit of everything, but the focus is on sound editing and production. KXStudio is based on Ubuntu, uses the “old” KDE 4.11.x as the desktop environment, and comes with a low-latency kernel.

The majority of included apps are free and open source, but KXStudio makes it possible to install proprietary software (mostly plugins and support for various file formats) from a special non-free repository. Even better, if you don’t feel like installing a whole new distro, you can just install KXStudio’s software collection on any other compatible (Debian- or Ubuntu-based) Linux distribution.

Highlights: KXStudio features its own suite of audio-related tools called Cadence. The apps — Catarina, Catia, and Claudia — are maintained by the KXStudio developers, and can be installed on other distros as well. They’re helpful for all patchbay management tasks, and the main Cadence interface lets you control JACK. Another fantastic app from the selection is Renoise, a proprietary digital audio workstation with a tracker-based interface and a ton of effects and plugins.

creative-linux-distros-apps-renoise

Alternative: AV Linux, because it uses KXStudio’s repositories and provides the same software. The main difference is that AV Linux is Debian-based, and the installation is slightly more complicated than with KXStudio. The desktop environment is Xfce, and the users can choose between a low-latency kernel and a custom real-time one.

Apodio: Filled to the Brim

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I can see why anyone would be skeptical about Apodio. The website looks like it’s seen better days, and the documentation is sparse. Yet Apodio is not some recent project on a downward spiral; quite the contrary, it’s been around since the early 2000s, and it’s currently in its tenth iteration. Previously based on Mandriva, now it runs Ubuntu 14.04 under the hood, and sports a simple and welcoming Xfce desktop.

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What it lacks in documentation, Apodio absolutely makes up for in software quantity, and then some. With an ISO image of almost 4 GB, Apodio probably has every multimedia app you’ll ever need, and they’re all neatly categorized in the main menu.

Highlights: As expected, most apps are sound-related, but you won’t be disappointed if you’re a photographer, filmmaker, or animator. Apodio has three different desktop recorders Record Your Desktop with These 12 Great Screencasting Apps Record Your Desktop with These 12 Great Screencasting Apps Need to record your desktop? Luckily, you'll find that screencasting apps are more common than you might think. Here are some of the best free ones. Read More , so you can also use it for screencasting. One of the coolest apps is Stopmotion, which can capture input directly from cameras (including your webcam) and help you create wonderful timelapse photography.

creative-linux-distros-apps-stopmotion

Alternative: If your goal is to have as many multimedia production apps as possible, you can try ArtistX ArtistX: The Linux Distribution Tailored For Any Artist, Whether Graphical or Musical ArtistX: The Linux Distribution Tailored For Any Artist, Whether Graphical or Musical Read More or Open Artist. Both distros are based on Ubuntu, and they’re both well-known in the community, but I didn’t list them as primary choices because they are no longer actively maintained. Still, Open Artist has a unique approach where it lists all available apps in the menus, but very few are actually installed. This gives you the freedom to install only those apps you really need by simply clicking their name in the menu.

io GNU/Linux: Enlightened Portability

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io GNU/Linux is a refreshing collage of apps and developer choices. It’s based on Debian and uses Enlightenment You Can Have It All: Enlightenment Is A Light Linux Desktop Environment That Looks Good You Can Have It All: Enlightenment Is A Light Linux Desktop Environment That Looks Good Enlightenment deserves a little more attention because it's a worthy Linux desktop environment that could fit the needs of many people. Read More as the main desktop environment, with a few KDE apps thrown into the mix. The software collection is massive, and you can choose between a regular and a real-time kernel.

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However, it seems that the main point of io GNU/Linux is to be one of those distros you can run from a USB drive 5 Best Linux Distros for Installation on a USB Stick 5 Best Linux Distros for Installation on a USB Stick USB drives are great, not just for installing portable versions of Linux but for protecting your computer when things go awry. Here are the 5 most useful Linux distributions for installing on a USB drive. Read More . Instead of regular installation, the idea is to use io GNU/Linux in “persistence mode”, which means copying the distribution to a portable drive so that you can work in it on any computer.

Highlights: io GNU/Linux strikes a fair balance by offering the classics (Openshot, LiVES, Guitarix, Rakkarack, LMMS, MyPaint…) and making room for undiscovered, but powerful apps like sound visualizers, fractal generators, and Flowblade. The latter is a multi-track video editing tool with a timeline, options for trimming and compositing, and plenty of audio and video filters.

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Iro: A New Model

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Compared to distros that cram their menus full of apps, Iro feels frugal, but in a good way. It’s a highly specialized distribution for animation, 3D modelling, compositing, digital painting, and image editing. It makes sense for Iro to contain only a handful of relevant apps, since a visual artist would not have much use for a bunch of audio production tools 4 Audacity Alternatives for Music Production Online 4 Audacity Alternatives for Music Production Online You need Audacity-like editing features, yet you're using a Chromebook. What do you use? There are now some fantastic web apps for music collaboration that work in much the same way as Audacity. Read More .

