April 10, 2007

Dyne:Bolic 2.4.2: A live CD multimedia studio

Author: Mayank Sharma

The Dyne:Bolic distribution is a live CD designed for creating, broadcasting, and publishing all kinds of audio, video, and graphic content. It includes some of the best free and open source tools with which you can compose music, mix video streams, and create 3-D animations.

Since version 1.4.1, which we reviewed last year, Dyne:Bolic has changed little on the outside. The developers have shuffled the application menu, swapped out some applications, and upgraded all apps to their respective stable versions. The major change is that the 2.x releases are based on a new dyne:II core which has been written from scratch. The new core makes it easier to create new customized versions of Dyne:Bolic.

Dyne:Bolic is built from scratch using the Linux From Scratch procedure. Its developers have tweaked every aspect of the distro. Dyne:Bolic 2.4.2 runs on a custom 2.6.18 Linux kernel. The desktop manager is a streamlined version of Xfce 4.4. The custom application menu lets you locate an application by purpose -- so if you need to find an application for streaming video, for instance, it will be available under Video -> Stream. Similarly, there's an audio submenu. Both audio and video menus list applications based on four main functions -- play, perform, record/edit, and stream.

Packed with applications

For playing video and audio Dyne:Bolic packs Xine, XMMS, Amorak, and StreamTuner, which you'll find in more or less every Linux distro. What you'll not find in your average distro are specialized audio and video applications such as Ardour for producing audio, Audacity for editing recordings like podcasts, Hydrogen for creating music, FreeJ for real-time video manipulation, and MuSE for mixing and streaming audio live on the Internet.

Dyne:Bolic also includes drivers that enable it to recognize devices such as TV tuner cards and cameras connected via USB or FireWire ports. I don't have a TV tuner card to test, but I successfully connected several devices via USB, including a mouse, digital cameras, and mobile phones. Once you've transferred video off your video device, you can edit it using Cinelerra or prepare it for inclusion in a DVD using AviDemux.

Dyne:Bolic also caters to image manipulators. It bundles the GIMP for creating and editing bitmap images and Inkscape for creating and editing vector graphics. It also bundles the powerful Blender app for modeling 3-D objects and for developing games.

In addition to these specialized programs, Dyne:Bolic also packs some general purpose apps. There are simple text editors like Ted, Nedit, and Nano, along with the AbiWord word processor and Scribus for desktop publishing. There's Firefox for Web browsing, X-Chat for IRC, Gaim for instant messaging, Thunderbird and Mutt for email, and BitTorent, KTorrent, Gnutella, and Nicotine for P2P file sharing.

The Dyne:Bolic desktop - click to enlarge

Unlike Dyne:Bolic 1.4.1, the latest version doesn't offer any games. Instead there are several development applications, from simple ones such as the Nvu Web page editor to more advanced ones like Glade for building GTK2 interfaces and Fluid for building FLTK user interfaces.

Using Dyne:Bolic

Dyne:Bolic is designed to be used as a live CD but it can be made to save data on to a hard disk. During bootup the distro detects and mounts all types of hard disks partitions, including FAT, NTFS, and ext3. Dyne:Bolic also includes Samba and LinNeighborhood, which make mounting FAT and NTFS partitions over the network a walk in the park.

The distro detected the ATI Radeon card on one of my desktops, but try what I might, it would only runs the X server at 1024x768 resolution. It has no issues with wired Ethernet cards, but on my laptop I have to eject and re-insert the wireless PCMCIA adapter to get it to work.

Once it's working, getting Dyne:Bolic to save your work and settings is simple. It has a small application called NEST that can save your workspace and your settings in either a partition or on a USB pen drive. You can also choose to encrypt your nest using the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption.

If you want to free up the CD drive, you can "dock" the distro by copying over the 700MB dyne/ directory from the CD onto any partition. You'll still need the CD to start the boot process, but as soon as the distro mounts the disks, it'll detect the dock, eject the CD, and continue booting from the hard disk. Using a dock dramatically reduces both system and application load times.

Dyne:Bolic also provides several ways to add new applications. Dyne:Bolic's developers have created application modules which eradicate the need for installation. For example, to install OpenOffice.org, just download its module and drop it in the /dyne/modules directory. In addition to OpenOffice.org there are modules available for a bunch of games, for application development, for the radio scheduling and broadcasting app Soma Suite, and more. If you want an app that doesn't have a module, you can install it with an RPM or DEB package.

I couldn't find any glaring problems with Dyne:Bolic. The only features missing as compared to version 1.4.1 are its ability to boot on a Xbox gaming console and run as part of an OpenMosix cluster. The bundled documentation gives a nice introduction to Dyne:Bolic and its apps, with links to their respective Web sites and interesting articles.

The fact that Dyne:Bolic is put together by artists themselves (its lead developer has authored several audio/video tools in the distro) is a big plus. It has all the right apps for an artist to express his creativity, without the headache of installing and configuring them. By making the distro from scratch, the developers have managed to keep its hardware requirements low; in fact, Dyne:Bolic is so bloat-free, I am running it as my main distribution on a Celeron 1.4GHz laptop with just 256MB of shared memory.

If you've ever wanted to make your own podcast, run a radio station, or edit movies, Dyne:Bolic is your free studio in a CD.


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