De (D. A.) Clarke

Lick Observatory

Software Engineer

An application that makes Linux look great: GIMP

In my oh-so-copious free time :-) I like to play with my Linux box at home... Used to be that non-Unix users would point at a Pentium running Linux and scoff, "Yeah, so it stays up for a month at a time and you never get a blue screen of death -- so what? There aren't any tools. What can you do with it?"

Well, of course, there's a world of software for Linux. If you're really sold on office productivity suites you can even go out and buy those. If you came from the Unix world to start with (good for you!) then you can have all your old familiar favourites like TeX, emacs, latex2html, ps2ascii, and so forth. And all the languages you ever loved, of course. But somehow that still doesn't convince the Mac or PC user. Where are the cool toys?

So the Linux user, with some handwaving, counters: Heck, nowadays you can get not only PostgreSQL, but Sybase and Oracle and Ingres database engines for Linux, and most if not all are FREE for home or nonprofit use! And what about xfig? and ghostview? Hey, let me show you xv! But that still won't blow away those "other OS" users. So, imho, what you need to show them is... GIMP. Now, this is something whose sheer coolness even a Mac user can understand :-)

If you got your Linux from Red Hat then you probably have gimp already -- installed and ready to use. What is it? Well, it's pretty much Adobe Photoshop for Phree. Plus a lot of what you'd have to buy separately in the "Kai" packages. And it reads and writes a staggering variety of image formats. How many image processing tools on the PC can read or write a FITS image? Please, I want to know, write and tell me.

GIMP passes the "idiot test" with flying colours -- you can have a whale of a time just messing about ignorantly with the various tools. You won't get anywhere, and you'll wonder what Planet of the Psychos you've just landed on, but it's fun. Trying to do anything constructive will require some serious RTFM, but I got going in about three 2-hour sessions. I should say that at least 80 percent of that time was probably spent on incidents like this one: "Gee, what a cool colour gradient, I wonder what the others look like -- oh wow, there are thirty of them? guess this is gonna take a while..." In other words, I was stopping and smelling the roses more than grimly learning the tool. Someone less easily distracted could have figured it all out in an hour or less :-)

This image is a JPEG dump -- it looked nicer in the native RGB format, but I'm still learning how to optimize compressed output formats. The interesting thing is that I didn't start with a photo of a fern. I started with "IFS Explorer," a fractal generator tool that comes with the GIMP core. I read the manual chapter on fractals, followed the suggestions, and made myself a fern. And that is just one fractal tool (there are others), and just one tool out of almost 100 nifty tools. OK, so the fern doesn't quite look like a real fern. It was my first time using the tool, come on now, be nice :-) And don't ask me where the black bar came from. Perhaps I thought it was a nice design element at the time.

GIMP goodies I used to make this image:

Pretty simple, eh?

Please note that I make no claim to be a professional graphic artist, though I've done some paper layout in my time and know the basic concepts of the trade. This pictures here are just to show what a rank amateur -- a complete newbie! -- can do with GIMP and just a few hours of practise, in spare time. So next time someone asks you "where are the toys" on your Linux box, proudly bring up the GIMP... and plan to postpone dinner...

More Pictures:

  1. First baby step (GIF 173K beware!)
  2. First baby step (JPG 55K)
  3. Second baby step (JPG 80K)
  4. Using a digital photo (JPG 13K)
  5. Getting more ambitious (GIF 49K)
  6. Falsifying the evidence (multiJPG > 60K total)
  7. T Shirt Design, SPG

Want more info about the GIMP? visit their web site!

By the way, this page has nothing whatsoever to do with the UC Regents.
De Clarke
UCO/Lick Observatory