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The open source GIMP editor has lots of support and useful features

The free GIMP editor is not only a potential Adobe Photoshop alternative, but it also has a host of useful features and an online support community.

A graphics editor is often the province of power users, but IT and the organization as a whole can benefit from the GNU Image Manipulation Program , or GIMPas an Adobe Photoshop alternative. In my previous tip, I described some reasons to consider the open source graphics program and how to test it for enterprise use.

Look to GIMP community for help

GIMP has extensive embedded and online help. Since it's open source, there are also opportunities for developers who are interested in extending GIMP's capabilities and helping to improve the program. A lot of companies contribute to open source projects for the recognition and industry goodwill.

To be fair, commercial packages such as Adobe Photoshop have an impressive number of users willing to contribute to blogs, user forums and training workshops, but the ability to customize is more limited.

Video tutorials for the GIMP editor are all over the Web. The community even has its own publication, GIMP Magazine, which regularly posts tips, tricks and tutorials on using the basic through the extreme features of the program.

Linux User Groups, also known as LUGs, are everywhere and can help point you to local GIMP experts. Chances are that your organization's own Linux experts and administrators will know the basics of using the program and can help determine if it's a good fit for your company. Be sure to include them early on.

A quick look at GIMP's capabilities

GIMP's user interface is similar enough to that of Photoshop  that most people will be able to pick it up after a short time. The ways to work on bitmapped graphics are pretty universal. Here are some of the major features:

  • A full suite of painting tools, including brushes, pencils, airbrushes and cloning
  • High-powered gradient editor and blending tool
  • Image size limited only by available disk space
  • Unlimited number of images can be opened simultaneously
  • Full alpha channel support
  • Layers and channels
  • Multiple undo/redo (limited only by diskspace)
  • Editable text layers
  • Transformation tools including rotate, scale, shear and flip
  • Selection tools including rectangle, rounded rectangle, ellipse, free and fuzzy
  • Plug-ins that allow for the easy addition of new file formats and effect filters
  • More than 100 plug-ins
  • Animation
  • File display and conversions for .bmp, .gif, .jpeg, .mng, .pcx, .pdf, .png, .ps, .psd, .svg, .tiff, .tga, .xpm and many others
  • Load, display, convert and save to many file formats

Some of the open source graphics editor's more exotic tools include the following:

  • Foreground extraction tool
  • A procedural database for calling internal GIMP functions from external programs
  • Advanced scripting capabilities (Scheme, Python, Perl, Script-Fu)

The power of choice

It all comes down to the question, What do your users need?

GIMP is a good choice if your employees need a capable, easy-to-obtain graphics editor that will run on almost any machine in your organization. Since it's open source and has quite a few plug-ins, savvy programmers can tweak the code to customize it in any number of ways. It has just about any kind of photo filter imaginable, including aging, contrast enhancement, posterizing and more.

The open source graphics program may not be the best choice for a large group of users who already heavily use a commercial package like the Adobe suites. If workers are already productive with existing workflow, changing to a Photoshop alternative would inevitably lead to grumbling.

But can you duplicate that productivity with GIMP? Only you will know the answer. Give GIMP a fair evaluation and see if it works in your environment. That's the beauty of open source software. It's all about choice.

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