Yesterday I posted here wondering about better-than-basic image editing for Mac OS X. Herewith a summary of the guidance I got, and a bit of boggling in the face of the OSS edifice.

On Image Editing · Thanks to Norm Walsh, Lauren Wood, D'Arcy Norman, Fazal Majid, Stephen Minutillo, Steven Dieringer, and Nic Ferrier for advice. I was advised to look at:

Photoshop Elements
US$99 list, bargains available, a high proportion of the functionality from its elder-sibling full-featured product.
Gimp is of course the Gnu Image Processor, the open-source community's frontal assault on the Photoshop franchise.
CorelDRAW Essentials
US$79 list, generally good commentary out there.
PhotoLine 32
From Germany I believe, €59.

Of these, the GIMP apparently has the best price-performance ratio. That's if you don't factor in the multiple hours of fetch-and-build time which is pretty well automated but is distracting and makes your computer run slow. More on this later.

Gimp screenshot
The Gimp in action
(screenshot processed by the Gimp)

I managed to get the Gimp running, and hoo-boy, let me tell ya this sucker does a lot of things. I'm pretty sure it does everything I could possibly want and then some.

But I'm not sure I'm going to be able to use it. The reason is, it's an X Window System (let's abbreviate that XWS) application, and the XWS-ness of it is really in your face:

  • It doesn't have a menu in the Mac menu bar, so if you type command-Q, you get asked if you want to stop X11.
  • The keyboard shortcuts don't work.
  • The spidery fonts and flat battleship-grey controls are hideously, monstrously, out of place on the Mac desktop.
  • There are all these irritating little windows.
  • The click protocols are different. This means that if you want to insert some orange text, you have to click on the main window, double-click on the colour selector, pick your colour, click on the text tool button, click on the image window, double-click where you want the text to go, then you can start typing. Then if you want to select that text in content, you click on the main window, click the select-rectangle button, click on the image window, and double-click to start selecting.
  • The file-selection for Open and Save-As are XWS-style, not Mac style. Amusingly, they are noticeably quicker than the native OS X equivalents.

I suspect if I were living in the Gnome or KDE environment, all this would feel perfectly smooth and natural and the barrier to entry would be much lower. So the question is, do I try to learn to love this thing or go get the Adobe product, which is kind of the standard?

(Several hours pass...)

At that point, someone came into the office and told me that the same blob graphic I'd had to take home to Paintshop had some miscolored anti-aliasing, and could I fix it. Not with Graphic Converter, but, I had a running Gimp, so I gritted my teeth and fired it up. There's no faster way to learn a package than having to use it to get some work done.

And... well, it's got some things going for it. The brushes and erasers and pencils and flood-fillers and flashlights all seem to be a little smarter than what I'm used to. You can switch back and forth between tools with keystrokes. I got the job done amazingly quick given that I didn't know the program.

But the save dialogue is really klunky, yes of course I want to export it to indexed format to save it, just do it, don't make me say yes. And then I wanted to do a flood-fill with a new colour that I'd cooked up and it just refused to do it; it would flood-fill only with white, even though it would pencil in my colour. I eventually found a workaround, but it was pretty baffling.

Open Source Bogglement · To install this thing on OS X, you open a terminal window and type:

sudo fink install gimp

Fink (the OS X Unix software package manager) thinks for a minute, and informs you that it's going to need to install 42 (!) other packages first. It takes several hours (on my 500MHz TiBook) to fetch, compile, and install all of these. It was trouble-free except for I had an out-of-date version of Apple's X11.

screenshot of the gimp build process

I was doing other work, but couldn't avoid glancing over from time to time at the endless screens-full of fetch/build/compile messages streaming past (see above for a sample).

After a couple of hours of this, my mind began to boggle a bit, as the collective weight of the hundreds of contributors and thousands of person-years began to sink in. I mean pbm, gtk, libpng, gnome, the XWS itself; and all these things living and growing. The world of software development really has split into what a famous Canadian once called “two solitudes.” The other solitude may be read about here.

I guess this of course is the traditional cathedral-vs.-bazaar metaphor, but I like that metaphor less and less, the collective genius that underlies something like the Gimp is bigger than a hundred cathedrals and their surrounding bazaars, it feels more like a city, or a planet, under continuous construction.

author · Dad
colophon · rights

April 25, 2003
· Technology (90 fragments)
· · Open Source (82 more)

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