Friday, August 31, 2007

HOWTO: Software audio mixing in Ubuntu

The Problem: Some distros don't configure correctly the sound system out of the box. More specifically - Debian and Ubuntu/Kubuntu. If your sound card doesn't support hardware channel mixing (most onboard sound chips used in laptops don't), then only one application can play/record sound at a time.

Background Info: Several years ago, in an attempt to solve this problem, sound servers (or daemons) were invented - e.g. ESD/EsounD (default in GNOME) and aRts (default in KDE). The idea behind sound daemons is that applications shouldn't access the sound card directly, but rather interact with the sound server, which in turn performs software channel mixing, and plays the resulting stream through OSS or ALSA.

This approach however is fundamentally wrong, and doesn't really solve the issue. It is assumed groundlessly that every application will use the same sound server, and not the sound system directly. Even a single application accessing the sound card directly is enough to prevent the sound server from working. Besides, both ESD and aRts have latency problems, which makes them unsuitable for a number of purposes, for example watching movies.

Fortunately, for quite some time now, the ALSA sound system itself has had built-in software channel mixing through the dmix, dsnoop, and asym plugins. It should be used automatically when hardware mixing is unavailable. But for some unknown reason in Debian and Ubuntu this is broken and doesn't work by default.

The Solution: Create the file /etc/asound.conf:

gksudo gedit /etc/asound.conf

(if in KDE, try 'kdesu kate /etc/asound.conf' instead)

Copy/Paste the following into the text editor:

pcm.my_card {
type hw
card 0
# mmap_emulation true

pcm.dmixed {
type dmix
ipc_key 1024
# ipc_key_add_uid false # let multiple users share
# ipc_perm 0666 # IPC permissions for multi user sharing (octal, default 0600)
slave {
pcm "my_card"
# rate 48000
# period_size 512

pcm.dsnooped {
type dsnoop
ipc_key 2048
slave {
pcm "my_card"
# rate 48000
# period_size 128

pcm.asymed {
type asym
playback.pcm "dmixed"
capture.pcm "dsnooped"

pcm.pasymed {
type plug
slave.pcm "asymed"

pcm.dsp0 {
type plug
slave.pcm "asymed"

pcm.!default {
type plug
slave.pcm "asymed"

Save the file.

Configure your applications to use ALSA directly.


All done. Enjoy :)

P.S. If still having problems with some applications, you could experiment with uncommenting some of the commented lines in the file.

P.P.S. For detailed explanation of what we just did, refer to this page from the unofficial ALSA wiki.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

HOWTO: Google Sky on Ubuntu/Debian

Google Sky is the major new feature in the just released Google Earth 4.2. The proper way to install new applications on Debian-based linux distros (including Ubuntu) is using the package manager. However, Google does not provide a .deb package, so we will have to build one ourselves. Fortunately, it's very easy:

First, download and install the latest version of googleearth-package:

sudo dpkg -i googleearth-package_0.3.2_all.deb
sudo apt-get install -f

Now use googleearth-package to automatically create a .deb package for the latest Google Earth:


Finally, install the resulting package:

sudo dpkg -i googleearth_4.2.180.1134+0.3.2-1_i386.deb
sudo apt-get install -f

That's all. Start it from Applications -> Internet -> Google Earth. Press the Sky button and enjoy.

Note 1: Tested on Ubuntu Feisty 7.04 32-bit, but should work on any Debian / Ubuntu version. On 64-bit architectures, you may have to use the --force option with make-googleearth-package.

Note 2: If this how-to was useful to you, please
digg it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


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