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The GIMP --------
No, it’s not something from the cellar in Pulp Fiction—The GIMP is a piece of open source software that rivals the likes of Photoshop and Paintshop Pro.
For those unfamiliar with Open-source—essentially the software is free, and what a revolution it is!
GIMP stands for Gnu Image Manipulation Program, and was designed originally to run on Unix (later, Linux), to fill a photoshop-shaped-hole on their platform.
Fortunately for those of us too frightened to play with operating systems, there is a version available for Microsoft Windows, and it is that version I’ll be reviewing.
The GIMP is probably an example of the sort of program that most people miss, probably due to it’s slightly unfortunate name. Once you get over the leather / S&M connotations, you discover a little gem of a program that (quite frankly) puts the high-price-tag of Photoshop to shame.
Getting and installing the software -----------------------------------
Free software, unfortunately, is seldom found in any packaged form. The easiest way to get hold of this, then, is to buy something like the .Net magazine.
NOTE: I wasn’t able to confirm if the GIMP was on the cover of last month’s issue, but it generally is. (I recommend checking the CD-Contents section of the magazine to find out before buying).
You can also get the installs from this site http://www2.arnes.si/~sopjsimo/gimp/
Where you need to download GTK+ for Windows (version 1.3.0-20030717) --and-- The Gimp for Windows (version 1.2.5-20030722)
(And for all the Mac users out there there is also a Mac-OS-X port here- http://mmmaybe.gimp.org/macintosh/)
And install them both in that order.
I found this very straight forward once a friend had pointed me to this site. If anyone has any trouble with these, please let me know.
Before We Begin, What To Expect… --------------------------------
Before firing up, it’s worth noting a few differences to expect from your experience with this program. I found these out by playing, but know from experience that a few subtle differences in interface can often really put people off. In the words of the late great Douglas Adams: DON'T PANIC.
1) The Menu’s Look Sort of Odd. That’s because they don’t use Microsoft’s standard menu interface… this is what GNU menu’s look like, thus escaping the tyranny of proprietory licensing of code (and saving money).
2) The cursor sometimes looks backwards Erm.. I think linux advocates call it a User Interface Improvement. More likely a stamp of individuality, but quite easy to ignore after a short time.
3) The “File->Open” screen is strange—where are “My Documents”? Again- the authors avoided using Microsoft proprietory menu’s etc. "My Documents" is normally under C:\Documents and Settings\(user name)\My Documents.
4) Radio buttons look funny. Radio buttons (the round “option” buttons, like the ones found on Ciao’s online surveys) under linux/gnu tend to be diamond shaped. Don’t worry, they work just the same as normal option buttons!
And so, onto the program itself.
The Program -----------
The program is basically Photoshop (certainly close enough to have been the subject of a lawsuit from Adobe a coupla years back!). That means that this is essentially best for editing existing photos / or pictures, applying effects, changing colours, removing spots/silly people etc.
The toolbar is across the top the main window, and includes various selection and drawing tools (including the wonderful rubber stamp). It does miss a few of the newest Photoshop 7 features like spell-checking the text and the “heal tool”, but mostly has everything else.
When I first fired it up, one conspicuous absence was plugins… but after some investigation I found them (and a wealth of other features). In Photoshop, all the features are in a menu across the top of the screen. In GIMP, all the features are accessed by right-clicking on your picture, and what features!
The filters are fantastic and far more numerous than your standard set from Photoshop. In addition, they are extendable via “Script-fu”. I wasn’t able to write a plugin (quite beyond me), but others have, and the Script-Fu section comes with quite a few interesting visual effects such as Old Photograph, that lets you add Sepia tint, mottle, a border and some random scratches. Erm.. pretty much the sort of stuff one would use photoshop to remove, but there ya go!
Hardened Photoshoppers will argue that filters are "toy-features", and so will be glad to note that besides filters there are also layers, image and colour transforms, the ability to “feather” selections, and all the other bells and whistles one would expect from a full-price commercial program.
Colour management is a weakness of GIMP. Basically, if you are a professional printer, I wouldn’t recommend it as it lacks CMYK / Pantone support, and a few other essentials for that side of Imaging. This is because these colour palettes are patented and have associated licensing costs that make it impractical to add to a free program.
For those unfamiliar with colour management, Pantone etc are companies that have put together standard palettes of colours used in printing. A professional program will allow you to use those colours on screen, and will know how to translate these into print, to ensure that Business X always uses the same particular shade of Blue. This is not something I miss terribly!
In Conclusion -------------
This is a superb program, and astonishingly powerful, literally putting to shame Photoshop and other hugely more expensive programs. The interface is a little different to normal, but I don’t believe this should put you off—the differences are 90% cosmetic.
If you like to play with images, and can’t afford Photoshop, then this program is definitely a strong and feature-packed contender for an alternative.
PS>> If this generates enough interest, I’d be happy to post a “Top 20 tips for GIMP users” later on, to elaborate on some of the numerous features of this great program.