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GIMP vs. The World
The State of GIMP
May 25, 2010
High-end graphics editing in the commercial world has been defined by Adobe's Photoshop. It is so dominant and so prevalent that the name is frequently used as a verb, as in the line from the movie Cheaper by the Dozen "We'll photoshop her in later." In the free and open source world the standard of comparison is GIMP. GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program and was first released in January of 1996. The latest stable release is version 2.6. Many people add "The" in front of GIMP when referring to the program since they think it reads better, but officially it is just GIMP. (You don't say "The Photoshop", do you?)
Both Photoshop and GIMP are categorized as raster graphics editors. A raster graphics image is essentially an n by m array of pixels where n and m are the dimensions of the image. Each pixel represents a color and typically consists of three or four components. Traditional display systems use the three base colors of red, green and blue (RGB) to create a specific color. The print industry has traditionally used the four colors cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK) for their purposes.
Understanding the image and color basics and the end product helps when evaluating software. GIMP really shines when it comes to enhancing or retouching digital photos. While it can be used for other tasks, it has come to be the open source tool of choice for professional photography enhancement. Vector graphics are a whole different story. Images based on vector graphics use geometric primitives such as curves, lines, points and polygons as the basic building blocks. In the rest of this article we'll look at the state of GIMP along with other tools for working with vector graphics-based images.
The State of GIMP
Development continues toward GIMP version 2.8 with a tentative release date of December 27th. One of the biggest things on the plate for the next major release is a single-window mode. If you've ever played around with GIMP before, you either love or hate the fact that you actually get three separate windows upon launch. Working on a computer with multiple monitors lends itself quite nicely to the multiple window arrangement. Working with it on a single display such as a laptop it can be annoying.
For the ambitious at heart with an interest in what's coming, there is an unstable development version labeled 2.7. Reading the release notes will reveal the warning "Please note that this is an unstable development snapshot. If you need to get work done, please use the stable version, GIMP 2.6." Another big area of development in the world of GIMP is plugins. One of the keys to the success of the GIMP has been through the development of plugins to help automate various tasks. You'll find an entire section of the GIMP website dedicated to plugins.
In recent months the most significant news related to GIMP has been the decision by the Ubuntu development team to remove it from their default distribution. You can still install it after the fact using the Ubuntu Software center with just a few mouse clicks. Other rivals have gained in popularity for some specific tasks with an eye toward simplicity both in the user interface and in the number of steps required to accomplish a typical task such as cropping an image (see the article 8 Great Paint Programs for Linux for a few examples).