VJ tools for GNU/Linux

Today I tried to install all the different Free Software VJ tools that I could find for GNU/Linux (VJ = video jockey, like DJing vith video). I was using my favorite distribution, Fedora, version 16, which I installed at the weekend on the laptop of a new friend of mine, Federica, who came to a Manchester Free Software meeting the week before. I tried:

I failed. I didn’t manage to install a single one. None of the four applications that I tried had packages for Fedora, or even .rpm files available for other distributions. Finding no easy way to install them, I undertook compiling them, with a beer in hand at a table at Kim By the Sea – a well loved bar next to my co-working office.

I failed. I followed the instructions for Veejay, but unfortunately they were outdated, not geared towards Fedora (just finding the names of the package dependecies took half an hour), and ultimately ended with a cul-de-sac of a compile error (“VEEJAY is unset”). After a couple more results like that, and after more than two hours, I gave up.

Although VJing is well represented in GNU/Linux by the number and apparent features of applications available, currently significant technical knowledge is required in order to actually get them working. Of course, most fashionable VJs are not UNIX experts, and so the attractive interfaces of the likes of FreeJ remain useful to only a tiny number of people.

This is where GNU/Linux packaging really falls down. Programs that are only important to one particular community that isn’t intrinsically technical often end up going unpackaged. It often takes years of an application being stable and widely used before it arrives in the repositories of mainstream distributions like Debian and Fedora. That means people wanting to try out cutting edge Free Software alternatives to proprietary apps first have to learn to cope with a less user friendly distribution. This presents a major barrier to getting new non-technical people into the fold, and makes the spread of FS applications for things like VJing very slow.

My experience today tells me that VJing on GNU/Linux has a great deal of potential, and has already attracted some movers and shakers, but currently is largely unavailable for anyone who isn’t a.) a distro hacker or b.) prepared to switch distros to whatever the developers of FreeJ etc. are using (often Ubuntu, unfortunately).

Dynebolic – a distribution specialising in support for performance arts software, may present an easier path to Free Software VJing. I shall first have to wipe the encrypted hard drive of Federica’s laptop however in order to repartition and make space for it. If that goes to plan then hopefully in January will have at least one Free Software VJer in Manchester!