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Aug 99 Online

Volume Number: 15 (1999)
Issue Number: 8
Column Tag: MacTech Online

MacTech Online

by Jeff Clites,


Over the last couple of months we've taken a look at several open source (or "open-source-like") software projects from the Unix and Linux communities, and I couldn't leave the topic without mentioning the Gimp. Gimp (the GNU Image Manipulation Program, affectionately referred to as the Gimp) is the Photoshop of the Linux world. It is a free, open-source application for doing image manipulation, which found its humble beginnings with Peter Mattis and Spencer Kimball, two Berkeley undergraduates who (as the story goes) needed a quick replacement for a senior project that was going poorly. It has grown since then to be a quite popular and impressive piece of software. Notably, it can handle an insane number of images simultaneously, limited only by available memory (see the Publish Magazine link below for a screenshot of the Gimp with 800 images open); it has a plug-in API to allow third parties to implement their own effects filters; and it's scriptable, using either its own scripting language (Script-Fu, which is Scheme-based) or Perl. In fact, there is a book by O'Reilly and Associates which covers this last topic extensively, Programming Web Graphics with Perl & GNU Software, by Shawn P. Wallace (ISBN 1-56592-478-9).

The GIMP Homepage
GIMP Gives Photoshop a Run for Its Money (Publish Magazine)
About the Gimp
Programming Web Graphics with Perl & GNU Software

The catch, of course, is that the Gimp doesn't run under the Mac OS. It relies heavily on the X Window system, so also does not run on Mac OS X Server, even given its BSD compatibility layer. (This isn't entirely true; the Gimp can operate in non-interactive batch mode without requiring X Windows, and in this mode it runs on FreeBSD so will probably compile on Mac OS X Server.) While it is likely that there will eventually be third-party X Windows implementations available for Mac OS X, I worry that they would leave the Gimp (and other applications) with a distinctly un-Macintosh feel. A more complete solution would probably involve porting the GUI of Gimp to use a Mac API (probably the Yellow Box/Cocoa), but it's hard to say whether this would be tantamount to rewriting the entire application. (One encouraging note is the existence of a non-X-Windows-dependent Windows port.) But I hope that the Macintosh community gives the Gimp and similar applications some serious consideration - they are powerful alternatives to their commercial counterparts. We can't let Windows hog the good toys, can we?

GTk+ and GIMP for Windows

And there are real opportunities here for Mac developers to make a contribution. For instance, one place the Gimp falls down is in color management. You can basically only work in RGB mode - there is no built-in support for CMYK or process colors, a reflection of the Gimp's origin as a tool for web graphics. I'm not sure whether there are currently plans to change this, but this is where an Apple-flavored developer influence could really shine. The Gimp with ColorSync would be sweet. Just take a look at Apple's Color Technologies page if you need to be reminded just how well Apple does color.

Apple - Mac OS Color Technologies

In additional to the usual complement of electronic documentation (there's a user's manual available online and in a variety of downloadable formats, as well as an FAQ), there are have also been a few books published on the Gimp. The above-mentioned O'Reilly book tells you what you need to know as a programmer or scripter of the Gimp, and The Artists' Guide to the GIMP, by Michael J. Hammel (ISBN 1578310113), is an extensive guide for those simply wishing to use it.

GUM v.1.0.0 (The GIMP User Manual)

For the moment, you'll have to install Linux to get to the Gimp, but both experiences (running Gimp and installing Linux) can be fun in their own ways. (In fact, the Gimp is included with the LinuxPPC distribution.) And who knows, maybe you'll like it so much that you'll sign on to a new porting effort, or even start one. At the other extreme, if you would like the Gimp delivered to you on a CD, with the option of commercial support, check out WilberWorks, Inc. They're the Red Hat of the Gimp, so to speak.

WilberWorks, Inc.

When you've had enough of playing with pictures, cruise on over to the MacTech Online web pages at, and see what else we have stirring.


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