(All of the below is based on my own understandings and sometimes guesses, I am in no way affiliated with Ableton or Bitwig. If you find any mistakes in the text please point them out and I will edit as needed.)
So videos of Bitwig Studio have started to appear. What’s that you ask? Bitwig is essentially a new DAW that’s being developed by a Berlin startup by the same name. Interestingly the founding team includes 4 former employees of Ableton, and this combined with how similar the UI of the two applications are have led many to jokingly call Bitwig Studio ‘Live 9’.
First a bit of background. Ableton Live was originally released in October 2001, and at the time it made a huge splash due to it’s unique blend of live performance and composer oriented workflows and tools. Since it’s initial release Live has grown to be one of the most widely used and respected DAWs on the market, but there are a lot of question marks around the current state of affairs at Ableton.
What are those question marks you say? Well, Live 8 was released in April of 2009 with a lot of great new features for the time, but while there’s been incremental updates in the form of point releases since then, by now the Live community is growing increasingly impatient for a much needed overhaul and update. (Things like 64 bit support, multi-screen support, better automation support in session view and functional built-in sequencer (I’ll sign that petition any day :) spring to mind…)
Talk of Live 9 has been mostly stone-walled by Ableton, except for a confirmation that they are indeed ‘working on it’. The plot thickens when you factor in that before the release of version 8, Ableton released a new version at a cadence of about once per year. A trend that has now abruptly ended.
Naturally, with the long silence (+ the fact that Ableton has been known to hire developers in the mean time) it has become more or less the standard expectation that the next version of Live would be close to a complete rewrite…
So, while we where eagerly awaiting news on Live 9 from our friends at Ableton, out of the shadows emerges Bitwig.
Bitwig was founded in 2009 in Berlin by a group of people including 4 previous employees of Ableton. (This becomes important when you consider how similar their first product, Bitwig Studio, is to Ableton Live.) The name was trademarked in Germany on July 21st 2011, but reports around the web claim the team has been working on Bitwig Studio for almost 2 years. The company’s formation was picked up and discussed as far back as 2009 (and ) also quoting developers saying that the new DAW was already in development.
So back to the original question, what is Bitwig Studio? Essentially Bitwig is an attempt at taking the best parts of Live and marry those with an updated UI, workflow and architecture, to catch up with the last 3 years of development in computer host hardware and operating systems and other DAWs.
What does it mean in practice? Bitwig is certainly targeting the same eclectic mix of Live performers and Studio composers as Live. The session / composition view is there, but you are now able to display them both simultaneously in a layout that takes advantage of wide screen monitors. Speaking of monitors, un-docked windows and multiple projects are now supported meaning that Bitwig works great with your multi-screen setup. 64bit support is a given, while Linux support from day one is a nod in the direction of the changing OS landscape. The ability to mix Midi and Audio on the same track has been a request from the Live community for a long time, Bitwig has it. There are also a bunch of LAN driven features on the roadmap (post v1?) that would allow multiple users to share a project or jam off of the same session arrangement, though details here are scarce at the moment. (Worth noting though is that network enabled workflows was originally promised for Live 8, but failed to materialize.)
All of this packed in a slick, modern user interface, being delivered at a time when the Live community is starving for an update just like this, could have some serious implications for Ableton. The question really is how they are going to respond.
Some predict that Ableton might call foul on the entire project and drag the issue to court. The similarities between the software suites and the fact that the founders were likely privy to a lot of insider info on the Live development and Roadmap while at Ableton might give them a case, though it would certainly ruin their standing within the music community.
Some speculate that Bitwig is in fact Live 9, and that this will be revealed once beta testing concludes. This has supposedly been denied.
Another option to consider would be to buy back the entire Bitwig team with their product and repackage it as Live 9. This seems highly unlikely though given the traction and velocity of the Bitwig crew.
Beta testing for Bitwig is supposedly starting in June of 2012 (that’s now!) so more in depth reports and reviews of the software are likely to start appearing soon from those lucky souls who get to participate. Perhaps then the clouds will part some more and the questions around how Bitwig stacks against, and differentiates from, Live will be answered.
I sure wish I was one of the testers :).