Day 5 – 10 Days of Ubuntu 10.10 Feature Requests

Today is day 5 of my “10 Days of Ubuntu 10.10 Feature Requests” series.  See the series introduction here.

Day 5 – Solid, Functional Video Editing

One of the recurring comments submitted to me while researching this article was the current lack of a great Linux video editor, and I have to agree.  The last 10 years have seen video editing move from the professional to the hobbyist to the casual user realm, and people with almost no computer experience are now using software like Windows Movie Maker and iMovie to compile home videos, travelogues, and wedding slideshows.

Unfortunately, Linux remains a mixed bag when it comes to video editing.  There are a lot of video tools available, but not really a “best” option.  Lifehacker’s recent Ubuntu wishlist described the problem thusly:

“In Linux, there are a range of options, almost none of them with a finished feel, and all of them front-loaded with codec, dependency, and interface headaches galore… While Ubuntu isn’t in the video software business, the many folks who contribute time, thought, and sometimes money to the project could consider this a serious missing link in the Linux application space.”

Lifehacker certainly isn’t the first to bemoan the lack of a go-to Linux video editor.  You can find essays on this same topic going back many years (here’s a good one from 2004, for example) – and most of them sound exactly the same: “Linux offers a lot of options, but none feel complete.”

So now, in late 2009, what kind of state do we find Linux video editing in?  In some ways, much has improved – a number of new programs have arisen in recent years, for example – but in other ways we’re in the exact same spot.  The same old programs have the same old problems (I’m looking at you, Kino) and there’s still not a good “go-to” app for video editing.

But this article series isn’t about where Ubuntu is today – it’s about features we want to see by the time 10.10 rolls around.

To that end, I’m going to give a quick assessment of 5 promising Linux video editors – Cinelerra, Kdenlive, OpenShot, PiTiVi, and Kino – and what I think the likelihood is that any one of these will become “the” Linux video editor.  (Note: there are many other options for Linux video editing, but I think these 5 are the most likely to fit the bill for this article – possibilities for default inclusion in Ubuntu 10.10.)


Cinelerra is arguably the biggest, baddest video editor you’ll find in Linux.  Its feature list is impressive, it offers both a corporate and community supported version, and its screenshots make it look competitive with most multi-hundred dollar commercial offerings for other OSes.

The downsides?  It’s user interface is ridiculously confusing, it has a very complicated licensing structure, and to use it in Ubuntu you’ll probably need to compile it from scratch.

Verdict: no way does Cinelerra fit into the same category as Windows Movie Maker and iMovie.  It’s only for the hard-core and extremely patient, neither of which seems to be a key demographic for Canonical. Also, the Lumiera rewrite is a promising idea, but until it becomes stable it’s impossible to predict how the effort will payoff.


Kdenlive is arguably the most popular video editing option for KDE users, as many distros include it by default.  Its interface integrates nicely within the KDE environment, and even beginners should be able to make sense of the default layout. Kdenlive also supports a wide variety of formats via the ffmpeg library, direct video import, active development, and – gasp! – it even has a user manual.

Downsides? For Ubuntu users, the KDE factor makes it an unlikely default choice. Stability issues are an ongoing factor, no gstreamer, and at least in my experience I’ve found the program unfortunately sluggish.

Verdict: Kdenlive is a promising program with a ton of potential, but too many dealbreakers exist for it to be a likely contender for Ubuntu 10.10’s default video editor.


OpenShot has a classic FOSS story – a developer tries Ubuntu, likes it, looks for a video editor, can’t find one that fits his needs, so he resolves to write his own.  Most of those stories end with “it didn’t work out,” but not OpenShot.  This month the young project passed the 10,000 mark for its .DEB installer and development continues at a frantic pace.  OpenShot’s feature list is shaping up nicely, the developers quickly comment on every bug and feature request in Launchpad, and the use of gstreamer and GTK is ideal for Ubuntu inclusion.

Downsides?  OpenShot isn’t available via PPA, which has prevented large-scale testing (though one is supposedly in the works).  It’s written in Python – a beautiful language, but bytecode-implemented and notoriously slow, not to mention that multi-threading in Python typically requires use of C extensions (not sure how the OpenShot team feels about that).

Verdict: OpenShot is a strong contender for a default Ubuntu 10.10 video editor, but much hinges on the type of large-scale testing that’s just beginning to take place.  Also, if multiprocessor support cannot be easily supported, performance may become an issue.


Our next strong contender comes in the form of PiTiVi, another GTK+ and gstreamer-based video project written primarily in Python. PiTiVi has the strong bonus of being sponsored by Collabora, a company who has already contributed enormously to gstreamer, telepathy, and other key components of the modern Linux desktop (thank you, Collabora!). PiTiVi has the advantage of lead developers with proven gstreamer experience, a very smart modular design, plus a PPA for individuals interested in testing.

