From the archives: the best graphics tools of 2001
With The Gimp not being bundled as standard with Ubuntu 10.04, we thought it was time to get out the shovel, chainsaw and fork-lift truck and do some digging through the archives of the world's best Linux magazine to see how far The Gimp - and its competitors - have come.
Well, it just so happens we did a group test of image manipulation programs over eight years ago, in which the Gimp featured rather centrally. Would you like to know more? Of course you would - so read on!
Don't forget, this article is eight years old - a lot has changed since it was written. One of the biggest differences, as with our archives story of the best Linux distros of 2000, is that Corel kicked the bucket in the Linux world, taking Corel Linux and Corel PhotoPaint with it. PhotoPaint's use of Wine was always going to make people annoyed, but we wish it had had a few more years to try to iron out its kinks.
And then there's Sketch. After showing a huge amount of potential, Sketch was renamed to Skencil then forked off as sK1, then... well, nothing, really. sK2 is keeping the flame alive, and we do hope one day to see a new release of Skencil, but in a vector world dominated by the likes of Inkscape it's going to have a hard job to catch up.
Does the Gimp deserve to go from Ubuntu 10.04? Probably - most folks dabble with it at best, and even back when this group test was written it had enough features to satisfy most. Apart from decent colour management, that is, but don't get us started...
"A picture says a thousand words", or so the old saying goes. If that's the case, we don't think you'd be too chuffed to find 8 pages of images eating up a chunk of the mag. So, this month's Roundup will just stick to good old words instead.
Since the very first issue of LXF, we've examined and rated a whole range of software - from window managers to FTP clients - in our Roundups. In this issue, it's the turn of another major genre that's becoming ever more popular in the Linux world: graphics tools.
If you've ever waded through one of the many Linux software sites on the Web (or had a peek at the wealth of programs included on most distro CDs), you'll undoubtedly be aware of the gigantic range of image manipulation utilities available today. Programs exist for all manner of purposes - from tiny file-format converters through to full-blown graphics creation packages with features galore.
With this in mind, our Roundup covers a broad spectrum of programs with varying objectives and target users. Such programs as CorelDraw have already been subject to thorough reviews in previous issues of LXF, so this month we're mainly focusing on the free and open-source alternatives you can start using today.
As we're looking at a diverse range of programs, it's not so much of a "head-to-head" this issue; instead, we're putting an assortment of graphics tools and packages under the spotlight and judging each on their own merits.
With Linux and UNIX systems, it's worth noting that image manipulation tools don't always require a fancy graphical front-end. Indeed, a plethora of command-line programs are available for performing all manner of operations on images. Why is this, when surely a mouse-driven interface is far more appropriate for such software?
Essentially, the main benefit lies in scripting. As you'd expect, it's hard to bunch together a stack of file operations when you've got several icons to click. Some of the more mature programs (like The GIMP) have provided their own means for solving this, but it's hard to beat a decent shell script when you're working with a huge number of files.
For example, with command-line utilities you can create a Bash or Perl script, process a number of files, and then go even further with more operations depending on the outcome. These operations could include file-format conversion, thumbnail-creation, and more.
As mentioned, some of the advanced X-based programs include decent support for scripting and we've taken particular note of their ability in this area in our roundup. But - for the reasons highlighted above - we've also examined some command-line tools, taking into account their cumulative power when used in scripts.
Our roundup this month assesses some of the best free graphics tools for Linux, with regards to the clarity and consistency of their interface, supplied documentation, stability and other essential matters. We're also examining their capabilities for the points listed in the box. So, let's take a look at those apps...
Features to look out for
Due to the varying aims and target users of the programs on test this month, certain features listed here will be more applicable to some of the apps than others. Still, any user will expect a few key items to be present, and issues like file-format compatibility are almost always crucial.
- File formats - An enormous range of image file formats exist, with many of them derived from a particular platform (BMP for Windows, IFF for Amiga etc.). If you're working on Web-based images, then GIF, PNG and JPEG support will be particularly significant.
