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Why GIMP is Inadequate (troy-sobotka.blogspot.com)
201 points by rkwz on Jan 11, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 105 comments



The 8-bit color limitation issue is well-known and has been for a long time. The solution is GEGL (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GEGL), which has been under development for a (very) long time now and is partially implemented in GIMP 2.6, the latest stable version. It is a problem, but it's important to put it into perspective: almost all monitors display 32-bit color (EDIT: or less) anyway, so if you're doing work targeted at a computer screen, it probably doesn't matter anyway. If you need to do work at color depths higher than 8 bits per pixel (that is, if you're doing serious print work) then yes, you need to be aware of these limitations. If you're almost everyone else it's probably not an issue. (I don't mean to imply that it's not a problem at all, but I think it's important to keep it in perspective.)

For the people here asking whether GIMP is good enough for what you're doing: Ars Technica did an excellent review of GIMP 2.6 about a year ago (EDIT: 2 years, but it's still the same major version). It's long, but well-worth reading and will answer your questions. It's written from the perspective of a professional who uses Photoshop, but does an excellent job of remaining balanced. This quote summarizes the review (and also my opinion) pretty nicely, I think:

    I may seem to skew negative since I talk so much about what's missing, but
    it's hard to dwell on what a program does well and not sound like a fawning
    idiot. Most people who sit down to get image editing work done with GIMP 
    will not be disappointed. There is a ton of room for advanced work here.
It can be found here: http://arstechnica.com/open-source/reviews/2009/01/gimp-2-6-...

While I don't follow it closely enough to really discuss GIMP's current development status, development does seem to have slowed significantly (purely from a user's perspective) in recent years. This is a real shame, since I think that for the most part it's an excellent program and in general I much prefer to work in GIMP over Photoshop. For all of its many flaws, I think it's a fantastic piece of software.


> so if you're doing work targeted at a computer screen, it probably doesn't matter anyway

Actually, it matters regardless of output device. With higher bit depths, less rounding errors accumulate over time as the image is processed, for example when effects are applied, yielding higher overall output quality.

Here is an example, although after many iterations quality loss can be much more dramatic than visible in that picture: http://www.photoshopessentials.com/essentials/16-bit/page-3....


> With higher bit depths, less rounding errors accumulate > over time as the image is processed,

This could also be solved by another photoshop feature, adjustment layers. Basically instead of applying a filter like levels to an image you make a levels layer that applies the levels affect to everything underneath it. The original data is untouched, and you can tweak the levels at any time.

I'm strictly a hobby user for photos I take, but without support either 16 bit colour or adjustment layers GIMP is not good enough for me. My solution is to use an older student version of photoshop I picked up cheaply; I don't need all features in the latest version.


No, that doesn't actually do anything to solve the underlying problem. Stacking five adjustment layers has the same accuracy problems as doing the same five operations sequentially. It may let you tweak them without roundtripping through further loss but the loss is already significant by that point.


Technically yes, but not at all in practice. Once you run 3 adjustments you generally want to tweak the first. Without adjustment layers you usually just run a fourth transformation.


Ye gods, can't you read until my third sentence between smashing the reply button and "correcting" me?


Er, theoretically, no. I don't know what Photoshop's implementation is, but computing the cumulative effect of the adjustment layers will result in less error than applying them in sequence. That's part of why GEGL is being written.

[Edit] I'm referring to the fact that fixed-precision arithmetic loses (well, stochastically speaking) precision with each operation. You can condense the layer effects and apply the 8-bit operation only once to minimize error. This is especially true if your layer combinator works at a higher level of precision than the layer operation itself.

[Edit 2] As an example, consider the layer operations "Multiply each channel by 0.5" and "Multiply each channel by 2." Applying these layers separately to a value loses something like a half bit of precision (more for smaller values, less for larger ones). A layer combinator could multiple 0.5 by 2 and yield ~1.0 (in general, subject to the floating point precision which is generally finer than the image precision). That results in a smaller error.