Downsides? For a five-year-old project, it’s unfortunate that transitions, titling, and effects are still on PiTiVi’s wishlist.  PiTiVi’s gstreamer integration is second-to-none, but without these basic tools it is currently little more than an experiment in the most basic elements of video editing.

Verdict: I have huge hopes for PiTiVi, but development pace continues to be a concern.  The 0.13 line has brought some welcome improvements, but the likelihood of PiTiVi reaching feature parity with other entry-level video editors by Ubuntu 10.10 is very, very slim.


Last but not least, we have classic Kino – one of the most commonly recommended entry-level video editors for Linux.  Kino is built with GTK+ but not gstreamer and is heavily based upon the premise of importing DV via firewire.  The latest version (1.3.4 as of this writing) has a solid feature list, and Kino boasts the most comprehensive user manual I’ve seen for a Linux video editor (although it’s only accurate through v1.0).

Downsides? Kino development has lapsed greatly since its primary contributor switched his focus to MLT (an excellent decision on his part, IMO). An aging codebase and architecture make it an unlikely candidate for forking, and my experience with the software has been plagued by frequent freezes and/or crashes.

Verdict: Kino continues to provide service to the Linux community as a simple entry-level editor, but its time has passed. Unless forked and/or rebuilt largely from scratch, I think Kino’s future contains only basic maintenance, not innovation.


Despite my complaints at the start of this article, there is actually a lot to be excited about when it comes to Linux video editing.  GStreamer and MLT in particular have made the likelihood of an excellent Linux video editor much more probable, and within the next 12 months I expect great things to happen in this arena.

In my opinion, OpenShot and PiTiVi are the most likely contenders for Ubuntu 10.10’s video editor of choice.  OpenShot offers a great vision, growing community excitement, and a rapidly-progressing feature set. PiTiVi offers a technically advanced backend, excellent architectural design, and a team of proven developers.

Which will win out?  I’m no psychic, but if I had to bet – my money’s on OpenShot. :)

But this is open source we’re talking about, so things can change rapidly.  Personally, I’d love to see PiTiVi, Kdenlive, and OpenShot all blossom into solid, proven projects by the time Ubuntu 10.10 rolls around.

For more information, each project’s homepage is available here:

And a more complete list of available Linux video editors can be found here:

<< Day 4 – Real Wine Integration

Day 6 – Simple, Reliable, Integrated Backup Tool >>

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20 thoughts on “Day 5 – 10 Days of Ubuntu 10.10 Feature Requests”

  1. Just tried Openshot and have to agree the potential is huge! I also tried kdenlive (crashed my ubuntu 9.04 x64 many times, and the kde dependencies dont help its cause in a gnome environment), pitivi (too 1990s in its development) and kino (again, too old and simple).
    Apart from the ocasional crash when exporting to some more obscure formats, openshot works beautifully. It does need a more natural approach to key-frames but for hobbyists it works great.

  2. I’ve used all these video editors and many of the proprietary ones on other platforms. Kdenlive is much much further along than you give it credit for, and by the time Ubuntu 10.10 comes along? That’s a whole 13 months from now and I have no doubt it will be uniformly awesome. It is under rapid and heavy development, as is its cornerstone library ffmpeg. As of version 0.7.5 it is pretty darn stable and the codec handling includes just about everything. I did have to compile a very recent ffmpeg and x264, and I avoid compiling like the plague, but it was actually quite easy for these two apps. (There’s a great howto in the Ubuntu forums.)

    All these libraries will probably at least hit PPA’s if not the main repos sometime during the upcoming release of Ubuntu 9.10, so just about anyone should be able to install this and enjoy it without compiling anything.

    I now use Kdenlive pretty much daily for HD video editing on Ubuntu 64 9.04. The reliance on KDE libraries is minimal, and the program loads very quickly on a Gnome based machine and has a wonderful, clean look and interface. The only thing that might touch it in the next year is maybe Lumiera, but there aren’t even snapshots of that available yet. Video editing on Linux has sucked hard up to now, but Kdenlive is the real deal.

  3. I got to say Kdenlive it the closest thing to movie maker I found and that what you want for a default video editor. You want something that the early Microsoft convert can pick up and use in minutes and that what get with kdenlive. I don’t care if it not gnome based this is still the best choice. 10.10 is not getting released until October 2010 that give Canonical a full year to offer support to the Kdenlive project to polish it up and fix some bug so it can be done.

  4. Actually I would like to add a hidden gem among the video editor choices here:
    – Blender VSE (video sequence editor; part of Blender)

    I would highly encourage you to research it. Stable, extremely feature rich and pro-quality. And unlike all the rest, has actually been used in real commercial productions!

  5. I would also like to add that Blender VSE can perhaps be consider THE actual working (and maintained) alternative to Cinelerra, and the only OSS solution available to Linux I would consider to satisfy the prosumer and much of the professional market.