- Undo and redo - Everyone makes mistakes, and it's vital that a step back can be taken when something has gone wrong. A good image manipulation tool should head into the double-figures for undo levels.
- Layer handling - For complex tasks, using multiple layers to separate aspects of the image when editing helps a great deal. When finished, these layers can be put together to make the complete image.
- Scripting - Some feature-packed programs are still missing things that certain users may deem as essential, so the ability to use scripts and plugins to extend their functionality is valuable.
The GIMP 1.1.30 - http://www.gimp.org
Since the Free Software Foundation began in 1984, a small collection of popular programs has come to represent the ability and stamina of part-time hackers around the globe. For example, the Linux kernel, GCC compiler and (more recently) Mozilla project have all demonstrated the tremendous power offered to developers by the Internet.
The GIMP is another of those apps commonly used to prove that Linux isn't just about networking and script hacking. Started in 1995, The GIMP was one of the first major end-user programs which unfamiliar users could approach with ease. Moreover, the hugely successful Gtk+ GUI toolkit - as used by thousands of free utilities and the GNOME desktop - started life in this app.
On test here is the latest development version of The GIMP, which will eventually lead into the 1.2 release branch. From there onwards, the developers have drafted major plans for version 2.0, which will involve an overhaul of the code (while retaining the look and feel of the application).
A GIMP session in action, showing the numerous dialog boxes that can be brought up.
Almost every Linux distribution under the sun includes a copy of The GIMP thesedays, and it's probably already installed on your system. Failing that, you can pick a suitable RPM package from http://www.rpmfind.net or download the source archive from the main site. You'll also need the gimp-libgimp package (around 148k), and if you're planning to use it to its limits, the gimp-data-extras addition (with extra patterns and gradients) will come in handy as well.
The GIMP sports a snazzy splash screen on startup, before presenting the initially minimal interface. Photoshop users will recognise many aspects of the layout - the toolbox is very much the same, although everything is kept to individual windows on the desktop. This rather sparse interface doesn't give an immediate impression of the underlying power, but it saves on screen clutter.
From the main toolbox window, a series of dialog boxes can be opened for selecting brushes and colours. A plethora of drawing tools are included, with the standard brushes, pencil, blender, airbrush and more, and most of these include extra configuration options. For adding text to images, options such as anti-aliasing (to smoothen the edges) is also included.
The GIMP's font selection dialog is comprehensive and allows for anti-aliasing.
The selection tools are equally comprehensive, with the usual ellipse and rectangle options along with bezier and freehand. Selections can be rotated and flipped, while a colour-picker is present to choose a specific colour from an image. To create gradients, The GIMP offers a powerful group of options - from the usual linear to a conical gradient - along with a blend to transparency feature and adaptive supersampling.
More advanced goodies include a detailed layer and channel editing box (where layers can overlay, dissolve etc.), together with alpha channel support. As The GIMP uses a tile-based method when manipulating images, their size is only limited by the disk space available. Similarly, the number of undo and redo operations is only dependent on free drive space too.
On the image format front, The GIMP impresses with a solid range of file types supported. Along with the usual GIF, XPM, JPG, PNG and TIFF, the program will also read BMPs, PostScript files, TGAs, its native XCF format, and many more. Others can be added through plugins (see the boxout).
In its current state, The GIMP is still one of the most impressive desktop apps available free-of-charge to the community. While some will find limits with the drawing tools, the gigantic amount of features and extensibility through plugins will rank it alongside the commercial efforts. Although we encountered the occasional glitch and crash in our tests, The GIMP is a superb all-round tool and we're looking forward to release 2.0.
Our verdict: Undoubtedly the leading free/open-source graphics tool currently available for Linux. 9/10.
Plugins and Script-Fu
Perhaps The GIMP's most outstanding feature is its plugin and scripting support. In terms of the former, a satisfyingly large number of plugins are available (over 100) from http://registry.gimp.org, and this continues to grow. All manner of effect filters can be added, and these complement the pre-supplied ones (warp, blur, mosaic, bump-map, animation etc.).
