I have been an avid user of the Gimp for well over a decade now. I started using it in the mid 90’s around version 0.60. I was promoting it to my friends as a great image manipulation tool, and recall laughing at PhotoShop that had only one level of undo at the time.
During that time Gimp evolved fast. I anticipated every next release, and each one seemed to get closer to the functional level of PhotoShop. Somewhere around version 1.2 – at least from my perspective – the only major deficiencies were lack of 16-bit color and CMYK support.
But then the development slowed down. Major releases have been coming out every 1-3 years, but I haven’t noticed much change between them. 16-bit support and CMYK would be supported by GEGL, the do-it-all graphics library of the next-generation Gimp. GEGL’s first release was in 2000, and Gimp has yet to see 16-bit support.
For many years now I have considered the Gimp to be at a dead end. I have the utmost respect for the people who have worked – and still work – on it, and I use Gimp regularly. But it seemed that to pull the next big thing into Gimp was too large an undertaking for a volunteer project.
When I upgraded to Linux Mint and launched Gimp, I was in for a surprise. After four years of development (think about it – that’s when Obama was first elected) Gimp 2.8 had been released.
My first reaction was that of disgust. I couldn’t do anything in it. Saving files was a pain, and even the standard brushes had been removed. After cursing about it a while, I started looking around for a reason why these stupid changes had been made.
Ctrl+E is the new Ctrl+S
I came across the article GIMP 2.8: understanding UI changes. I recommend every Gimp user reads it. It explains the rationale the changes have been made, and even offers a simple “fix” to change the behavior to what it was earlier. Even though I was looking for such a solution, after reading the article I decided to leave it as it was.
In Gimp 2.8 you essentially can have two “save files” at the same time, one XCF file and one export file (PNG, JPG, etc). Ctrl+S saves the XCF file, Ctrl+E saves the export file. Using Ctrl+Shift will prompt for the file (Save as, Export as). Once you get used to this, it does save a lot of hassle. You can independently save the original XCF and export a file to be used outside. When you do changes, you don’t have to worry about remembering to save both the exported and original versions.
Brush on the world
The other thing I was missing was the 1px, 3px, 5px, etc. brushes from the old Gimp versions. After creating several new brushes for the purpose, I found out that these have been changed to a “Size” parameter in the tool options. Now all brushes are resizable from one place.
One gripe still is that the size control slider is very hard to use precisely with small brushes. I often work with brushes below 10px in size, and controlling the size using a linear slider than goes up to 1000px is not very user-friendly. However, according to the UI change article, the tool options are going to have an overhaul soon as well.
Gimp 2.8 also has a number of other nice changes, such as expressions in entry fields (how often have you whipped open a calculator to divide a size? Now just type “1234/3”), layer groups, and single window mode with image tabs.
Looking past 2.8, the Gimp core has finally been ported to use GEGL by a hero effort of Øyvind Kolås and Mike Natterer. This means that after waiting 15 years, Gimp 2.10 will finally have 16-bit color support. Hooray!
The important question is, when will 2.10 be released? Martin Nordholts has written about the problems in Gimp development cycles. He states many of the problems that I have pondered and struggled with during OpenRocket development. Gimp 2.10 development will utilize more feature branches, which are merged to the master branch only once they’re ready, so as not to hinder the release of other features. This will hopefully allow more regular feature releases and more motivation for new developers to jump in.
I have yet to explore many of the features in 2.8, but for the first time in a long time I have a heightened sense of excitement about Gimp. There is finally clear and undeniable improvement happening.
Finally, I have to restate my admiration at the people who have made Gimp a reality, from its early stages and through its troublesome times. A huge thanks to you all, and hoping for a great 2.10 development cycle. I am rooting for you once again!