I think you may be secretly sneaking a step whereby the adjustment layers all run with more bits then only collapse back out to 8-bit at the end to get their higher quality. If you've fixed your code to work with the adjustment layers, you might as well fix it to work that way in general, which I think what GEGL is . It's still not the "adjustment layers" that are fixing anything, it's the fact that you're actually retaining the bits. Pure 8-bit adjustment layers will still look bad, and 12/14/16/8+-bit normal layers will look much better with and without adjustment layers. You can't escape from the fact that computing with too few bits necessarily entails information loss.


Plus selectively painting the mask of an adjustment layer is useful as well


Yes. It matters a great deal if you're trying to recover information from underexposed or nearly overexposed regions of an image. Adjusting the levels of an image is something photographers do all the time, and having 14bits per channel allows you to do it without producing a grainy-as-hell image. Throwing away almost half of the information on the initial import is unforgivable and relegates GIMP to being merely a toy.


Oh please stop the flame, this is ridiculous. Photoshop didn't support 16 bits before CS, in 2003. Did it prevent people to use it ? Would you say that all magazine covers were "child play" before then?


Not true. Photoshop has had support for 16 bits since at least version 3. What CS brought was full 16 bit support for all layer adjustments and painting features. Before that 16 bit was only supported by a subset of the available editing options.


Still though, the sniffy "merely a toy" is kind of over the top. Are automobiles merely toys because they don't have the range, passenger capacity and speed of a Boeing 747? How about motor scooters? And bicycles? The Gimp is not as good as Photoshop. Is it good enough for many uses? Sure.


Having an attitude of "It's good enough" is probably why GIMP has made such a small amount of progress in recent years.


Indeed. And having progress per se is what proprietary software like Photoshop has to do in order to sell more licenses. Why would you buy the most recent CS version if Photoshop 6 was certainly good enough?

The logic is different. GIMP does not have to evolve in order to survive. It's open and if you need it doing something it doesn't, you can hire a developer to do it. The fact nobody does it is because it's good enough for what it's used for.


+1, although, to be correct, economically "the fact nobody does it" means the cost is higher than the benefit. You could purchase a copy of photoshop for much cheaper than the cost of hiring a good developer for a week.

Open source economics are tricky.


> You could purchase a copy of photoshop for much cheaper than the cost of hiring a good developer for a week.

True. That's why pooling resources is such a good idea. If you need a feature that's missing from Photoshop, you can find other people who need that feature (or would like to have it) and pool resources to hire someone to do it in GIMP. If you have a company with 10 seats using Photoshop, it may start to become cheaper to hire a GIMP developer than providing all employees with a Photoshop license (and Adobe must have corporate licenses exactly to counter that reasoning)


Yes, this sort of thing makes it interesting (and tricky). For 'common features', buying commercial products is a good, and really simple way of pooling resources. You buy the product that has invested in the features you want. When you start talking about one-off types of things, or special, advanced features, open source can start to look a whole lot more competitive, especially since there is no monopoly on who is going to do the work.


>The fact nobody does it is because it's good enough for what it's used for.

And what it's used for isn't the listed things because it can't do them. Blub in a sense perhaps.


That's not the kind of 'good enough' I meant. It's good enough for many things, not "so good that it doesn't need improvement". Anything can be improved, and doubtless the people who work on it know that.


And the GIMP supports 16 bits for most operations, simply by enabling GEGL in the Color menu, therefore it is quite equivalent to old Photoshop in this regard.


>> almost all monitors display 32-bit color anyway

Actually, I was surprised to find out that this is not the case.

"The inexpensive twisted nematic display is the most common consumer display type."

"Also, most TN panels represent colors using only 6 bits per RGB color, or 18 bit in total, and are unable to display the 16.7 million color shades (24-bit truecolor) that are available from graphics cards."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TFT_LCD#Twisted_nematic_.28TN.2...


Any idea how most modern CRTs handle color? I'm not seeing anything specific on Wikipedia's CRT page...