Script-Fu goes one step further, permitting more detailed operations than plugins and allowing the user to tweak certain parameters. For example, an assortment of logo-creating scripts are included with most GIMP packages, and they let the user modify the font or colour scheme before they begin creating the image. In the right hands, Script-Fu is an intensely powerful addition.
Corel PhotoPaint 9 - http://linux.corel.com
Regular readers will be aware of Corel's increasing involvement with the Linux community. Two years ago, the company won a great deal of publicity by bringing WordPerfect 8 to the platform - not only was this a boon for those advocates pushing Linux as a desktop OS, but Corel also made it freely available to download from their site.
After releasing their own Debian-based distribution (Corel Linux OS, as featured on LXF's issue 7 CD), the company started porting a number of its other major applications to Linux, including WordPerfect Office 2000. With the arrival of CorelDraw Graphics Suite 9, they've brought a collection of popular graphics tools to the OS as well.
PhotoPaint 9 is one component of the suite, and is available as a free-of-charge download from Corel's site (with .deb and RPM package formats available). According to the system requirements, 64 MB of RAM and 170 MB of drive space are required, although the latter varies depending on the type of installation you opt for.
Installing the program is done through Corel's setup program, as used by many of their other products.
Up and running
Installing PhotoPaint is a simple process of stepping through the installer, which detects your distribution and starts copying the files over. Once this has finished, the program presents a progress meter as it loads the WINE libraries, followed by a splash screen.
PhotoPaint's MDI interface will be familiar to Windows users, with draggable toolbars galore and a comfortable array of icons. Beneath the toolbars sits the main image window, while the right-hand pane holds the "objects" list where layers of the image can be merged and copied.
As the name implies, PhotoPaint is geared towards photo editing and bitmap image manipulation, rather than vector images (as with CorelDraw). And as a result, the feature set focuses on this type of work. A sizeable range of effect filters is supplied (35 in all, and more can be added), ranging from the standard blur and sharpen through to warping and texturing.
The program really excels with its "Art Strokes" effects, which give the image a hand-drawn appearance using brushes like crayons, pastels and watercolours. Furthermore, cubist and impressionist styles can be applied as well with excellent results, and each filter has a realtime preview option. Multiple operations can be achieved through PhotoPaint's scripting language, called - you guessed it - CorelSCRIPT.
PhotoPaint at work, showing its toolbar-packed main window and image with pastel effect.
PhotoPaint's clone tool is a superb addition for reproducing areas of an image, while the "stitch" options allows multiple images to be seamlessly sewn together - particularly useful for creating panoramas from several photos. The text tools cater for a number of paragraph alignments, with full font preview from the drop-down list.
For hand-drawing, PhotoPaint offers a decent selection of brushes including a calligraphic pen, charcoal and airbrush. A colossal range of file formats are supported, with WMF (Windows Metafile), Kodak Photo-CD and AutoCAD DWG among the more esoteric. Up to 99 undo/redo levels are permitted, which will be enough for most users, and the program boasts support for ICC colour-management profiles.
Clearly, much of PhotoPaint's emphasis is on the Web, with realtime previewing of JPEG quality-reduction and resulting file size, and other similar features. As such, it can't be directly compared to The GIMP; PhotoPaint overshadows it in terms of drawing tools, while The GIMP has more comprehensive scripting support.
PhotoPaint's documentation - viewed through Netscape and Java - is detailed and packed with links to other relevant info, while the CorelTUTOR walks you through the various stages of image creation and editing. Like many of Corel's other Linux apps, the WINE interface suffers from glitches and isn't a fast performer, but we were glad to see no major stability problems. As it stands, PhotoPaint is a hugely powerful but bulky and slow application, and those with decent hardware should certainly take a look.
Our verdict: A feature-packed professional application, but heavy on system resources. 9/10.
WINEing and dining
Instead of doing a full port of their applications, Corel have reduced development times by tweaking them for WINE (which helps some Windows apps to run under UNIX). Consequently, it's not as fast as a native program to start up, and the file selection dialogs - among others - still make reference to the A: and E: drives.
