Sunday, February 21, 2010

Playing MIDI files in Ubuntu

Back in the winter of 2005 when I was using Debian (back them Etch was the "testing" version) I spent several frustrated days trying to get Linux to play MIDI files. The best I could come up with was running TiMidiTy from the command line and specifying the "dumb" interface. It was very clumsy because I kept forgetting the command line arguments and would have to look them up whenever I wanted to play a song, and eventually I just decided that playing MIDI files was something that I would have to boot into my Windows partition to be able to do with a reasonable amount of ease.

Fast forward to about half an hour ago. I joined our local Church's choir last fall and wanted to listen to some MIDI files to help me learn my parts. A quick Google search revealed the packages I needed, so I went to the command line and issued the following:

    sudo apt-get install timidity timidity-interfaces-extra freepats

And within a few minutes I was listening to my MIDI files through Totem movie player, with which Ubuntu had automatically associated the MIDI file type. After my last experience I couldn't believe how easy it was!

So I want to send a big shout out to all the devs working on Ubuntu, Gnome, TiMidiTy, PulseAudio, etc. for getting this right. The need for playing MIDI files is definitely something of a niche need, since not too many people listen to them, so it would have been easy to overlook it but instead they did a great job of making it work. This is yet another example of how far Linux has come over the years. The Internet is peppered with stories about how various tasks were recently very difficult to do on Linux and are dead simple now, and I am happy to add mine to the pile. Great work, guys!

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