CRTs will show what the RAMDAC on the video card feeds them. They shouldn't have limitations like this.


Even if you don't care about the GIMP/Photoshop comparison, make sure to check it out if you're a GIMP user. It has a bunch of little tips as to how to get photo and retouching done with GIMP; I've used GIMP for years now, but had never realised what Selective Gaussian Blur was really useful for.

(These sorts of tutorials are very thin on the ground on the GIMP side, and this provides some real examples of how to more-or-less pull off the effects Photoshop tutorials tend to talk about.)


>never realised what Selective Gaussian Blur was really useful for

This is probably the filter I use most - basically it smooths colours that are close positionally and colourwise to avoid graininess. A good way to clean up images quickly though it can look unnatural if done too much.

I often use a little SGB and then a little Unsharp Mask when touching up images for low-res or online output.

I'm not professionally trained but do use this for commercial purposes and have for some time.


> Ars Technica did an excellent review of GIMP 2.6 about a year ago.

From the article, seems like it was 2 years ago: "Last updated January 13, 2009". Might seem like an insignificant detail, but 2 years is an eternity in OSS. Are you sure things haven't changed significantly since that review?


Agh. Here's me still thinking it's still 2010.

Yeah, unfortunately things really haven't changed since the review: we're still on the same major version (2.6) that we were when the review was published. (Hence the comment at the end about development seeming to have slowed a ton.)


Yes.

I used GIMP exclusively between 1999 and about 2009. There was always something coming in the next version that would fix GIMP. Color profiling, single window, better text tools, etc. They never did. GIMP doesn't even bother subscribing to GNOME's HIG. It's cast adrift in the world of Linux, and after a decade of using it I'm now happily on Pixelmator on OS X.


As far as I know (and I've lurking on the gimp developer list for 10+ years), GIMP has never been a GNOME application. So, from that point of view, there's no particular reason to expect it to conform to GNOME's human-interface guidelines, is there?


It uses the same crappy GTK file mgt widget design philosophy as GNOME.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GTK%2B GTK is the GIMP toolkit, and GTK is run by the GNOME foundation. There's quite a bit of relationship between GTK/GIMP/GNOME, even if it may be mostly historical these days.

I've always considered GIMP to be a GNOME app, and most people I know have.


When the GNOME project was founded, they looked around for a widget toolkit, and found Gtk+, that was created for GIMP at that point.


> There's no particular reason to expect it to conform to GNOME's human-interface guidelines, is there?

How about 'not being weird?' Asides from the already mentioned historic background, GNOME is the most popular OSS Unix desktop.


Thanks for the Pixelmator reference. I've been a gimp user since its early days, but I can do without the irritants.


Actually most monitors are 18-24 bits. Tons of cheap TN panels are actually 6 bits with dithering to emulate a 24 bit panel. There are 10 bit and extended gamut panels, however.


I expected this to be a rant or flame, but in fact he has described wonderfully what needs to be said.

Besides from all this pro features that GIMP lacks, in my opinion its biggest flaw its the UI. Its poor and raw, and makes sense if you are a programmer... Mainly this is what keeps it far from the regular users I know.

Hope It doesnt die, its a very good open source multiplatform editing tool...


I, hand on my heart, swear that, as a programmer, I don't think GIMP's UI makes a jot of sense.

A week away from GIMP to mess with Photoshop had me converted after the first couple of days, sadly. Photoshop is both a blessing and a curse for OSS.

(A blessing that it's a nice shiny target. A curse in that the target is half-way to the moon.)


And the fact of the matter is that Photoshop has far from the world's greatest UI either (for one of the usual reasons--so much stuff has been incrementally added over time) so saying a UI is bad compared to Photoshop really is pretty damning. Contrast with Lightroom which, although I disagree with one or two of the fundamental design decisions, was coherently designed from the ground up.