Corel have also taken the WINE approach with WordPerfect Office 2000, and the results have been variable. While the apps have resulted in a familiar look-and-feel, there are glitches aplenty and debugging output spewed all over the terminal window when in use. Many are still in favour of complete Motif/Gtk+/Qt ports, but increased development times have to be considered.
ImageMagick 5.1.1 - http://www.imagemagick.org
Traditionally, UNIX developers have adhered to a single philosophy: as much as possible, split things up into small interoperable tools. This idea lies beneath virtually all aspects of a typical UNIX system - witness the separation of mail-grabber (Fetchmail), mail-sender (Sendmail) and user-agent (Mutt, Pine etc.) in common use. Why work like this? Well, by splitting things up you're not at the mercy of one huge app which does everything.
Of course, such programs as The GIMP attempt to bring all functionality together in once piece, but ImageMagick's engineers have split their program into a collection of smaller utilities which work together. Therefore, it's not so much one large program (although an accessible front-end is included), but a suite of image editing and conversion tools which can stand on their own.
ImageMagick is available on just about every Linux distribution CD around, and is usually installed by default. Otherwise, it's available as a free download from the above site. To install, you'll need various image format libraries (such as libjpeg and libpng) to work with these types, and these should be somewhere on your distro CDs.
ImageMagick's X front-end, with the main image window and command list.
As discussed, ImageMagick is made up of a number of tools which comprise the program as a whole. So, firing up "display" (the image viewer) without any specific file will open the main front-end. From here, a left-mouse click pops up the main menu, with links to the most common operations.
From here, you can proceed to edit the image by hand, apply a range of effects and transformations, and convert the image to a different format. In terms of the drawing tools, ImageMagick includes the basic selection of shapes and lines, along with patterns and a colour browser. This last box is unusual in that it presents a list of the X colour names available on your setup.
Some may find this daunting, but old-timers will specific requirements may see it as a godsend. A translucent brush is included - and others can be loaded - but it's nowhere near as comprehensive as PhotoPaint's. As a result, ImageMagick's editor is similar to XPaint's: useful for a quick editing operation, but not suitable for major image creation.
In terms of the effects provided, ImageMagick has the common bunch of emboss, sharpen, edge-detect etc., together with more complex ones in the form of implode, solarize and charcoal drawing. Really, there's little here which isn't present in The GIMP or PhotoPaint, but effect filters aren't meant to be one of ImageMagick's leading features.
ImageMagick's strengths lie in its collection of command-line tools, each of which is supplied with an exhaustive man page. These tools include convert, mogrify, montage, combine, identify, display and animate, and while each is powerful enough on its own, their real power is evident in scripting.
Convert's task is, unsurprisingly, to convert an image into a different file format. The gargantuan amount of formats supported is overwhelming, with the usual GIF, BMP and JPEG supported by such rarities as TIM, UVYV, HPGL, FPX and various others that most of us have yet to encounter. PostScript is supported too, as is MIFF (ImageMagick's native format).
If bizarre image formats are your thing, you can't go wrong here (taken from the manual pages).
When in need of general image transformation, Mogrify is the tool to use, with rotation, colour-reduction and scaling among its features. As with Convert, input and output files can be supplied at the command-line, so you can perform an operation on several hundred files with just a few keypresses. Mogrify also includes some extra frills - e.g. anti-alias, blur and draw - and with appropriate arguments at the prompt, it's monstrously powerful.
Keeping in mind the enormous range of file formats supported, the program comes to life for batch-processing. For example, you could write a script to create thumbnails for your site, use Animate to create an animation for some of them, and add some text onto others - all in one fell-swoop.
ImageMagick's feature list goes on and on, and anyone who lives at the shell prompt would be mad to dismiss it. As stated, it's not really suitable for newcomers or those with demanding requirements for their drawing tools, but if you're a Web developer with scripting knowledge, the capabilities of ImageMagick are incredible.
Our verdict: Few drawing tools and effect filters, but supremely useful for batch operations. 7/10.
Sketch 0.6.5 - http://sketch.sourceforge.net
Most of the programs on test in this month's roundup deal with bitmap images. For those unfamiliar with the two main types of image that graphics tools usually deal with, a bitmap is a picture where each picture element (pixel) is stored individually in a file, so in this case a line is made up of a series of pixels.
