Saturday, April 21, 2018

VMPK 0.7.0 released

It has been a while! First of all: thank you very much for the million downloads of VMPK! It happened in 2016, but I wasn't paying attention at the time. I didn't post any article around that event, neither released a new VMPK version since that year, so let's cover both things.

Download statistics

Born in 2008, this project is multiplatform from the beginning, with the goal of emulating a MIDI controller device on software; which means: producing (and consuming) MIDI events. The producing part requires another source of human triggered events: computer keyboard, mouse and touch screen events are supported and available on the three main target operating systems. But producing MIDI events without delivering them to a MIDI Synthesizer makes the program useless, with no sound output at all. This has been the experience of most new VMPK Linux users for years. Windows users have a software synth included in the operating system, installed and ready to use, so they may produce sound as soon as they install VMPK from scratch. But Mac and Linux users need to find and install first a suitable synthesizer. Mac OSX also includes a soft synth library, but it is not a ready-to-use service and needs to be activated by a third party software. It's not very hard to find and install, because Apple has always made MIDI users a niche for their products. Good for them.

I've been approached last year by Microsoft people to package and publish VMPK into their Windows Store for Windows 10. Probably the million downloads has something to do with it. I've tried the packaging part without technical problems thanks to the support of the MS Desktop Bridge team, but the store conditions were awful, arbitrary and unfair, so I am not willing to comply with them. This means that VMPK will be available only outside the Windows Store and there won't be an UWP or Windows Phone version either in the future. I don't want to speak about the Apple's App Store. To the hell with them as well.

Linux users have been often made hostages of their distributions and packagers. In theory, the package repositories of each distribution (equivalent to an app store) are made for easy discovery and install of all the software available for Linux, but this is not true in practice. Software integration from different unrelated sources is also the job of the Linux distributions, which they miserably fail as well. I mean that when saying hostages, because the packagers sometimes act as if they want to force their users to follow their own personal preferences, like the gurus of a sect: Jack is the chosen one!!! PulseAudio is evil!!!

More about that later. Let's listen an enlightening Linus Torvalds first:

OK Linus. I've released this time an AppImage package for 64-bit Linux. OTOH, I'm still using Subversion and not planning to migrate the source repository to Git anytime soon.

What I think it would be a good VMPK distribution? Well, first of all, the latest version should be available for install, optionally with some former versions available to choose if the users needs to compare something (like a bug resolved or introduced in the latest version). Second: main functions should be immediately available: the user must be able to simply get sound at once. For Linux, ALSA sequencer inputs and outputs must also be available without any other extra configuration. About network I/O: the Mac OSX and Windows operating systems automatically activate firewalls blocking this function but, as soon as VMPK starts the first time, the OS asks the user for permission to open the firewall for this software. Linux distributions that include an active firewall should listen and learn something here.

The latest VMPK release includes lightweight soft synths for Linux and Mac OSX, which were available as a Drumstick-RT library back-ends for some time. The Linux soft synth is Sonivox EAS, borrowed from Android OSP and ported to Linux + PulseAudio, which was already mentioned in another post.

It is the default output chosen by VMPK upon install, so you need to use PulseAudio if you want to try VMPK. Why the PulseAudio choice? Because it is the default Linux sound server in most distributions: Ubuntu, Fedora (Red Hat), OpenSUSE, etc. I know that there has been a lot of criticism among the Linux audio community about PA, but honestly: I can't care less about arguments that sound like fanaticism. Someone told me that: “many people in linux-audio avoid PA like the plague.” Well, I'm sure you know that many computer users avoid Linux like a plague, but I don't let a handful of haters to influence my decision of keeping VMPK available for Linux users. And at the end of the day, this is my personal project and I am who decide the road-map. This is also free software. If you don't like something or have good ideas to get it better, you may contribute with code or make your own fork.