The situation with The GIMP is really a lot like OpenOffice on a smaller scale. Lots of people would like a free image editing program but it's a big undertaking to produce something that's competitive with the proprietary alternatives and there's no commercial organization that sees benefit in supporting such an effort.


There are numerous closer targets to shoot for, which are not photoshop but are still pretty darn nice (Acorn or Pixelmator for instance on OSX).

OSX also has SeaShore, which I believe is built upon GIMP's tech but with a Cocoa frontend. It is fairly nice.


I bought Pixelmator years ago and it's great for what it is, but it's not really in the same class as Photoshop (or really even GIMP). The UI is clean and functional, but even as an occasional user I run into missing features.

Seashore looks interesting.


Wondering how hard would it be to build it on top of GNUStep. Anyone cares to try it?


Usability is key for a lot of users.

I don't care if my photo editor is good enough for a pro. Pros use Photoshop. A good, free, lightweight editor is what most people need for removing red-eye, putting daemon horns on their third grade teacher, and cropping out their ex.

An open source editor will always be able to do high-end stuff, as long as it has some decent scripting capability. The rest of us just want something simple.

Take Open Office. The reason I switched was the better equation editor, and the tab-complete. I like FireFox because of the tabs and extensions.

There should be more focus on a minimal but usable product, and letting the extensions make up the feature gap.


> UI... makes sense if you are a programmer...

Nope, maybe if you are the programmer of Gimp


People keep talking about the GIMP UI, I find it quite good. I love the concept of "everything available from a right-click", alla Maya -- the top menu bar is a kludge that was added quite recently.

The technical aspects mentioned in the article are more serious.


I agree with you, I'm talking about more specific but anoying things, like for example:

When using the Move tool, Instead of moving the selected layer by default, the option checked is "pick a layer automatically" which never does the job.

Text editing its a pain compared to photoshop.

Lots of filters dont have a real-time preview, which make applying them a futile exercise of guessing

Layers have bounds that doesnt correspond with the content of the layer (maybe somebody finds this useful, I hate it)

The plugins for Layer effects are all a mess and its easier to do it by hand

Its impossible to select a group of layers, and I dont mean to apply some filter or edit them, I mean to organize the layers. Move up a group, etc. There is no way to create folders of layers... There is no way to hide/show a group of layers...

All this kind of quirks make the program anoying to use for big projects, and I hate it because its completely capable of getting the same results (at my level) than PS, it just takes a lot of time because the UI...


I have to admit that as I last used Photoshop around version 4, it's easier to do without these :)


I use and love it, but I sincerely wish they'd change the name and the UI. I'm a programmer, but even I didn't realize how much they were hiding in context menus at first until I had to search online to find documentation on how to do the few simple things I can do.

The multi-window thing I really don't have much of a problem with, though, even if it was hard to get used to at first. I don't have much use for the higher bit depths and such, but I can see his point about quality and why others need it.

Incidentally, a lot of programs have problems with gamma. I think this link has been on HN a few times: http://www.4p8.com/eric.brasseur/gamma.html


The multi-window thing would be fine, but why does each window need a button on my taskbar? On both Windows or Linux, doing any serious work in GIMP destroys my taskbar's usefulness.

Then, which windows are on top of other windows is never what I expect, even after years of using GIMP.

In my opinion a multi-window image program is the way to go, but GIMP's implementation of it is not.

(P.S. I think Apple's Interface Builder's multi-window implementation is much much worse, however.)


I honestly don't see what the big deal is. Comparing GIMP usability to Photoshop usability only makes sense if you have no experience with either. Many people say GIMP is difficult yet forget they had a hard time learning Photoshop to begin with.

I personally find Photoshop daunting and GIMP pretty easy to use for most of what I need.


My dad is 70, likes to rant about broken/bad software and recently discovered GIMP for photo manipulation. He is very happy and has not said a single bad thing (which actually surprised me).


I never mentioned PS in my response, for me they are different and both of them are necessary.

In fact, from a year now, I always use Gimp as my image editing program after 4 years of PS, and I hope it doesnt die because it would leave me without choices...

