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.

ISO Burning Power Toy for Windows Vista

Whoa, neat!  A Vista power toy that doesn’t suck! 

Ever get your hands on an ISO (if you don’t know what that is, this probably doesn’t apply to you, LOL) and then rummage around looking for some way to burn it.  Particularly some easy way to burn it? 

Rummage no longer, dear friends!  Click here to download and install the ultimate in ISO-burning awesomeness.  And it’s free.  That’s right, free.  Can there be anything more awesome?  Yes, of course there can – but right now this is what we’re working with.

Give it a shot.  Simple, easy, and refreshingly to the point.  Blam!

OSX-style Expose for Windows Vista

switcher-2704-tile.jpg

No, no, stop laughing, it’s true.  Some guy, apparently a guy who works for Microsoft, thought it’d be awesome if the Vista interface sucked a little less.  So he went and put together one sweet little app called Switcher.

If you’re one of those brave souls running Vista, and at any point in your life experienced the joy of using OSX, go get that app.  It’s not quite as unrelentingly cool as The True Expose, but it does a pretty bang-up job.  I haven’t played with all the options, so it’s possible that one might be able to configure it to operate closer to The Real Deal, but even on default settings, I’m more than a little impressed.  It really improves the usability and workflow of Vista’s interface, and it just works great.

Wait, wait – aren’t I running a Fedora machine?  Yes I am.  And I still love it.  But a few things made me alter my work area.  I had an interview at Fluent, and while we were chatting the subject of Linux, Fedora, Ubuntu, and how much I know about security came up.  Don’t ask me why, it just did.  Anyway, while it’s true that I can accomplish 99% of my tasks with the GIMP and Inkscape (and God knows I love Inkscape), I forgot to append something to that (and it’s becoming more and more relevant.)  I can use GIMP and Inkscape for creative tasks, when I’m starting from scratch.  If I have to import files (logos, graphics, whatever) then these packages fall very, very, very flat.  This didn’t used to be the case – but try to import a Photoshop CS2 or CS3 file into GIMP… or pretty much any Illustrator file after Ill-10.  Nothin’.  No love.  And the unfortunate fact is that I get quite a lot of files in these formats, now that they’ve become all industry-standard an’ stuff.

Granted, I could transfer the file to my Powerbook, open it, and re-save each file that comes in so GIMP/Inkscape can Do Their Deed, but man that’s just a lot of extra hassle.  I thought about it (a lot) and went ahead and decided to run my beloved Fedora 8 on a little box I keep in the closet as a web server for testing and kicking around, and slap Vista back on the quad-core.  I can always remote into the Fedora box and play around all I want, should I have The Urge.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not hugely happy about all this.  I’ve been loving on my Fedora box for a long time.  But I have to face the facts, and until I can once again wield the Linux environment as an effective tool, I’ll have to use Windows again for production.  It hasn’t been too painful, honestly – Vista has such annoying quirks that it makes me a little crazy – but it’s been a lot smoother than I expected.  This Switcher app I mentioned help ease the transition quite a bit.  I don’t know.  Time will tell if this move was worth it.

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.