GNU/Linux has two kernel sound drivers: OSS and ALSA. OSS is older
and deprecated, being replaced by ALSA. Only one of these can be
chosen as your sound driver.
On top of this ESD and ARTS are audio servers that accept requests
from programs to play a sound, and then pass those sounds to the
kernel sound drivers. Most Gnome applications use ESD, most KDE
applications use ARTS, and some applications, like XMMS, can use
Traditional Linux kernel sound drivers are single-channel so that only
one application can deliver audio to /dev/dsp at a time. Thus, if you
were listening to music other sound events would not be heard. ESD
and ARTS support multiple channels by multiplexing them and streaming
the resulting audio to /dev/dsp. Some newer sound cards/chipsets
support multiplexing in hardware and ALSA will make use of this.
Other functionality ESD and ARTS support includes streaming the audio
to another machine.
Various commentary suggests that ESD has lower sound quality due to
poor processing routines while ARTS has higher latency due to its more
complex processing routines!
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