This said, we cannot ignore the flaws on the UI, not comparing them to photoshop, but on their own. User life could be eased a lot fixing lots of little quirks the UI has.

Saying Gimp is pretty easy to use doesnt mean its UI could be improved a lot


I've been using GIMP for prototyping instead of Paint Shop Pro lately, and while it works well enough and I've gotten used to it, I have to say, there are dozens of small issues that add up to a UX disaster.

The Toolbox isn't dockable, but "brushes" is both a dropdown button on the toolbox and a dockable window. "Show Grid" and "Snap to Grid" are in the View menu, while "Configure Grid" is in the Image menu. The Color Tools are in both the Tools menu and Colors menu.

It just seems convoluted at first because there's so much duplication and so many areas where the wrong UI element was chosen - it's just a mess. On top of this, a lot of common tasks, like copy-paste-moveSelection, have at least one extra click compared to PS or PSP, and it all adds up to have a dramatic effect on productivity.

I don't think Gimp will die, but I'm guessing that, at least for hobbyists, it'll probably be dethroned by whichever web-based solution gets to the head of the pack.


This is valuable feedback from an artist who actually bothered to try to use the software. Ultimately, for a highly-paid artist, learning a new interface is itself costly.


I don't quite understand the downvotes, anyone care to comment?

I just meant that time is a valuable commodity which artists can rarely afford, unless they have a really good reason to. I applaud this reviewer for having the time.


I don't think his main problem is with the interface.


"Important progress towards high bit-depth and non-destructive editing in GIMP has been made. Most color operations in GIMP are now ported to the powerful graph based image processing framework GEGL, meaning that the internal processing is being done in 32bit floating point linear light RGBA. By default the legacy 8bit code paths are still used, but a curious user can turn on the use of GEGL for the color operations with Colors / Use GEGL." http://www.gimp.org/release-notes/gimp-2.6.html

Clearly this artist was not a curious user.


I think you're illustrating the point of the author: such an option should be the default. The user shouldn't have to go looking for it.


GEGL is not fully baked yet, using it reduces stability and the operations you can perform. Reviewing the default, non-GEGL GIMP was the right decision.


There are several good alternatives to GIMP depending on what you're doing. GIMP is probably the best for traditional photo editing, but there seems to be more programs oriented toward illustration. In particular, I like Krita.

I don't really know what the deal is with the low development interest in GIMP. I think maybe it's that Photoshop's professional niche generally isn't comprised of big fan of computers in the first place, so they are more like the Office crowd and just want to use what they're used to; they're hostile to any change from the start.

I also think that the extremely long development cycle of GEGL, which was necessary for the most commonly requested features like increased bit depth, CMYK, etc., may have turned developers off.

I'm merely guessing here, though. I definitely agree that GIMP has a lot of potential, and a few dedicated developers could really take it places.


I don't really know what the deal is with the low development interest in GIMP. I think maybe it's that Photoshop's professional niche... ...use what they're used to; they're hostile to any change from the start.

I don't know about the developers and why more people aren't interested in helping out (though I suspect for a lot of people its a mixture of the difficulties of getting established in a large codebase and the beurocracy involved in a large project), but from a user point-of-view I think GIMP has a few problems.

I've used GIMP exclusively for many years (but I'm not a graphic designer, so my use of image editing software was never terribly heavy) and I used photoshop for the first time last summer. My transition to photoshop was a very pleasant one as, IMHO, photoshop has a much simpler and more productive interface (buttons are easy to access, convenient keyboard shortcuts, interface is not too cluttered); it has a larger range of (more advanced, generally) filters and tools; and it seems a lot faster to me too (definitely when applying filters to a large image. This can be, in my experience, quite slow in GIMP, but in photoshop most filters are almost instantaneus for me).