Iro is based on Ubuntu and supports only 64-bit systems. The maintainer states that Iro is still a work in progress, but you can use it normally without any severe issues. The only tricky part is the nonstandard installation. Iro uses Systemback, which is primarily a backup and restore 10 Easy Ways to Restore Your Linux System 10 Easy Ways to Restore Your Linux System Windows' System Restore feature is a good way of making and maintaining entire system backups. If only Linux had a similar feature... oh wait, it does - in fact, we've got 10 options to choose... Read More application, instead of Ubuntu’s default installer.

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Highlights: Once you’ve successfully gone through the installation process, you’ll be greeted by a slick, attractive desktop. Iro uses Cinnamon as the default DE, and the circular launcher called Gnome-Pie Launch Your Applications In Style Using GNOME Pie [Linux] Launch Your Applications In Style Using GNOME Pie [Linux] Over the years, we’ve changed a lot about the way we try to launch our applications. Out of all the operating systems out there, Linux seems to be the experimental playground. A new, promising solution... Read More is bound to catch your eye. Applications worth mentioning include Makehuman (for creating realistic 3D models of humans) and Natron (a professional grade tool for compositing and special effects).

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Creative work on Linux is so much more than endless debates on Gimp versus Photoshop GIMP vs Photoshop: Which One is Right for You? GIMP vs Photoshop: Which One is Right for You? Photoshop is the most popular image editing app out there and GIMP is the best free alternative to it. Which should you use? Read More . Alongside already supported free software, more and more proprietary apps for digital art professionals are becoming available on Linux. It’s not a secret that Pixar and DreamWorks have used Linux in their projects, so you should definitely give a chance to the distributions presented here.

In case you need some specialized apps that are not included in your multimedia distro of choice, here are a few resources to check out:

Now we would like to hear from you—are you a musician, a photographer, or maybe a filmmaker? What multimedia distribution do you use? Which apps are essential in your creative workflow? Tell us in the comments below.

Image Credits: Ubuntu Studio login screen via Wikimedia Commons, Natron screenshot, Linux home recording studio by Lauri Rantala via Flickr, Apodio logo, Entangle screenshot, Flowblade screenshot, Renoise screenshot, Stopmotion screenshot, Synfig Studio 1.0, KXStudio screenshot, io GNU/Linux screenshot.

  1. Daniel Gutierrez
    November 22, 2016 at 4:56 am

    If you are serious about audio or video production, my advice is do not waste time with Linux.

    Linux as an OS is great -- I've been using it regularly since 12 years ago and I've seen it work in high-end servers. Technically it beats Windoze to pieces, and in my experience also OSX in many areas. I use it all that I can; I'm allergic to Windoze.

    But the fact is there are no good, freely-available tools for serious multimedia work on Linux.

    If you want to edit your video of Grandma's birthday, fine, you can make do with Kdlenlive or Blade or some of the other free editors. If you want to edit video with a professional workflow and quality -- forget it. Even Cinelerra is utter crap for that.

    I feel it's really irresponsible for the author of this article to write "Pixar and DreamWorks have used Linux in their projects, so you should definitely give a chance to the distributions presented here". Pixar and Dreamworks have teams of developers dedicated to customizing their Linux distributions. Normal users do not. Free audio or video editors are great but usually not suited for professional work. This is not the fault of the developers, it simply takes too many programming hours to create a full-featured professional and stable video or audio editor.

    It would be nice if companies like Dreamworks gave something back to the community and released some of the software that they use for editing or animation. AFAIK, that is not happening. The only publicly available professional video editor for Linux is Lightworks. You can try the free version (you won't be able to render to res. above 720 IIRC) and see if it's worth the price of the pro version (about USD 250 last I checked).

    For the rest -- if you are serious about your work -- then forget it. If you want to spend time fiddling with audio settings and grabbing your hair in frustration at the bugs/lack of features in video editors, then by all means try Linux. If you're working on a deadline and/or are serious about creative work, then do not go into Linux for this.

    And I say this as someone who loves Linux and is very familiar with it. I usually don't touch Windoze with a ten-foot pole. Yet when I have to work on video I boot into Windoze and fire up Premiere. It's not perfect but gets the job done.

    I know quite a few people in the video and audio industries, and NONE of them use Linux. A few I know have tried and given up. And this is in a Third World country where software is VERY expensive -- if these people had a free working alternative to Windows or Mac you can bet they would use it.

  2. Anon
    August 23, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    To be honest, linux is not good for audio producing, no matter what. The DAW GUI that you mention above give me headache.

    I've tried it before and also deeply dissapointed.

    The reason why linux left behind the 2 market dominator eventhough its free is the OS isn't easy and fun to use. In the other words, the developer dont have good UX team.
    I'll be pissed if I accidentally wipe all my data in certain partition due to freaky asdfghjkl installation process (I actually did, thats why I can say it).

