In the early days of Linux, users had modest needs to create graphics, so the then-nascent GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) served them well. However, as Linux and the GIMP became popular, more sophisticated users -- even some graphics professionals -- began to rely on the GIMP for their day-to-day needs. As often occurs, as demand for the GIMP grew, so did the number of feature requests. Fortunately, the GIMP developers worked hard to keep up with expensive, proprietary image editing software available on other platforms, and today, the GIMP is "the Photoshop of Linux," a category-killer application.
In the early days of Linux, users had modest needs to create graphics, so the then-nascent GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) served them well. However, as Linux and the GIMP became popular, more sophisticated users — even some graphics professionals — began to rely on the GIMP for their day-to-day needs. As often occurs, as demand for the GIMP grew, so did the number of feature requests. Fortunately, the GIMP developers worked hard to keep up with expensive, proprietary image editing software available on other platforms, and today, the GIMP is “the Photoshop of Linux,” a category-killer application.
Earlier this year, version 2.0 of the GIMP was released. Although the new release was three years in the making, it was worth the wait. Let’s have a look at what’s new in GIMP 2.0.
The User Interface
The first thing you’re likely to notice is the GIMP’s fancy new interface. The widgets and icons all look a bit different than what you’ve probably grown used to. Much of this is thanks to the GTK+ Version 2 toolkit, which replaces the older 1.x version.
|Figure One: The GIMP 2.0 running on Mac OS X|
In addition to a sexier look, you’ll also find the interface easier to work with and customize. It makes much better use of tabs and dockable areas, which you can use to drag and park various other widgets. This means you can organize the GIMP to suit your style.
If you want to take things a step further, the icons and menus are all skinnable. That means you can replace the icons with those of your choosing, or even those of your own design!
Previous versions of the GIMP made working with text quite difficult. Given that the GIMP’s an image manipulation tool, that’s not terribly shocking, but making even basic changes to text, once placed in an image, wasn’t easy.
In 2.0, text is far easier to work with after it’s been applied to an image. Any text you add is placed in its own layer automatically, so there’s no need to remember to add a layer, and you should never find yourself getting out the eraser tool to correct a typo.
Performance, Extensibility, Scripting
As you might expect, GIMP 2.0 is faster than its predecessors. While you won’t notice it everywhere, some operations are significantly speedier than before.
Moreover, you’ll find that lots of small features have been added here and there. New filters, enhanced cropping, color display filters, the ability to save an image as a template, support for multi-page TIFF files (produced by lots of fax software), and so on.
And if the GIMP still doesn’t do something you’d like, odds are that you can find or write a plug-in to do the job. While it might look like just a fancy graphics application, the GIMP actually doubles as a platform for building custom and sophisticated image processing solutions. The beauty of plugging in to the GIMP is that you can focus on just the code you need to write while taking advantage of all the existing plumbing, such as first-class printing support.
GIMP plug-ins can be written in a variety of languages. C and GIMP’s “script-fu” (which is really embedded Scheme) are quite common. Python and Perl are also popular choices.
Before diving in, be sure to visit the GIMP Plug-ins site on SourceForge (http://gimp-plug-ins.sourceforge.net), where you’ll find useful information about the GIMP’s object model, calling conventions, and so on. You can also find tutorials on GIMP plug-in development in the January 2001 and February 2002 “Power Tools” column in Linux Magazine (available online at http://www.linux-mag.com/2002-01/power_01.htm and http://www.linux-mag.com/2002-02/power_01.html).
One last feature to mention is that the GIMP is cross-platform. Besides a source code release and Linux binary packages, you can also obtain Windows and Mac OS X versions too. The Mac OS X version of the GIMP is shown in Figure One.
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