The zen of cross-platform… photo editing.

Programming Books at Home, LHS

Image by fogus via Flickr

I remember back when all the Java pundits were screamin’ about cross-platform this, cross-platform that, etc, etc, blah blah blah.  I loved it.  I was one of them.  

I mean, who cares what operating system you’re running, right?  I can run any app on any computer, period.  That’s just awesome… and it’s not even an unreasonable dream.  But that was long ago.
Java still touts cross-platform compatibility and there are many Java apps that work (and work well) across all three of the major OS’s (Windows, OSX, and of course Linux.)  Unfortunately, UI design seems to be… secondary to most Java developers, but that’s another story.  No, today I plan on kicking off a multi-part story about my search – my zen-like search – for cross-platform photo editing.  
As a photographer, I’ve found that Windows and OSX really have some very fine tools at their disposal.  Linux has several tools that do the job, but they’re all difficult to use and have a steep learning curve (not to mention they’re ugly.)  Ugly shouldn’t be a factor, I suppose, but as a designer and someone who spends inordinate amounts of time in front of his computer, I really place no small amount of value on an attractive and easy-to-use UI.  
I’ll be touching on my experiences with Bibble, Lightzone, and (of course) GIMP.  GIMP has been part of my toolbox for some time, so the typical ‘learning curve’ with using it won’t necessarily be as steep as usual, and I’ll try to keep that in mind.
Lightzone is being installed even as I write this, so next up: Lightzone – Good, Bad, or Just Ugly.

Bring out the GIMP.

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GIMP Icon

Image via Wikipedia

o I keep reading all these great articles about the GNU Image Manipulation Program, commonly referred to as GIMP or “the GIMP”.  Every time I read one of these great articles, I inevitably find the part of the article that says “GIMP has improved muchly since the last version, and blah blah blah” so (equally as inevitable) I install it (again) and try it (again) and fail (again) to accomplish… well, to accomplish anything at all.

GIMP, for the uninitiated or those that aren’t nerdy enough to know, is (as the name states) an image manipulation program.  While the developers of GIMP don’t see it this way (or at least claim not to, though I can’t for the life of me figure out how they couldn’t see it), it is, basically, an “open-source” Photoshop.  It has become the de facto standard for image manipulation for open-source pundits and those that can’t afford a license of Photoshop.  It’s pretty much the only option for Linux users.  
Anyway, GIMP has ups and downs and all-arounds, and it is incessantly compared to Photoshop (of course).  It has a very similar… very similar… toolset to Photoshop, though it’s all in different places and (in some cases) you arrive to the same tool/process/whatever in what many consider (me among them) a seriously backwards way.  It’s almost like the GIMP developers want to be different from Photoshop at any cost, even if their UI suffers for it.
And so, GIMP has had many, many opportunities to impress me, all of which have failed.  I found it frustrating, slow to use (although admittedly it’s a very fast little app – much lighter than Photoshop), and a pain in the butt overall.  All this is only compounded by the fact that there’s just no cohesive documentation – it’s all scattered around and overly complicated.
Well, no longer.  Behold!  GIMP has a spiffy manual!  And it’s not half bad!  It’s not super comprehensive, but it definitely helps a long-time, heavily ingrained Photoshop user migrate a little more efficiently.  How efficiently?  Enough that I’m using GIMP quite often now.  And you know what?  It’s not as bad as I originally though.  There’s really have been countless improvements to the interface, the speed is excellent, the toolset is equal to (in most cases) Photoshop’s, and it works great on crappy old computers.  This is extra relevant to me now that I have to rely on an older laptop running Ubuntu.
I still go to Photoshop when I need something done and I don’t want to deal with a learning curve, but I think that’s just a matter of time.  Also, there’s no simple alternative to Lightroom, so as a photographer I’ll most likely stick with the LR->PS dynamic duo (although Bibble Labs’ offering is looking pretty spiffy… might be worth a serious look.)  GIMP is getting there though, it really is.  It’s no longer “the alternative you get when you can’t afford Photoshop because Adobe charges ridiculous money for their apps”, but quite a viable app on its own.  I am, this time, finally, impressed.
I just read an article that the first thing GIMP should change is the name.  I have to agree with that: GIMP was cute back in the “Linux is only used by less than 1% of the population of the universe” days.  The burgeoning popularity of Linux as an OS, and even GIMP as an app (it’s available on all platforms), makes me wonder if GIMP is all that marketable.  Then again, it’s recognizable, kinda catchy, and you can always say… 
Bring out the GIMP!
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