The downside to this, of course, is that scaled images tend to become blocky and you're reliant on smoothing filters to sort out jagged edges. With vector image editors, however, lines are stored as a series of co-ordinates. Consequently, when you zoom into a vector-based image, each pixel doesn't just grow larger. Instead, lines and shapes are redrawn from their specific positions, and no blockiness occurs.
Of course, this type of image editing isn't suitable for everything - photos and hand-drawn pictures are far more suited to the bitmap format. Vectors are more commonly used for scientific purposes, where flowcharts, diagrams and designs can be easily edited by dragging shapes around and easily altering their dimensions.
The main window, demonstrating Sketch's ability to align text along a curve.
Sketch is an "interactive, object oriented vector drawing program" written in the Python scripting language. It uses Tk to create its graphical front-end, and is released under the GPL. Some distros like Mandrake install it, and you can download it from the above site. Sketch's main dependencies are Python and Tcl/Tk - both commonly available and set up on most systems.
When first started, Sketch delivers a clean and straightforward interface, with the main page view in the screen's centre, the menu and toolbar along the top, and a colour palette sitting at the bottom. The toolbar gives access to often-used functions like load and save, along with some of the basic drawing tools (freehand, rectangle, bezier curve, text and so forth).
Along the top and left-hand sides of the window is a ruler for placement of objects, and lines can be dragged from here onto the page for guidance. The actual process of drawing shapes is similar to that used in other vector tools, where points around the shape can be pulled around to resize and move it. Multiple shapes can be selected by dragging the mouse, and on the whole, Sketch's front-end is fairly intuitive and easy to start working with.
Sketch allows for external images to be included in the document, and currently the number of supported formats is limited to JPG, GIF and TIF among a few others. This isn't a problem in this type of application though, as conversion is the work of other tools. Sketch features its own document format, .sk, while it will import Adobe Illustrator, Windows Metafile and Corel CMX files.
Sketch's configuration settings are split into a number of dialog boxes.
Sketch includes a pleasing array of arrangement options when dealing with several shapes at once. These can be adjusted relative to the page or lowermost object, and a realtime preview is available. Similarly, objects can be flipped horizontally and vertically, and a top-notch blend feature joins shapes with a gradient.
A print-preview is available, and the Page Layout dialog allows for both landscape and portrait printing. The document can be zoomed from 12% up to 800% too, with an option to snap the objects to a grid (a handy inclusion when you're creating charts and similar documents).
Among Sketch's other notable features is PostScript export, infinite levels of undo and redo, and scripting support through Python. As the program itself is written in that language, Sketch's scripts have great power in their ability to work with the application's internal data structures (although the developers point out the potential problems with this).
All things considered, Sketch is an solid and user-friendly choice for those working with vector images. Those with experience of its long-established counterparts may find a few aspects of the program limiting, but it includes a sound range of features that should suit most users and we were pleased with its performance and stability.
Our verdict: Fast and stable, Sketch is a worthy choice for those working with vector images. 8/10.
XMorph 2000.03.03 - http://www.colorado-research.com/~gourlay/software/Graphics/Xmorph
Thanks to the power of modern computing software, someone can now make an animation of your face changing into that of a Hippo. Everyone has seen the adverts and TV shows where one object melts into the shape of another, and this is all achieved through one special kind of software: a morphing tool.
Deluxe Paint on the Amiga included a crude but fun morphing feature for animations, and Linux hasn't been left out with XMorph. Also available in a Tcl/Tk form as TkMorph, plain XMorph uses the X tookit and Athena widget set for its front-end. It's available under the GPL, and can be found in a number of package formats at the project's site.
XMorph allows the user to create animations where one image is gradually changed into the next. It only supports TGA formats in its current state, but programs like The GIMP can read and write this type of file. Creating a morph is a simple process of loading the source and destination images, dragging points in the "mesh" (a grid of lines which defines specific areas to be moved), and starting the morphing process.
