Bring out the GIMP.



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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Fedora 8: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Yeah, so after about a month of slamming my head into Windows Vista (and even defending it) I flat-out decided it wasn’t worth it.  It is a freakin’ hog.  If you’re rolling around in One Sweet Machine (which I am), then Vista will (mostly) work.  But if you have anything less than the latest graphics card, a quad processor, some enormous hard drive, and more RAM than God himself would have on a computer, well then you should consider staying with XP.

But this isn’t about XP.  It’s not about Windows (not directly, anyway.)  It’s about Fedora.  Linux.  That penguin OS that I’ve started to (finally) adapt and evolve to.  Linux developers, meanwhile, have finally started to realize that even the most seasoned veterans of the Windows world (shy of those insane pundits of Microsoft technology, the MCSE) really have no idea how to write their own wireless-card drivers.  This means good things for the rest of the world as “that other OS” finally becomes something my mom can use. 

That’s not a totally fair analogy – my mom’s actually pretty good with a computer.  Point is, however, that Linux distros have finally become useable.  Some will thank Ubuntu, and it’s true that Ubuntu is responsible for a nice, big, fat marketing campaign that spanned far and wide to make itself (well, Debian) the marketshare dominator.  But I don’t agree.  I think that Red Hat is the real driving force behind it all.  RH has been there since the beginning, and they were the first to offer a distro that wasn’t freakin’ impossible to use.

I remember the first time I tried using Linux.  My roommate at the time – some jackass named Manesh, or Manish, or who the heck knows (or cares) – convinced me to give up my comfortable Windows environment in favor of what he called “Slackware”.  The name, you gotta admit, is appealing.  Thing is, unless you’re a CS major (that’s Computer Science for the under-nerdy) Slackware is downright useless.  To this day, I once in a while throw in a Slackware CD just to see how far it *hasn’t* come.  You know what, though?  It’s cool that there’s even a distro for the ultra-nerdy kids out there.

Anyway, Red Hat was the first distro I got my hands on that installed mostly well.  Hardware worked without too much kicking and screaming.  Software worked.  It wasn’t half bad. 

Now, granted they went and got all commercial.  I can’t blame them for wanting to make money.  But it’s cool, they’re totally down for making money off the Big Dogs… the Corporate Giants that can’t imagine using something that might be ‘free’.  No, seriously, I’m convinced that Red Hat went commercial (as commercial as open-source can really get) just because Big Corporate won’t do it if it’s free.  “Well, that’s fine” said Red Hat… “it’ll cost ya.”  And now RHEL is firmly ensconced in the trenches with such greybeards as Sun Microsystems and IBM.  Good for you, boys.

Seems like they didn’t forget us, either.  While they were busy charging down Corporate hills while wearing kilts and swinging big nerd-sticks around, the Fedora project was created to keep RH In The Game.  And, let’s face it, it’s a good place to try new stuff out. 

8 iterations later.  It works.  Fedora is one sweet distro.  People (very nerdy people) are waving their live-CD’s around and saying “try this.  try it.  you won’t regret it.”  People who are fed up with Ubuntu’s weird hug-the-world mentality are finding Fedora.  And it lives up to the hype.

Linux is one buggy freakin’ system.  That being said, it’s significantly more stable than Windows will ever hope to imagine being (doesn’t say much for Windows, considering.)  Nonetheless, it is still twitchy, a bit buggy, and stuff doesn’t always work right out of the box unless you’re meticulously careful about every last bit of hardware.  And even if you are, you might still run into issues.  But it’s okay, because there’s this thing associated with Linux… it’s called a community.  And there’s lots of people in these communities, and they’re all willing to help.  It’s awesome.

So Fedora 8.  What makes it so hot?  I’m going to save that for the next post.  This one was just to say “Hey.  Try this.  Try it.  It doesn’t freakin’ suck.”  It really is worth a look.  And if you’re not into Linux, well, maybe it’s time to start.