The Gimp

GIMP Wilbur icon in png

A BECTa report on the use of Open Source software in 15 schools is due for publication after the general election tomorrow. One open source application I use a lot now is The GIMP , an image processing program similar in function to Photoshop.

There is a binary build of GIMP 2.2.6 for Mac OS X that has been packaged as a regular .dmg file – just download (all 42 Mb), mount the disk image and drag the Wilbur icon to your applications folder. You then authorise the installation in the usual way. GIMP works under X11 and the interface is not elegant and does not follow the Mac conventions, but the software is very effective in use. Scrolling large images can be a bit rough on my iBook G4 but it works.

The Windows installation of 2.2.6 has improved since I last tried to install the application some years ago. You download the GTK+ libraries and then the GIMP itself (12 Mb in total), and you must install the GTK+ libraries first. There is an older build of GTK+ available for Win 98/ME. On my Windows 2000 work computer the installation went fine – but on first load, the splash screen stops at the ‘fonts’ stage for some minutes on the old Pentium 2 box. The Mac OS splash screen shows ‘font caching’ on first load for some 30 seconds but thereafter the application loads in about 15 seconds total (including x11 start up). The Mac OS GIMP installation comes with a script that will switch on ‘focus follows mouse’ under X11. When you point at a window with your mouse, that window takes the focus – no need to click. This is important for GIMP as the image canvas and palettes are presented as different windows. Having to click on a tool twice (once to get focus for tool palette and once to activate the tool) is remarkably distracting. This option is already set on the Windows install.

The manual is similar in style to the manual that comes with many applications – it lists every tool and function. Perhaps more useful is a set of tutorials divided into categories.

In summary, if you make casual use of image processing software and can cope with an interface that is not identical in logic to your Mac/Windows native system, then the GIMP may be a good option.

Linking back to the BECTa press release above, a telling quote is “However it will note wider OSS deployments in schools are still limited by a lack of content-specific applications”. To that I would add the need for solid documentation, tutorials and exercises. I’m already seeing one or two books about Open Office and there is one published book on the GIMP but much more is needed, aimed at different readerships.

PS - I found out about the BECTa report from Seb Schmoller’s excellent fortnightly mailing . If you need to know about ILT, then you should subscribe to this e-mail list. One message most fortnights, text format contents list with links back to the light weight Web page.

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