Before morphing the two images, you can twist sections about using the mesh.
The number of frames can be set, with a higher value resulting in a smoother morph, while the resulting animation is saved as a sequence of TGA files ready to be sewn together (using mpeg_encode or whatever you prefer). There's also an XMorph plugin for The GIMP, which incorporates the program's morphing ability into it.
Various pages of documentation are included, but the program is so simple to use that it's not difficult to start creating animations straight away. However, the reliance on the TGA format will be a hinderance to some users, and possibly an option to render the resulting morph straight into an animation file would be a nice touch.
And that's all there is to XMorph. It doesn't aim to provide any other frills, and the engineers have rightly put their concentration into the main morphing algorithm itself. With this in mind, XMorph is hardly an essential tool for casual users, but anyone who needs to create animations of one image becoming another will find it a satisfactory choice.
Our verdict: For straightforward morphing operations, XMorph does the job without any fancy frills. 5/10.
KIllustrator 0.7.1 - http://wwwiti.cs.uni-magdeburg.de/~sattler/killustrator.html
With the GNOME project adopting The GIMP as its flagship graphics package, supporters of the alternative KDE desktop haven't been been left out with a number of image-manipulation programs appearing for the Qt-based suite. Our review of Sketch goes into more detail about vector-based software, and KIllustrator is a similar alternative for KDE.
KIllustrator's lead developer has aimed to create an application similar in use to CorelDraw and Adobe Illustrator, and has released it under the GPL. If you download the package or build it from source, you'll need the KDE libraries (and their associated development packages).
With a straightforward icon-driven interface, KIllustrator sports detachable toolbars and a colour palette down the right-hand side of the main window. The drawing tool buttons, which include freehand, polygon and text, can be double-clicked to bring up more detailed options. A drop-down list along the top zooms from 50% through to 1000%.
KIllustrator's main window, showing the various effects that can be used.
Objects can be snapped to a grid and rotated, while the other transformations give a realtime preview of the result. General use is very much the same as in Sketch, although it lacks support for a great deal of images formats to load into the main document and the blend effect doesn't work so elegantly.
KIllustrator is also more limited when it comes to file formats, with only Xfig documents available for import alongside the native format. However, it does improve on Sketch with respect to layers, and through the dialog you can choose which are to be viewed, printed and edited.
In all, KIllustrator is a pleasant alternative to Sketch and performed well in our tests. Sadly, there's no scripting support as yet and many more file formats need to be included before some will consider it. Still, the program remains under development and has plenty of potential.
Our verdict: A simple and usable vector-based image editor, but severely lacking in some key areas. 5/10.
XPaint 2.6.1 - http://home.worldonline.dk/~torsten/xpaint
Linux users who've been running the OS for several years will be familiar with the group of plain Xlib-based programs which still appear in distros today. You'll probably have xcalc already on your system, and a number of similar tools are still in use today. XPaint, being another Xlib app, isn't dependant on the weighty GUI toolkits of Gtk+ or Qt, making it ideal for work on older hardware.
At around 250k, both the RPM packages and tar.gz source archives are a quick download (although many distributions include it as standard). You won't bump into any obscure dependencies, but those compiling from source should check out the documentation for hints on installing certain file format libraries for use in the program.
XPaint's interface is reminiscent of The GIMP's (and other similar tools), with a main toolbox providing access to the common drawing functions. These include the typical shapes and lines, together with selections (rectangle, ellipse and freehand etc.), fill, gradient, airbrush and text tools. In all, it's a usable set of basic drawing tools for making quick alterations.
XPaint in action, showing the image editing window and toolbox.
Several filters are supplied, including emboss, oil-paint and pixelise. A grid can be applied when zooming, and selections can be rotated (but only in multiples of 45 degrees, sadly). XPaint does fairly well with file formats (PNG, XWD and PPM among the usuals, but no BMP), and competent context-sensitive help is available.
It's clear that XPaint won't give The GIMP's developers sleepless nights, but that's not the intention. XPaint is a speedy and small tool for quick editing jobs (and boasts a few nice filters and other features too), but the interface is quirky if you're unfamiliar with Xlib and it lacks any form of scripting.