I can only assume that many other people feel the same and I imagine this may make it less desirable for people to work on GIMP, especially if there is (perceived) resistance from the GIMP developer community for GIMP to move in the direction that newcomers feel it should (eg, does GIMP still have that horrible multi-window interface? Most people dislike it (though since I started using a tiling window manager on windows it actually becomes much more usable!)).

Having said all that, from a user point of view, unless you make a reaosnable amount of money with your photo-editing, it is still hard to justify photoshops high price tag. GIMP being free is definitely a big plus point for it for casual use.


> "I don't know about the developers and why more people aren't interested in helping out"

This probably doesn't help GIMP any, but I suspect it's because very few people want to hop on such a clearly troubled project. Only two core devs left? A long history of neglect and moving in the wrong direction?

I can bet if, say, Pixelmator went OSS right now, there'd be a sea of devs fighting to add features to it.

Most devs don't want to walk into a major, legacy project just to pick up the pieces, most of us would rather join something that has a solid base where the maintainers have a decent idea of what the product needs.


Having only 2 principal developers left which have little time sounds to me like the biggest problem. That's not enough manpower to compete with Photoshop in the long run. One reason for that might be that Gimp already does the stuff most coders need from an image manipulation tool, so maybe there's not enough itches to scratch left to get more talent interested in developing for it.


To everyone who is replying to the 8bit issue by mentioning GEGL - Have you actually used it in a professional capacity?

As a (now part-time) professional photographer, I have evaluated GIMP; and as a FOSS advocate I really wanted it to work. The performance issues the article mentions are with reasonable sized images at only 8 bits, but editing a 16bit, 25MP image wasn't just slow, it was unusable. Photoshop however, runs in near real time at these image sizes. Even automating a GEGL filter to run on a series of a few hundred images would take long enough that I couldn't maintain a usable workflow.


Surely the underlying problem is that GIMP is and has been underfunded for years. Where as Photoshop costs $100s, GIMP presumably has very little revenue if it can only pay for two developers.

Firefox is able to develop quickly due to the deal with Google, maybe GIMP needs something like that, e.g. a app-store for plugins or a kickstarter funding drive.


This article brings my experience with OSS full circle. It was the Gimp and GTK that first drew my attention to OSS in about 1997. At the time it was tempting to believe that OSS was inherently a better development model but after almost fifteen years it's clear that it's been wildly successful in some domains but a washout in others.


Another missing feature for me is lack of a CYMK color palette. Vital for sending images to the printers.


There's a plugin for that, not perfect but does the job.


The fact that you need to download a plugin for something as essential as that is a big drawback.


>Vital for sending images to the printers.

Not entirely, I get away with it as the publications ultimately use low quality reproduction and so they don't match anyway. It's certainly better but the main issue for me sending RGB is brightness and I've learnt to adjust for it. The consumer doesn't know what it's supposed to look like colour-wise, they're probably reading in non-optimal conditions, possibly colour-blind.

Given what gets put on the cover of professionally produced work (http://www.psdisasters.com/) this almost seems the least thing to worry about (yes I'm exaggerating).


I don't know much about photo editing, but I've used Gimp for a little while along with Inkscape for editing. I use it for simple stuff- drop shadows, minor logo work, etc. Is there a noticeable difference vs. photoshop on that level?


Not really. The nice folks at Adobe would have you believe otherwise, but at low color depths, low image sizes, low skill levels; the difference isn't worth 5$, much less (googles) 999$ (before 100$ rebate. Unless you are making a lot of images, _and_ relying on them to make money, gimp is more than enough.


> the difference isn't worth 5$, much less (googles) 999$ (before 100$ rebate).

I think Photoshop, like Windows, is a beneficiary of piracy in this respect: if there were no way to get Photoshop for less than $999, there would be a lot more people using alternatives for a lot of niches where Photoshop isn't absolutely necessary. But students, people starting out, small-time freelancers, and even some random home users editing their Christmas photos just pirate Photoshop. Although, Paint.NET is gaining some market share in the home-user category.


Photoshop Elements is reasonably priced at £58 on Amazon as of right now. The people you're talking about do not NEED the full $1000 package.