    But when it comes to programming, those other two cant stand its performance

  3. MK
    July 20, 2016 at 7:03 pm
  4. Sweaper
    July 7, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    As of now, XFCE/KDE/LXDE don't have a GUI to cstomize your Wacom Tablet. I don't know about Mate and Cinammon. Right now I'm stuck with Gnome because I'm too lazy to configure my wacom using commands. I'm going to test the Iro, hopefully it's good for work, I'll comment on my experience with it soon here :)

  5. DJ KRD
    June 24, 2016 at 9:57 am

    I have to say it, I love Linux but its a terrible option to make music. You have to learn almost all again (DAWS, plugins, FXs, JACK), and the worst thing is that linux is not changing those aspects of itself. Configure JACK with pulse, then bridge this thing with that other thing, WHAT THE HECK !!! i just wanna make some music !!! When linux have at least a decent audio system that needs no extra configuration, then it's going to be a real contender in music production, be it amateur or professional. In fact, i think this is the only weak point of linux - the audio system.

  6. Robert Backlund
    May 30, 2016 at 5:37 am

    Hello,
    When considering using Linux for music creation there is one thing to keep in mind. If you are already into music creation on either a Mac or a Windows workstation and have an existing investment in VST, VSTi plugins for Windows as well as the plugins for the Mac (I do not own a Mac so I cannot remember what the Mac plugins are called) they will not work on Linux. There are some decent Linux plugins but the selection is rather sparse in comparison to Windows and the Mac. Also you will find a lot of the DAW's (digital audio workstations) on Linux to be rather limiting in comparison to the other two platforms and the free ones are not very well documented so it will be a lot more difficult learning how to use the software. However there are advantages to using Linux and the main ones are that most if not all of the dedicated distros for audio use Jack as well as giving you the option to use a low latency kernel or even a real time kernel something that just is not possible on Windows (I can't speak for Mac's). Also if you are on Linux already and want or need a DAW that is more powerful than what people usually use on Linux there is a fairly new and very powerful commercial DAW that is developed to run on Windows, Mac, as well as Linux. This Daw is BitWig Studio and is developed in Germany. I currently own Bitwig Studio as well as Cakewalk Sonar Platinum on Windows. I have used Bitwig on Linux a few times but I wind up using it on Windows because on Linux I am not able to use the collection of VSTs that I am used to using on Windows.

  7. lott11
    May 28, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    I would like to know what scam are you talking off.
    Granted Ubuntu studio would never be my first pick, to do most of any audio work.
    The rest are fine to work with, musix, kxstudio, Avlinux, 64 Linux, have been my top for audio work.
    Granted I install ardour & reaper for audio comparable with windows or OSX.
    So lets say the choices would lets say just in Audio, what sound forge, fl studio, or any of avid software.
    Any of this would cost at minimum $179.00 the average being $390.00 and then add plugins.
    The minimum would them be $80.00 to $190.00 add that you may need at least 5 of this, that would for a large sum money.
    The PC has to be at least 4 core at 2.1Mghz, 16 GB ram, a minimum of 1 Tb of hard drive that would be $900 plus in cost.
    So we would be talking in a bold park of $ 2000.00 in software that would include the OS anti-malware.
    And all the other garbage that windows requires, ho yea! this is not a scam.
    And I have not mention any of the other software like Cubase or and of the software from steinburg that start at $600.00 plus add the other plug-ings that if get the basic would only cost and additional $700.00.
    now lets go to video let start with adobe or Sony the most popular the would be $900.00
    lets not get in too Maya, Rhino, and some of the other basic software that start $1200.00 ones you and the plug ins and up keep for a years time.
    And the fact the PC is no longer $800.00 but $2700.00 to $5000.00 because this no longer a PC but a work station.
    So how do I know this 3 kids and audio engineer, graphic designer, and other one just getting out high school this year.
    All of this is on windows lets not even talk of Apple, that is 50% more of the cost for less hardware.
    So how those this make it a SCAM you IDIOT.
    The most I spent on a Linux OS is $0 additional software my ardour for a years update $45.00 and for the reaper is $40.00 plus my PC the cost the same $889.00 Ho my specs 3 Boot drives and 4 storage drives total 8.5 TB 990 mobo, AMD8320, 7850 4Gb gddr3, 16 Gb ddr3 ram, 750 PSU.
    The OS are in this order win7 ult, OSX 10.4, EU, kxstudio, musix, Suse, fedora, arch, BSD, Remix.
    and a few others OS.
    Ho by the way the first two OS are now going to run underneath VR inside Linux.
    That will give me no more headaches at boot time, so what do you have to say now.
    All software has it's place.
    Just because you do not know how to use it, dose not make it bad or a scam.
    And just because you can not wright code in Unix dose not make you a m****n but locking time to learn.

  8. Gabriel Baribeau
    May 26, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    LOL! You really like to scam people don't you?

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