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Open Letter to Ableton

This is a rant I posted to the Ableton forum.

Open letter to Ableton;

I was very annoyed about Ableton / Linux support, so I decided to come here and complain and I found a thread — of course!

If an application supports Windows and Mac, supporting Linux is not much work. Somehow, there are very many products that work on all 3 platforms. If you only supported Windows, you would be in much worse shape. I’ll bet a sandwich Ableton doesn’t have even have one person working on Linux. 3-5 could have a solid native port in a few months.

The Linux audio stack is getting mature now. What is required now is a realization by you that your customers want Linux support. Note, the WINE support for Ableton Live is getting solid today, but it does have problems. On the latest Ubuntu, it installs and runs, which is a big milestone, but it has some perf glitches (some things are very slow), and the audio doesn’t work. With Ableton supporting Linux directly, or via Wine, ideally both, these problems could easily and quickly get fixed.

A free / GPL Ableton would be very nice, but the proprietary version of Ableton on Linux enables users to run a free OS, which is even better. Not supporting Linux is damaging to the freedom of Ableton’s customers. Microsoft continues to win because of the lack of vision or laziness of others.

I don’t recommend rioting in the streets, but I do encourage customers to loudly remind every software vendor that the freedom to choose your own OS is very important, and companies should respect their customers’ hardware and software preferences.

You might think it isn’t worth it to build a Linux version today, but how can you know the demand of a product you don’t have? Linux marketshare is growing every year and studies show that worldwide usage is comparable to the Macintosh today. It is true that not much music-making is done on Linux now, but that is partially your fault! Are you waiting for Linux to be dominant in music-making before you enter the market? Any businessman will tell you that is exactly backwards.

People may not use a product if it doesn’t run on all platforms: PDF, Flash, Firefox, Wikipedia, etc., etc. are popular because they work on all platforms. Not having a Linux version puts the entire company at risk.

I know you are busy, but that you can afford it. It is not a matter of development being at capacity (as if people ever sit around), it is a matter of prioritizing. When you say you don’t have the resources, you just are saying it doesn’t seem important yet. You actually could make a major shift in priorities quickly if you wanted to. Requirements often show up up mid-way through every development cycle that need to be incorporated, and it gets done. Ableton says that they aren’t going to support Linux because they can’t be “all things to all people”. That is equating one feature with all features.

You either embrace the future or your competitors do it for you. I don’t care who builds it, but music-making software is one of the top challenges for the Linux desktop. Many people run 1 or 2 proprietary apps on Linux. Several of Ableton’s employees are long-time users of Debian Linux. It is sad that Linux has so many users who are not supporters. Supporting Linux can mean many things, I just ask you to start with creating a version of Ableton that runs on at least Debian. If you feel very busy, I can recommend moving away from C++ towards 99% Python. That will help help speed the Linux port and every other feature.



P.S. Here is a quote:

Sometimes the real hurdle to renewal is not a lack of options, but a lack of flexibility in resource allocation. All too often, legacy projects get richly funded year after year while new initiatives go begging. This, more than anything, is why companies regularly forfeit the future — they over invest in “what is” at the expense of “what could be.”

New projects are deemed “untested”, “risky”, or a “diversion of resources.” Thus while senior execs may happily fund a billion-dollar acquisition, someone a few levels down who attempts to “borrow” a half-dozen talented individuals for a new project, or carve a few thousand dollars out of a legacy budget, is likely to find the task on par with a dental extraction.

The resource allocation model is typically biased against new ideas, since it demands a level of certainty about volumes, costs, timelines, and profits that simply can’t be satisfied when an ideal is truly novel. While it’s easy to predict the returns on a project that is a linear extension of an existing business, the payback on an unconventional idea will be harder to calculate.

Managers running established businesses seldom have to defend the strategic risk they take when they pour good money into a slowly decaying business model, or overfund an activity that is already producing diminishing returns.

How do you accelerate the redeployment of resources from legacy programs to future-focused initiatives?

—Gary Hamel, The Future of Management


  1. “The Linux audio stack is mature now.”? No it’s not! It’s a software patch on a software patch on a software patch. The sooner someone comes along and integrates JACK and Pulse directly into ALSA we’ll talk about the audio stack being mature.

    Sorry to be blunt about it.

    • For an app like Ableton, working with multiple APIs like JACK, Pulse, and ALSA is no big difficulty.

      There is some tweaking to be done, but the foundations are solid. It isn’t that patchy: OSS has been retired, etc.

  2. You know what is even worse ? That their product, or at least significant parts of it, are written in Python. Thus, it should be hack easy to make it work on Linux :-).
    BTW, They are constantly looking for Python developers – I see thier adds in German jobs sites for about 8 months now.
    Here is an example http://www.itjobboard.de/index.php?xc=1&WT.mc_id=e10001&Mode=AdvertView&AdvertId=7761303&lang=de&source=JBE&SearchTerms=&LocationSearchTerms=&JobTypeFilter=0&DatePostedFilter=0&OrderBy=0&Page=1&.

    Many times I thought of applying to work there, but I don’t want to work for a propriety software company … So, bummer for them 😉

    • OMG. Are you telling me they already have lots of Python code? The Wikipedia page only mentions C++. The port would go very quickly then. It mostly involves the cp command. It is amazing. They say that brilliance is usually the act of one, but incredible stupidity is only the act of a large organization. I think Ableton’s Linux decision fits into that category.

  3. Even if you get a Linux version of Ableton you still have the small matter of plugins. There are thousands of great free Windows VST plugins, for that reason I’d much rather have Ableton working reliably with Wine. I have thus far not seen many inspiring Linux VST instruments, so unless you make sample based music you’re still gonna be a second class citizen producing music on Linux.

    After trying a bunch of native Linux options, I use Reaper and EnergyXT via Wine on Linux and find that to be a good compromise. There is some occasional instability, but I save often and know how to work with the few minor issues. On the other hand performance and latency are both very good.

    Plus I get the benefit of being able to continue using the library of hundreds of plugins I’ve accumulated over the years rather than being limited to just a handful of useful Linux VST or LADSPA plugins.

    In conclusion, I think the idea of Ableton on Linux is a good idea in theory, but not really a viable solution until you have plugins to go with it. Otherwise it’s just a niche solution that caters to either people savvy enough to get Windows plugins working reliably and connected via Jack and some other VST host, or people making sample based music or sequencing external gear using little or no plugins.

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