Home movies with Linux: Not Ready for Prime-Time

UPDATE: I had originally titled this article “Home movies with Linux: Beginning the exploration (of things Linux can’t do)”, but have since changed the title to be a bit more fair. It is a given that Linux isn’t suited to certain tasks, but rather than show these things up as embarrassing shortcomings I’d much prefer to demonstrate these areas of weakness to people who strongly believe Linux should replace everyone’s Mac / PC tomorrow. It can’t, and shouldn’t. We should all use our heads to: a) find the best tool for the job, b) recognize and put work into fixing shortcomings in our own tools. Most computers now ship with a way to create and save videos. Youtube’s prevalence is an indication of how readily people want to take a movie clip, digitize it, and post it for others to see. Criteria:

  • Installation of the OS and the app have to be as simple as they are on commercial operating systems.
  • The app has to take video in any format, arrange clips and save the result. I won’t even ask for special effects.
  • Preferably export to DVD.

After some browsing of gnomefiles.org and the ‘Add/Remove Applications’ panel, it appears a program called ‘Pitivi’ is most suited to this task. I decided I’d check it out from a fresh install of Ubuntu Feisty, as that distribution packages and distributes it. The following are notes on the installation and use of both Ubuntu and Pitivi itself from a usability and quality assurance testing perspective. The Installation Ubuntu Feisty (7.04) install went well. Asked me my name, country, and the current time. Installation completed in approx. 20 minutes. Nicely done. Up there with the major operating systems so far. Updates and Installation of Apps

  1. After install, ran updates. During download (not installation phase) of updates, changed themes from Ubuntu Human to Clearlooks. Update manager crashed without giving an error.

  2. Opened Add/Remove Applications in order to add software. Selected ‘Totem movie player (xine backend) and ‘mplayer-plugin’, which is used to play video embedded in web pages. Was greeted with the following:

    ubuntu conflict Jigga what?

  3. Moved on to select Pitivi, the video editor. Was greeted with another error:

    Ubuntu package conflict Is this going to happen every time? I don’t think my mom could use this to make a home movie.

  4. Taking the suggestion of these error windows, I closed Add/Remove Applications and switched to Synaptic. Was greeted by the following high-quality user-interface:

    synaptic Looking great. Hey, I know, why don’t we collapse all the information panes so they’re virtually meaningless! Oh! Already done! Thanks guys.

  5. Expanded the synaptic window and clicked search. Searched for and checkmarked the three items I wanted and clicked apply. Installation proceeded without issue. Closed synaptic.

  6. Used Places > Connect to Server… option to connect to another computer to upload screenshots. This worked once, but after disconnecting from this share I was unable to reconnect to it. I received no error. Even as an advanced user I was unable to resolve this and had to resort to SCP from Gnome Terminal. Eventually the desktop froze requiring a user to restart the computer as there is no way of logging out in this situation (menus were unresponsive) and shouldn’t be expected to know about ctrl-alt-backspace.(The correct fix for this is: ‘killall nautilus’ which I used, and again, an end-user wouldn’t know).

    Jammed Nice.

Pitivi Itself8. Pitivi was unable to understand MPEG-4/H.264 files. Dragging these and other types of files onto the Pitivi sources list resulted in no error, but no import either. Documentation indicated that it should work. Ubuntu did not install Gstreamer components necessary to facilitate this. I installed these myself using synaptic. 9. Synaptic remembered the window was maximized last time it was launched. Gold star. 10. Installed: gstreamer-plugins-ffmpeg, gstreamer-plugins-bad, gstreamer-plugins-ugly. I only knew to do this due to prior experience. No obvious cues pointed out that these packages were needed. An end-user would, at this point, be completely lost.Import now worked. Audio playback, not so much. As it turns out I needed the multiverse variant of gstreamer-plugins-bad and gstreamer-plugins-ugly. I wouldn’t have known this if I hadn’t googled. 11. During test playback of a 320x240 H.264/AAC movie, Totem did not properly antialias the expanded video. I don’t care which subcomponent is at fault, it looks like shit. Also note the green artifacts on the left. That isn’t present in the video stream.

[![Totem antialiasing](http://www.brad-x.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/totem-antialias.thumbnail.png)](http://www.brad-x.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/totem-antialias.png "Totem antialiasing") Totem botching up playback.

[![quicktime-antialias](http://www.brad-x.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/quicktime-antialias.thumbnail.jpg)](http://www.brad-x.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/quicktime-antialias.jpg "quicktime-antialias") QuickTime's rendering of the same frame. Perceptually superior, no blockiness during playback.
  1. Pitivi continued to be unable to import .mp4 files by dropping the files on the ‘dragging them here’ area. I had to click ‘Add’ before they would import.
  2. Pitivi did not present any obvious way to re-export the imported video. It presented limited format options, restricting me to AVI, OGG, or MPEG container formats and AC3 or MP2 audio+MPEG-4 or Theora video. The ‘New’ ‘Open’ ‘Save’ and ‘Save as’ buttons and menu items never became active. Browsing the Pitivi wiki did not reveal a solution (or even cover the act of saving a project).

Pitivi documentation and setup is impractical for real-world use. While the user interface of the app itself represents a good start, it’s little more than a drawing on a napkin. While shipped with Ubuntu as an “easily installable” solution for video editing, the documentation for Pitivi clearly states that it can’t do the following:

  • Sources

    • Moving
    • Removing
    • Resizing
    • Cutting
  • Effects

    • Transitions
    • Video Effects
    • Audio Effects
    • Application-level plugins

Summary Further research required on Linux-based positional video track editing/muxing. There appears to be no solution for this need as yet. As for Ubuntu itself, little thought is being put into shipping applications in a way the user can easily install. All visual cues point to Add/Remove Applications, which doesn’t work. Synaptic’s user interface is abominable. Dependencies are not properly installed, resulting in the need for expert intervention. The desktop environment can’t reliably perform tasks such as copying files to another computer. On top of this, Ubuntu is shipping apps that aren’t even fully functional yet. What good is a video editor that can’t move/remove/resize/cut video? No Linux reality-check article is complete without a humiliating comparison with software designed by paid professionals. For an example of an application that _comes with_ a commercial operating system and allows you to make movies with sophisticated effects and import/export options, check out iMovie - Making Movies/Creating a movie. Just because you’re unhappy with Windows doesn’t mean you have to go running off to something even less functional. Remember, choosing an alternative to Windows isn’t about hype, it’s about making smart choices.