Monday, October 03, 2005
I have found in my experience with Open Source programs that it is hard to talk about them for long without having to mention Linux. For those who might not know, Linux is an alternative operating system that primarily runs on servers but is recently making some serious headway onto desktops and laptops. Linux is similar, both in name and structure, to Unix, and is therefore fairly different "under the hood" than Windows. This means taking a program that was first written for Linux and bringing it to Windows can be a complex task. Such was the case with the GIMP.
The GIMP or just GIMP as it is sometimes called, is a powerful graphics editor that was first made for use on Linux systems. But as GIMP grew and became more user friendly and more powerful, it became clear that everyone should be able to use this free program.
So the developers of GIMP came up with an elegant solutionto a very complex problem. They created a package of files that would allow the GIMP to be ported to Windows with relative ease. They called this package the GIMP Tool Kit or GTK.
It turns out that this library of files also made the transition from Linux to Windows easier for several other programs. So, the name has been altered to the GTK+, since it works for GIMP "plus" other programs. Just to clarify, the programs that use the GTK+ require the GTK+ be installed on Windows or they will not work. Fortunately, installing the GTK+ is as simple as installing any basic program. You can pick up the GTK+, (and the latest version of GIMP for Windows) here.
The source of the ugly sounding name gets pretty complicated. GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. And GNU stands for Gnu's Not Unix. Unix is an operating system that runs mostly on servers. Open source programs are *not* known for their pretty sounding, simple names. I mean, come on, "gimp" is a slang word for someone with a disability! Since open source stuff is free, they have very little marketing budgets, so their names usually suck.
Contrary to what it's unfortunate name may suggest, the GIMP has a ton of abilities. It a great program for everything from a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, and much more. GIMP is expandable and extensible. It can be enhanced with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything. And its advanced scripting interface lets everything from the simplest task to complex image editing procedures to be easily done by command line.
I'd like to break down just a few of the many features of the GIMP.
GIMP includes a full suite of painting tools including brushes, pencils, airbrush, clone, and support for custom brushes and patterns. It offers sub-pixel sampling for all paint tools for high quality anti-aliasing. It offers an extremely powerful gradient editor and blend tool.
The image size, number of images, and number of remembered undos and redos are limited only by available disk space.
GIMP offers full alpha channel support, controls for layers and channels, editable text layers, transformation tools including rotate, scale, shear and flip. GIMP can make just about any kind of graphics file format there is. Supported formats include: bmp, gif, jpeg, pdf, png, ps, psd, svg, tiff, tga, xpm, and so many others I just got tired of typing. The GIMP has a number of selection tools including rectangle, ellipse, free, fuzzy and intelligent. And it has an advanced path tool doing bezier and polygonal selections, so its easy to draw straight lines, rectangles, or even twisty curves.
The GIMP is massively extensible. It has over 100 readily-available plug-ins which allow for the easy addition of new file formats and new effect filters. And the number of available brushes, gradients, and other add-ons make the GIMP extremely customizable. Even most of the popular Adobe Photoshop brushes and add-ons also work with GIMP, (see the documentation for more details).
For users who need Photoshop quality without Adobe prices, the GIMP is hard to beat. That's not to say it is perfect. There are a few drawbacks to going with GIMP. It doesn't have nearly the documentation (books) or education (classes) available that Photoshop has.
Another is its clumsy use of windowing. Unlike Photoshop - and most other programs on Windows - the program isn't contained inside of one big "nesting" window with other little windows inside. It is simply a collection of any number of windows open at one time. It's easy to loose toolbars and even graphics by simply putting a window or two over them. That does take some getting used to. And - like Photoshop - its shear number of options and depth of control can be overwhelming to simple users who just want to paint a simple picture.
With free unlimited upgrades and community-based support, over the life of the user, thousands of dollars could be saved. But, even without that, it is just about as powerful as Photoshop, and has much more flexibility.
GIMPShop, however, takes care of the few problems the GIMP has. GIMPShop standardizes the menu structure of GIMP to the Photoshop language. Therefore, the vast amount of documentation that exists for Photoshop can be better utlized for GIMP. And, on the Windows port of GIMPShop, the Deweirdifier Plugin is used, making it all one window, like Photoshop, (and just about every other Windows program on Earth!)
Anyone at all who is interested in the world of image editing owes it to themselves to try the GIMP or GIMPShop. You'll be glad ya did!