Originally Published: Thursday, 3 February 2000 Author: Lin Chear
Published to: corp_features/General Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

GIMP: Image editing on Linux

Now that Linux has been thrown into the public limelight, it's time to prove that this is not just a "bunch of zealots" preaching yet another lost cause. One of the major questions about Linux (besides "What's Linux?") is, "What can Linux do?"
With that in mind, the first application that will be looked at is "The Gimp"

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Now that Linux has been thrown into the public limelight, it's time to prove that this is not just a "bunch of zealots" preaching yet another lost cause. One of the major questions about Linux (besides "What's Linux?") is, "What can Linux do?" Often, ambiguous cliches such as, "It can perform a wide variety of tasks" or "It's a robust platform for such and such" or "It's better than Windows" are thrown into the faces of those who dare to ask. Linux may be great at running Internet web-servers, but what about productivity software? Can Linux be taken from the dank backrooms to the office desktop? To paraphrase a famous quote, it's time to "SHOW ME THE APPS!"

In the next few weeks, I will attempt to do just that; aim the limelight slightly away from Linux as an operating system, to Linux as a productive work platform. These articles will not focus on the "why Linux?" question, but rather "what can I do with Linux?" Before blindly investing into Linux, it's probably a good idea to answer these questions first.

With that in mind, the first application that will be looked at is "The Gimp" or simply GIMP GIMP.ORG. Gimp stands for "GNU Image Manipulation Program" and as the name states, it is a program that allows you to create, manipulate or otherwise totally mess around with an image. More importantly, GIMP is an Open Source project, meaning that it is freely available for anyone to run, alter and redistribute. But Open Source is not enough to give merit to a product. GIMP has a pretty aggressive list of features that let it hold it's own against other similar "commercial" products.

Acquiring GIMP is pretty trivial. Simply visit the website mentioned above. In the site you will see some clean graphics and a very nice layout. This was all done in GIMP, showing you what you can accomplish. If you wish to see more works created with GIMP before trying it out, visit the Gimp art link. Gimp.org provides all the relevant download and installation instructions, so we will skip that part.

Assuming you've successfully installed GIMP, you will see an Interface similar to Adobe Photoshop, the de facto standard for graphics editing. Almost all the tools the user needs are right in this panel. In terms of user interface, GIMP provides an attractive layout that is very intuitive. Each icon on the panel gives a textual description of their function, if the mouse cursor is left on it long enough.

Some of the tools include an airbrush, pencil, paintbrush, stamp, magic wand, gradients, as well as a few others. Each of the tools has several options associated with them. For example, the paintbrush tool has several brush sizes, brush shapes, opacity settings to name a few. The basic tools are similar to Adobe Photoshop's ensemble in terms of usability and functionality. These tools "handled" exactly like Adobe Photoshop, PaintShop Pro, and Painter. The airbrush produced the nice feathered brushstrokes as the other programs. Although GIMP has a pretty complete tool set, it was missing a couple of tools, which I deem as very important. It lacked a "straight line" tool, which had me searching in vain. Either it's not there, or hidden to my prying eyes.

To a little more advanced area you'll find such features such as layers, color manipulation (including an alpha channel), several graphics mode (from grayscale to 32 bit color) a very powerful script feature, multi-layered undo function, and a dozen Photoshop like "filters".

Photoshop users will be familiar with the filters, a process that allows the user to alter the appearance of the image with just a few parameters. This scripting feature allows customization of Gimp filters to produce some really wild effects. You can transform your image into several artistic styles, distort it, blur it, sharpen it and generally just mess around with it completely. The number of filters is only limited to the contributions of the Open Source community, which is to say, it's fairly numerous.

In terms of compatibility, GIMP is also able to load many graphic format including the standard GIF, JPEGs as well as Adobe's PSD file format. This is a great way to import any Photoshop images you may have. As well, GIMP is able to save in numerous file formats, ranging from JPEGs to Postscript. Unfortunately the version I had was unable to save as a Photoshop file. Possibly newer releases in the future will provide this feature.

GIMP also has several advantages over Photoshop. One of the most glaring advantages it has is that it runs on the Linux platform. This is no fault of Photoshop, but nonetheless, GIMP benefits from Linux's stability. Case in point, after several sessions with Photoshop, the system becomes very sluggish with a noticable increase of swapping. Eventually, Window's resources dip below 40% requiring a reboot after a couple of hours. This is not a blatant attempt to put down a certain software giant, but it is a fact. GIMP is not prone to what maybe called the "refusing-to-let-go-of-system-resources" syndrome. A Linux system running GIMP may stay up for weeks, if not years. If this is an issue, then GIMP is definitely a recommended alternative.

Because of these features, GIMP is more than adequate for developing web graphics. If you're a firm in need of very inexpensive software that can produce quality images for the web and you're looking at an alternative to Photoshop, GIMP is the only way to go.

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