As a web designer and a Linux supporter, I’m always left to ponder if I could really break off from Windows and Mac OS completely, and live exclusively with the penguin. Almost all applications that we work with today are free and/or open-source, with the huge majority making themselves at home on Ubuntu and the likes. However, there are a group of specialized programs used by web designers that cannot be used (directly) on Linux. Most notably, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash. By far one of the most popular image-manipulation programs out there, even amongst non-designers and non-photographers, is Photoshop. And just like Inkcape attempts to be the open-source alternative to Illustrator, GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is boldly taking on the psd maker himself.
The latest version of GIMP, at the time of writing, is 2.6, which has witnessed tremendous improvements from earlier editions. In terms of features, the following are the areas where GIMP either competes with, or overcomes Photoshop:
- Customizable interface: You have as much freedom as you do with a blank document. You can move things around, hide and show separate windows, etc. You also have control over icon sizes and spacing. While many designers would rather not go into too much trouble to customize the interface, if you’re going to make it your home, you have the freedom to invest the time into making it exactly as you would want it to be
- Hardware support: Just as any major Linux distributions will automatically recognize the hardware components of your computer, GIMP allows you to use pretty much any input device and will allow you to design with it. This is particularly useful for designers with special joysticks and keyboards that can be configured to save loads of time and effort
- File formats: Every format you’ve ever thought of, or not, is available through GIMP. It is by far one of the strongest arguments in support of it. You will never have a problem opening any file, and you can please everyone and use their preferred format
- Plugins: Definitely the strongest and mostly overlooked aspect. The sky is the limit as developers from all corners of the globe have been developing extensions to add more features and flexibility to the open-source program. Firefox has been enjoying unprecedented success thanks in part to the contribution of the open-source community with the add-ons, and the future looks bright for GIMP.
That’s only part of it. The big divider between the two contestants is the price you pay. Adobe Photoshop CS4 will cost you around $1,000, not exactly the money you have lying around if you’re at the early stages of your freelancing career. GIMP won’t cost you a dime. In fact, with GIMP, you’ll get constant updates and improvements for free, and you can keep re-installing it on every computer you come across (unlike with Photoshop, when you have to stick to one computer, or else you’re stuck with having to buy more licenses). If you run an illegal copy of Photoshop, like the huge majority of designers, then it might not sound like a strong point. But while you think you’re fooling Adobe by robbing them of cash, think about when you start a company or work for one, and how you’ll be forced to pay for a license because you simply cannot work with any other software.
So why isn’t GIMP more popular when it seems like the logical choice? Well, there are a couple of complaints that are yet to be addressed by the open-source community:
- Interface: Although completely customizable, the idea of having a number of windows open at the same time is very confusing and not at all intuitive. It requires the amount of time that designers are not willing to sacrifice in order to get used to it
- Tools: Many of which are similar to those of Photoshop, but simple ones like the text tool, for example, are extremely frustrating, and were obviously built by developers
- Blending options: Any many others that Photoshop users cannot live without are either non-existent, or extremely difficult to get a hold of
If you think of the amount of effort and time you need to invest to make the switch, it’s quite discouraging. However, if bootleg copies of Adobe’s leading product were not available, the majority of people would be regular GIMP users. Which in turn, would speed up it’s development. Because with more users and developers, the program can only keep improving and close in on competition.
Ideally, all of the new generations would start directly with GIMP and look at Photoshop as the majority of designers view GIMP now – complicated and non-nonsensical. While designer get closer to GIMP, the program itself, as all open-source applications do, will be bettering itself on the other end until the relationship between the two seems like the best option for everyone.
While many battles against the corporate world have long been won, this one’s a bit of a pickle. But as tough as it may sound, GIMP will inevitably surpass Adobe Photoshop as the industry’s leading program used world-wide. Victory belongs, as it always will, to the open-source applications.