They don't NEED it, but they WANT it.


At my school students recieve Photoshop for free if they are in a class that requires it, and if not they can buy it at deeply reduced rates---about ~90-120 for CS4 if I last recall.


In my opinion there is. In Photoshop you can attach dropshadows (layer styles) to layers. This will save you a lot of time when something changes. I used Photoshop and Gimp. I can create the same images in Gimp but it just takes a lot more time. For hobby that's ok, but for work it's not. Thats why people are willing to pay a lot for Photoshop. One thing that is bothering me in Gimp is that there is a layer size. Seems like a minor thing. But these are the little things that get in the way of working quick.


I think that for small stuff like that the difference won't be very noticeable,especially to the end user. If you get some designers to really look at it they might notice a difference, but I wouldn't want to pay for a Photoshop license for minor stuff like that.


A more interesting question is, to me: is The GIMP an adequate replacement for Photoshop Elements? I believe they have the same target market—people who are "adding drop shadows, doing minor logo work, etc."


Purely feature wise they might might be comparable, but features isn't where PSE's strength lies. Photoshop Elements has done a lot of UI work to make common tasks really easy. Someone who has never done any photo editing before can probably sit down with PSE and quickly get pretty great results without any major problems. The same can definitely not be said about The Gimp.


Yes, the noticeable difference is Gimp sucks!!

Hats off to the Gimp development team for pulling off so many features and above all having an open-source product out there. But the problem is PhotoShop has set the expectations way too high. And I'm afraid, a non-commercial product will never be able reach that level.


Are there any arguments why a non-commercial product (not necessarily Gimp) will never be able to reach "that level"? This looks suspiciously like "open source software is always worse than closed source!!!!!" which has been refuted more than once.


I don't think anyone doubts that for things like OS kernels, database engines, web frameworks, browsers, libraries, editors etc. FOSS software easily wins.

But for end-user applications where you pay for the competition and where the typical end-users are not developers, or similar, (e.g. MS Office, PaintShop, most games) then FOSS versions seem rather poor by comparison.


Have you ever tried MyPaint?

IMO a good example of a software which does its tasks very well (I'm no (digital) painter, but I've heard about graphic artists seriously thinking about switching to it... if it only had a Mac version...).


I agree Photoshop sets the expectations high. But I don't agree that a non-commercial product cannot reach that level. Take a look at Blender.


That's probably not the best example, as Blender was initially closed-source until the creators went bankrupt. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blender_(software)


But it's been open source for 8 years and under active development:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blender_(software)#Development

There can't be a huge amount of the original source left, surely?


Just because Photoshop might have set the bar high doesn't mean the GIMP "sucks!!".


For anyone serious about image production the cost of the software, like the cost of the camera and lenses is insignificant. For most photographers bit depth is only something they give much thought to when a client dictates (like a stock agency requiring a 16bit tiff, for example). For the vast majority of people just making images, 8 bit depth is perfectly fine. Most sensors in digital cameras are not anywhere near 16 bit anyway, more likely 12 or sometimes 14.

The photoshopessentails links below will obviously illustrate a difference (but not one that is very striking considering the destructive editing applied) - its a classic dynamic range compress/expand to show the benefits of higher quantization levels. Obviously that will degrade an image. Nobody, I suspect, is willing to show a side by side comparison of an image showing ordinary editing with rounding errors that make the slightest different to the image.

Most output is computer screens anyway where there is so much more impacting the image than rounding errors in editing stage. When you print an image that also introduces its own set of transforms, some have the benefit of making much that is visible on the screen (like moderate chroma noise) largely go away.

I dislike GIMP because it lacks the polish and sophistication of Photoshop but good photographs are good photographs, regardless of rounding errors in adjustment layers. When you look back at the last century of images, how many of those photos do you say would be improved had they more resolution, or less banding or whatever technical nonsense metric you want to apply.