    In addition, it has the unique advantage of being cross platform. Many windows users are also using Blender.

  6. I think effort should be spent on maintaining the Linux port of VirtualDub – it’s a very commonly used program in Windows, and that’s one less app that people have to re-learn when moving across to Linux. Cross platform apps FTW!

    (for those that don’t know, it’s GPL by the way)

  7. The first video editor I could actually use on Linux was Kdenlive, but it was unstable.

    I tried Openshot briefly a couple of weeks ago and my donation brought its funds up to $200, but it seemed to have a video length limit that didn’t suit me, and there didn’t seem to be as many features as Kdenlive. If it’s got Chroma-key now though, I shall have to add the PPA and give it another whirl.

  8. The latest PiTiVi releases is basically a rewrite of the whole code base. And all those 5 years most of the stuff was going on in making GStreamer better. They are still doing it, however, things are going very much quicker these days. And there are full time employees working on it AFAIK.

    So although PiTiVi has been slow from before, I’m quite sure it’ll ramp up soon enough. With the SVN-version, I’ve even been able to edit a rather long video without headaches. And that’s something in the Linux video editor-world!

    Lumiera will be the professional choice somewhere in the future, but I think PiTiVi fits better as a default. We’re targeting professionals (I help out as much as I can in the Lumiera project).

  9. My wife and kids wanted something to replace the WIndows deafault movie maker when we switched and we found KDEnlive and havent looked back since.

    My 8 yr old edits his skateboard falls on video on his 5 yr old laptop, it works fine on our 64bit desktop and even on my wife’s Dell Mini netbook.
    We use KDE4.2 and now 4.3 on a variety of distros including Mandriva of course, Kubuntu and two others which change.

    As for your problems running it under an inferior desktop, that has nothing to do with the software or its ease of use.

    I would love to see a minimalist interface option to make it even easier for newbies and those that dont need more than the basics and for those who need more, give them a more complez layout.

    KDEnlive isnt of the quality of Digikam, Gwenview and Amarok 2.2 yet but the past year has seen an incredible leap in functionality and its simple enough for Linux newbies to use.

    Of course, video is still on perfect on Linux (webcams are hit and miss out of the box) and audio is an ALSA/PUlsating mess.
    These areas need a lot of work to be able to make multimedia easy to use.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Rene. However, I certainly haven’t been running KDEnlive on an inferior desktop (unless an AMD64 X2 5600+ with 2gb of RAM is now inferior…?). The stability and responsiveness issues may be solved by using a newer version than what came with Kubuntu 9.04. I’ll have to re-examine KDEnlive under Mandriva and see if the experience is better!

    1. This is correct. However, a full download of the latest MLT framework (mlt-0.5.6.tar.gz) runs just over 800 KB. Yes, space on the install CD is precious – but that is a pretty minimal investment size-wise.

  10. I’ve tried several linux video editors and so have my young teen kids. OpenShot is the first one that worked with no hassles….and has helped them see that they can do video editing on Linux without the stability issues they had with MovieMaker under XP. I’m willing to try PiTiVi again, but if it doesn’t have a feature set comparable to OpenShot 1.0…then I may have to wait awhile longer. In the meantime, I find OpenShot progressing quickly with excellent attention to bugs and issues. I hope it is included in the next Ubuntu.

  11. OpenShot is the best so far in terms of lively development. The creator listens to peoples suggestions which keeps it growing into a mature video editing application. Oh, and it just works!

  12. I would have to disagree with this point. Not in the point that a definitive video editor is needed in Ubuntu or Linux in general, but that it is a top tier feature that is required in an OS.

    Almost no one that I know (Windows or Linux users) uses a video editor. And the few people that do have only dabbled their toes in because there is one by default in Windows.

    Why is Ubuntu following the same Windows mantra of trying to monopolize EVERYTHING! Let the video guru’s make the rock solid editor, you guys focus on the OS.

    We need to start spending time on driver compatibility and bug fixes before we waste time on a feature that is not an absolute must in an Operating system.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Houston. However – I think you misunderstand the point of the article. Nowhere do I state that Canonical needs to create their own video editor. They simply need to bundle one of the many existing FOSS video editors.

      It is a common logical fallacy to assume that because no one you know needs a feature, it is therefore unnecessary. Pretty much every computer user I know has done some amount of video editing – and the vast majority have used Windows Movie Maker, not because it is the best option, but because it is the most convenient option.

      Ubuntu doesn’t have to monopolize anything. It just needs to bundle what is rapidly becoming a necessary piece of software for many consumers.

  13. It is very interesting reading this 3 years later. Openshot has obviously taken the linux community by storm, and PiTiVi still lacks good H.264 support (in other words, I can’t make youtube videos with pitivi). KDenLive has progressed very well, but its UI still is missing the user-freindliness that openshot has to offer.

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