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11/02/2003: The GIMP [>> Go]

    The GIMP ("Gnu Image Manipulation Program") is a free, quite full-featured digital image editing program along the lines of Adobe's Photoshop. The GIMP was created and designed to run under Unix, but has been (or is in the process of being) ported to other operating systems as well, including Windows, Mac, OS/2, and more. GIMP is an open-source application, which means that a lot of people have contributed to its features over the years, and you could too if you were so inclined. For the rest of us, GIMP offers a lot of the functionality of much more expensive digital imaging programs, but with some rough edges that may set back beginners.

    To get GIMP installed (under Windows), you'll want to start at the GIMP for Windows Installer site and follow the instructions there. These instructions mainly are to install the GTK library for Windows first, then install GIMP. The notes on the GIMP for Windows Installer site say that Windows NT (and presumably 2000/XP) is preferred, but I've been using GIMP on Windows 98 with no problems. There's always a chance, of course, that you won't be able to get GIMP installed or working properly, so just keep that in mind.

    Once you get GIMP installed and running, you're likely to notice that the layout and menu structure is much different than you're used to (if you're a Windows user). Rather than having one main window and the different toolbars and palettes contained within it (like a word processor or e-mail program), GIMP just has palettes and open files, which you can see in the picture above. This means that there's no container window for what you're working on with GIMP, which isn't what Windows users are accustomed to. It also means that you can't minimize all of GIMP at once - each window and palette has its own minimize/maximize buttons that you have to click to get GIMP out of your way (or bring it back). (Fortunately, MultiDesk does work with it, so you can always open GIMP and switch to another desktop when you need GIMP's windows out of your way.) The main windows that GIMP shows are the image(s) being worked on, the main GIMP toolbar (which has icons for the different tools available, like the pencil, eraser, paintbrush, selection tool, etc.), the layers palette, and the brush palette (these and other windows can be turned on or off, like a color palette and tool options window). If you've used image editing programs before, the tools available in GIMP should look familiar to you - tools for selecting areas of the image, tools for drawing lines or "painting" into the image, tools for blurring, sharpening, or otherwise changing the image, etc. The image editing window itself uses a right-click menu to access things like saving or printing the image, rather than menus across the top of the window as you'd probably expect - just right-click anywhere in the image window and you'll get a pop-up menu containing categories like "File", "Edit", "View", etc. This is also the menu you use to apply special effects and filters to your image. For even more advanced image manipulation, you can use or create scripts that will automatically perform some sequences of image editing actions to a particular area of the image. I'm not going to go into more detail about how you go about using GIMP (or any image editing program) to do anything in particular, but The GIMP's Website has a nice set of documentation to help you get started with GIMP's tools and how to use them.

    I think that for a lot of people, GIMP can easily be a cheap (free) alternative for more expensive editing programs like Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro, especially for straightforward image manipulation like resizing and cropping, adding text, adjusting color levels, merging photos, touchups, etc. And GIMP's scripting and filter capabilities seem fairly robust, which allows the GIMP community to share useful program additions. But GIMP is not the most straightforward program to use (for Windows users), mainly because of its roots in Unix window layout and program design. There is no in-program help; you have to download some of the documentation from the GIMP's Web site and read through it. And it does not have as many features, in my opinion, for advanced image manipulation and digital image processing, nor does it add features as fast, as commercial products do. I'm sticking with Photoshop for my imaging needs - partly because I've got a large amount of money invested in it, partly because I already know the interface, and partly because of the features it has - but if you don't already own a decent commercial image editing program, The GIMP will probably take you quite a way toward not needing one.

©2017 Tyler Chambers