What shocks me is the lack of competition in this field in the year 2011. Why are we still talking about choosing between GIMP or Photoshop? I know there are other programs out there that some people will claim they prefer over GIMP or PS, but for most of the planet it's GIMP or PS.

Is the lack of competition due to the magnitude of such a programming endeavor or is it something else like patents? Any idea?


I've been using Pixelmator for a few months now (GIMP works great in Linux but I've found it's performance in OS X to be rather poor). It's still closed source software like PS (even if it does use open source libraries), but it's fast enough and gets the job done (my needs are really meager).

The reason why GIMP doesn't have more developers is easy: Programmers don't have any itch to scratch at this point and there isn't currently a big market for prosumer image tools (most folks use PS one way or the other, paid or pirated).

If Adobe managed to somehow magically make piracy of their software impossible I think it's likely that you'd see a number of free and non-free products in strong competition with Photoshop Elements.


Interesting point about piracy. Without a need, there's no reason to innovate.


Gimp is one of the main reasons why I left Linux. After years of Windows I finally gave Linux a chance and immediately fell in love with it. Being a programmer it gave an incredible boost to my productivity and creativity. Having a proper shell, for example, or a real ssh client (not some half baked solution like putty).

As I also work with media (graphics and music), I find the lack of any semi-professional software for producing music (nothing to be compared with Cubase, Ableton Live or even Fruity loops) nor programs to make graphics (Inkscape is not close to Illustrator and then Gimp...).

So I had to constantly keep a virtual machine for those (read: running in a virtual machine the most resource expensive programs) or another partition for dual boot and I ended up having two PCs.

I sold them both and bought a Mac where I can have Photoshop in a window and a terminal with a proper unix machine on the other.


It's a shame that GIMP isn't supported by more devs/money. Writing script-fus for GIMP makes it so much more useful for a developer than Photoshop. I've saved myself so much time using python-fu with GIMP to automate opening, manipulating, saving of files.


Yes, Gimp isn't competition to Photoshop for professionals. For people who want to do a variety of tasks where professional quality isn't critical, however, it's great. Gimp falls somewhere in between Photoshop Elements, PaintShopPro and Photoshop.

The UI is a huge problem. Whomever thought it was a good idea to make the tool window always on top with no way to minimize it, and no menus, needs to step away from working on UIs.


GIMP has no support for the Pantone color system either. Another reason professionals tend to avoid it. Not the GIMP's fault, as Pantone is proprietary. But regardless, it's used heavily in the design industry.


I would be curious to see similar posts for Octave and OpenOffice. I am really happy that they exist but "inadequate" would be a fair word to describe both. Comparing of course with Matlab and MS Office .


Yes, though you can also compare MS Office to something like TeX, and find that either option is inadequate, depending on where your focus lies.


I haven't used Octave, but I find that Python + PyLab is a great replacement for Matlab in many cases. It's certainly a subset of Matlab in terms of features, but the things it does do, it does really well.


Can you represent each channel as a double? Or will that take up too much memory in the long run?


as far as gimps usefulness to profesionals the movie version fork cinepaint, is good enough for making Harry Potter and other movies I question authors knowledge of / authority to speak for artistic professionals.


Uhm, Cinepaint is a point in favor of the author's conclusions about GIMP. One of the reasons for Cinepaint is to fix the color depth problem the author wrote about.


The problem is that the intersection of fosstards and serious print designers is vanishingly small. If you're doing pro press work, you're going to buy the tool that everybody else uses and that print shops have standardized upon. That tool is Photoshop.


The problem that I've always had with GIMP is that it (menus, macros, general UI, etc.) doesn't mimic Photoshop. If you want to go after a well established product why not mimic these things to achieve a higher adoption rate (due to instant familiarity)?


It's funny how the writer mentions a handful of technically unimportant flaws with GIMP, blowing them out of proportion, but fails to mention the one big thing where GIMP falls flat on its ass: the clunky, unstructured mess of a UI.


That was footnote #1 in the article.




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