What is GIMP?

   

GIMP is an open source graphics editor. Often erroneously referred to as "The Gimp", the program's name is properly written in all capital letters, with no preceding "the", to emphasize the acronym GNU Image Manipulation Program. Although GIMP is considered only to be a marginal alternative to larger graphics editors such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel PaintShop Pro, the software has seen extensive use in professional graphics and film production. Many Linux-based studios prefer employing GIMP rather than running Photoshop with a Windows compatibility layer or emulator, as Walt Disney currently does. Notably, recent Hollywood blockbuster films such as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Scooby-Doo, Stuart Little, and The Last Samurai have been created with GIMP derivatives FilmGimp and CinePaint. Other large design agencies use GIMP either regularly or exclusively for print publications.

GIMP was invented in 1995 by Berkeley students looking for an interesting project for their Computer Science course. Although immensely popular, the first public version of the program relied on the Motif Widget Toolkit which limited GIMP's accessibility. The next few beta releases employed the new GTK Toolkit, which was specially-designed for GIMP by one of the project's founders. As work on the new toolkit and cutting-edge image editing features were done by large unorganized groups of users, by late 1997 the GIMP project had grown almost out of control. Having completed their studies, the founding members of the project abandoned the enterprise and no single entity was able to guide the development community. Nobody was willing to write documentation for the quickly-changing software, as a result the GIMP could not attract new users unfamiliar with the complicated code. Only in late 1999 were a few prominent community members able to freeze feature development with the intention of creating a stable release. Therefore, GIMP v1.0 did not include many features which had been largely coded already, however had not had the benefit of extensive testing. Also, the new version of the software was incompatible with the most recent version of the project's own GTK toolkit, a point that was made very clearly with a special "GIMP_1_0_DOES_NOT_WORK_WITH_GTK_1_1" file in the download directories. However, GIMP's extensive plugins architecture enabled most missing features to be added relatively easily. The stable core release helped plugin developers pinpoint troublesome plugins, and GIMP development pace resumed with new documentation reflecting the now-stable code. Five years later, GIMP v2.0 was released with many of the plugins now a part of the core code base.

GIMP logo

Although GIMP is often praised for it's open source nature, many complaints are made of the program regarding inadequate features and user interface problems. Tools expected of a professional graphics editor that have yet to be implemented in the core GIMP code include History Placemarks which persist between sessions, a Free Transform tool, and Layer Grouping. Although the GIMP supports it's own plugin architecture, few plugins are available when compared to Adobe Photoshop. Support for modern color space models, floating point images, and advanced color management is lacking. While some of these shortcomings are addressed in plugins, others would require a rewrite of the core GIMP code, and are not expected to be implemented before the v3.0 release. The GIMPshop fork attempts to address these issues and others by mimicking the Photoshop user interface. Whereas the standard GIMP UI consists of one Tool window, one Image window for each image being edited, and separate windows for each active dialog, GIMPShop consolidates all this into a single window. Additionally, GIMPshop offers a rearranged menu configuration which more closely resembles Photoshop, and provides limited Photoshop plugin support.



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