OSX and OpenSource Applications: Gimp

By Graham K. Rogers

I recently had a look at Open Office, which includes a drawing program. When it comes to image manipulation, we usually think of Adobe Photoshop. As an amateur photographer, I cannot pay the hefty price asked for this (around 30,000 baht here in Thailand, or $649). If I were a professional, that would be different: it is a business expense.

Lemke The eMacs, and some other consumer machines, do come with Graphic Converter bundled. This is an old favourite of System 9 users (and before). It is one of Thorsten Lemke's many valuable OSX applications. Fine for adjustments of digital images, it does not have all the tools of Adobe's products.

The light alternative to Photoshop is Elements: recently updated to version 3 ($89.95 on the Apple Store site). Trying to buy this in Bangkok is not easy, although it may come bundled with a scanner. Both of the Photoshop variants, I am told, may be found in the nether regions of a certain plaza in Petchaburi Road, near the Indonesian Embassy.

A couple of years ago I bought a copy of OpenOSX Office which included then Gimp (GNU Image Manipulation Program). This had originally been developed because of the lack of Photoshop for Unix or Linux. Although I thought it was a little rough round the edges in 2002, I saw recently that it had evolved and was now up to version 2.2. It was time for a second look and I am glad I made the effort.

I first tried to download an OSX-compatible version via the SourceForge site but this was painfully slow. I found a 40MB file at VersionTracker. There is also a similar download on the Apple software pages.

The installation demands that -- like some other Open Source software -- you have the X11 window installed. With Panther this is on disk 3 of the installation CDROMs. Apple tells us this is "Based on the open source XFree86 project": the X11 window allows a user to "run X11-based applications in Mac OS X."

When using keystrokes in some Open Source software, Mac users should remember that the Control key and not the Apple (command) key is used. Otherwise the keystrokes are the same. The only one I had a problem with was the Zoom. It took a few attempts to realise that, while I normally use the Command with plus (+) or minus on the numberpad, Gimp only works with the QWERTY plus and minus keys.

Moving between the menu and the image was a little slow: access the menu; click to activate the brush; click to bring the image to the front; click again to work on the picture. One really useful function, particularly if you have pictures of buildings or tower computers, is the ability to change the perspective. On the negative side, a reported bug is that there is no Wacom support for the time being. I had no tablet available to try with. Unlike Adobe's propgrams, there is no healing brush: other brushes come close. Also unlike Adobe, Gimp worked with the Thai fonts I have installed.

Gimp is a viable alternative and is now a permanent fixture on my hard disk. I keep Gimp, Open Office and the X11 Window running continuously (I hide them when not in use) as OSX does not allocate memory to non-active programs.

There are many more Open Source applications now being ported to OSX: these can be used with the X11 window. Apple lists some 71 such applications, including relics like Pine (still used in some quarters) and Pico, which is, of course, included as part of the BSD Unix of OSX. The SourceForge pages show more are on the way.

Gimp itself is, like Open Office, an easy install. Much work has gone into development and the volunteers who do this deserve our gratitude and our donations.

Made on Mac

For further information, e-mail to Graham K. Rogers.

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