The GNU Image Manipulation Program, known better by its acronym "GIMP",
reached a rare but welcome milestone recently - a major release. The 2.0
release has been in development since late December of 2000, and this
is only the second major release for a popular project that is
pushing 9 years old.
There are vast improvements to the GIMP in all areas of the application, too
many to cover in any one article. In this article we'll look only
briefly at the features with the biggest impact on day-to-day work.
The User Interface
Integrating the latest in GTK+ 2.4 enhancements, the GIMP 2.0 now provides
improved cross-platform support for both Windows and Mac OS X. This will
impact the GIMP developers more than users.
It will bring in far more users with less technical background,
these new users may not be as easy to
support as the typical Linux user. But it may also bring in fresh
development talent, and that is always a good thing.
GTK+ 2.4 provides the GIMP with dockable dialogs, allowing users to
customize their desktop for the best use of space. Users can drag and drop
dialog titles into a dock, and the dialog will then be added as a new tab in
that dock. Some dialogs serve multiple purposes, such as the Tool Options
dialog which changes when the user selects a different Toolbox tool. When
docked, this dialog's tab will have the same icon as its
Toolbox icon, making it easy to determine what tool is currently active.
Another big improvement is the menu layout. Menus now adorn Canvas windows
by default, and the menu contents have been modified to be more consistent
with their use. Color tools like Curves and Levels, for example, are now
in the Layers menu, since they work on the current layer. Menus can still
be accessed with the old right-mouse-click in a Canvas menu, or by using the
Menu arrow in the upper left side of the Canvas window. Better yet - you can
hide the menu bar on a Canvas-by-Canvas basis. This is true even for the
new full screen mode, where the menu can be enabled or disabled from view,
separate from all other Canvas windows.
Selection tools now offer modal operation, allowing the user to
specifically set the mode of operation for the current selection. This
means that a button can now be pressed where previously you had to
understand the nuances of Shift-Ctrl-Alt-Mouse-click combinations. For old
timers, the old method still works.
All paint tools now offer independent brush and gradient options, which
means you can configure a different brush for each of the paint tools. An
interesting addition to this is that the brush and gradients can be
selected using a mouse wheel from within the Tool Options dialog.
The 1.2 version of GIMP offered multiple text management tools, a confusing and not
always editable solution. The GIMP 2.0 integrates most of the features of the
old text management tools into a single interface, and adds font previews
Text editing is performed in a small preview
window, and changes are reflected immediately in the Canvas window.
Editing is done by selecting the Text layer - which is now more
easily identifiable by a Text icon in the Layers dialog.
Multi-line text is possible, including the proper handling of newlines.
The downside here is that font previews can consume memory resources,
especially if you
have hundreds or thousands of fonts. The previews can definitely slow your
system down, especially when the GIMP is first started. Unfortunately there is
no configuration option to turn off the previews, so every time you work
with the font selection window, things can slow down considerably.
Also, features such as kerning are not yet supported. The FreeType plugin
from the 1.2 version is not part of the core distribution, and not all of
its features - including slant and rotation options for text - are
The default scripting language remains Script-FU, a derivative of the
Scheme language. While powerful because of its integrated nature,
Script-FU is far from a friendly language.
In the GIMP 1.2 many users turned
to the GIMP Perl extension which allowed Perl scripts to be written for the
application. GIMP Perl is not distributed directly with the GIMP 2.0 however,
and it has been replaced with Python. That said, GIMP Perl will be available
as a add-on feature in a separate package (probably to be released sometime
after the 2.0 core).
Along with GIMP Perl, the GAP animation tools are
also being distributed in their own package. This isn't something new for
the GIMP - remember that GTK+ found its own way after the GIMP, and so has the very
powerful GIMP Print tool set.
Color management, plain and simple. The goal to integrate GEGL, a low
level library that would add deep paint (i.e. multi-byte channels) to the GIMP,
wasn't met with this release, primarily because of the need to clean up the
core software first. This will help with integration with GEGL as well as
many other feature enhancements down the road.
While deep paint and color management is lacking, help is definitely on its
way. Financial support is being made to the GEGL developers by South
African venture capitalist Mark Shuttleworth as a way to bootstrap
important open source projects. Talk on the GIMP developers' list
indicates that GEGL will be moving forward quickly this year.
GEGL may see final integration by early
fall, though that depends on pending GIMP development as much as GEGL
Side stepping this issue one last time (we hope), there is little left that
is missing from the GIMP. With a recent pre-release of the GIMP Perl extension,
users can expect to make use of their Perl scripts again, though some
modifications may be required. The developers also removed the requirement
that images should be manually flattened or merged prior to saving to a
non-layered format, and now manage that task directly, only prompting the
user for final approval. This minor step can end up saving a lot of time
and frustration, not to mention saving a few undo levels.
There is much to be gained from the 2.0 release by users, and there is
little reason to not consider upgrading. Most distributions are likely to
integrate this version of the GIMP into their next public release, but this could take
months, depending on release cycles for the distributions. So, consider
pulling the source and building it yourself if you can, or perhaps check
the apt and RPM repositories periodically to see if the application has
been packaged for you. Any way you get it, the GIMP 2.0 is definitely worth
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