Our verdict: Unattractive and lacking in key features on one hand, but fast and straightforward on the other. It's your choice. 6/10.
GQView 0.7.0 - http://gqview.netpedia.net
If you've got stacks of image files all over your home directory, firing up a whole graphics package just to quickly browse through them can seem like overkill. As a result, various developers have created specialised programs which concentrate on the display and management of images, rather than the editing process.
GQView is an image browser built around the Gtk+ toolkit, offering various features in an attempt to make navigation through your pictures easier. Typical package sizes weigh-in at 150k for the binary RPM, and as the image rendering is done through Gdk, there's no major dependencies for other libs to be installed.
On startup, GQView splits the main window into two halves, with the left pane holding the directory browser, and the right one displaying selected images. If required, an extra pane beneath the directory list can show thumbnails of all images located there, while a toolbar sits on top for access to the zoom options and preferences dialog.
GQView busy at work. External editors can be defined and brought up with a right-click.
GQView also allows for a small amount of file management, with basic commands to remove, rename and delete files. A notably nice inclusion is the full-screen mode, where images are given the entire display and can be worked through with mouse clicks (and the picture can be moved about when it's larger than the display).
A basic slideshow can be set up, with the only option being the delay between images, but GQView's configuration dialog also includes default directory and toolbar settings, thumbnail sizes, and an option to spawn external editors when modifications need to be made to an image.
GQView does a no-nonsense job as an image browser, and with its slideshow and fullscreen additions it makes a handy little tool to have around. We'd like to see support for some of the lesser-known file formats, but it runs at a rapid pace and performed reliably in our tests.
Our verdict: GQView is a useful image-browsing tool, and a handy extra on anyone's desktop. 8/10.
Looking back over the past few decade of computing, certain platforms have associated themselves as the best choice for a particular purpose. More specifically, the Amiga and Macintosh were both highly regarded for their abilities in terms of graphics, and became the preferred systems for artists around the globe.
Undoubtedly this was due to the ease-of-use and underlying power of these platforms. In recent years, Windows PCs have taken a slice of the image manipulation pie, but many would argue that Microsoft's monopoly is mainly responsible for this. Besides, few artists would be thrilled by the problems Windows offers and its endless upgrade cycles.
Back in UNIX land, developers were catering more for scientific types who had very specific requirements and weren't interested in the flashy features other systems had to offer. Also, while the X Window System and desktops like CDE were beginning to establish themselves, the diverse range of graphics hardware involved didn't help the situation.
However, with the growing acceptance of Linux as a viable desktop OS (along with release 4 of XFree86), software houses are recognising a gap in the market exists for desktop image-manipulation applications running on a very stable platform. You may have already come across the 3D rendering package Blender, and after examining some of the programs on test in our roundup, it's clear that developers are taking this matter very seriously.
Of course, Linux isn't going to eat away at the Mac and Windows' market share overnight in this arena. But already it has evolved into a decent alternative to these proprietary platforms, and free software hackers are once again demonstrating their willingness to meet a challenge. Few would disagree that the future looks promising for Linux here.
Which should I use?
Clearly, both The GIMP and Corel PhotoPaint are most likely to turn the average user's head. If you're creating images by hand or need to touch-up some photos, PhotoPaint in particular is a very wise choice. Windows users will be pleased to find a familiar and easy-to-navigate front end, and the range of features it offers is superb.
While PhotoPaint is free to download, those adhering to the FSF's definition of Free Software or open-source should give The GIMP a go. Being included with virtually every major distribution, it's almost always available on a Linux box and the scripting support it includes is magnificent.
Still, ImageMagick and the other smaller programs shouldn't be discounted. Those in need of powerful batch-processing features shoulc check out ImageMagick, while XPaint is a fast little app for basic hand-drawing operations. And if your needs lie in vector images, Sketch is a friendly and robust tool worth considering.
Finally, as the software on test this month is freely available to download (or included on most distribution CDs), you don't just have to take our word for it - give them all a try today!