A minor flame war between a Gimp team member and random trolls got screenshots making the rounds on social media recently. While younger readers might only point and giggle, older software veterans are cringing with curdled blood. Please, no, give us our Emacs vs vi, our Firefox vs Chrome, even our Windows vs Linux – ANYTHING but this!
The twenty year old GNU-licensed Free Software image editor exists at the eye of a thunderstorm of controversy that never goes away – Just read the comments on that Slashdot link for a full buffet of the ancient canonical gripes. Some gurus speculate that the eternal Gimp flame war might be what causes the “red spot” anticyclonic storm on Jupiter. There will be peace in the Middle East before the flame wars about Gimp have resolved. This is mainly because by now, all sides of the debate have curdled into cancer.
How Did It Get Like This?
We all know and understand that Gimp (yes, we refuse to capitalize the acronym every time) has always been a FOSS (Free / Open Source Software) pixel slinger, and that history has pinned Gimp to the position of being the chief competitor to Adobe Photoshop. The problem with that assumption is that Gimp was never intended as a Photoshop drop-in replacement, and yet people want there to be one, so they keep hammering Gimp into that hole.
Adobe Photoshop also started out as a freebie. It was originally bundled with scanner hardware. And nobody would have cared today about Gimp vs Photoshop if a company called Adobe hadn’t come along and bought the rights to Photoshop.
Adobe, Inc., like Microsoft, is a very wealthy proprietary software corporation with exactly one product keeping them in the black ink. Both of those flagship products have exactly one FOSS “competitor” – Linux to Windows (won), and Gimp to Photoshop (lost). Adobe marketing and P.R. has naturally encouraged the throwing of shade against Gimp whenever it can. Proprietary software companies always get irrationally paranoid over a FOSS alternative; Microsoft warred with Linux for decades before it caved.
It’s The Price Tags!
College students picking graphic design for their profession run into a rude awakening. A full commercial suite of Adobe Photoshop runs about $1000+ last we checked, and even the non-profit version runs $200. But that’s not all; it carries a monthly fee as well, lately running up to $1500+ per year! Would-be digital artists are frustrated by having a simple thing like drawing be tied up in an expense big enough to justify a mortgage.
Part of this is the print and paint industry’s doing, which has proprietary patents and trademarks on everything related to graphics design, right down to the names for colors, which is why there’s such a big deal about artificial intelligence software picking color names. While Adobe is a greedy corporation, it also has a conglomerate of greedy leeches on its back.
So a million broke college students go looking for a cheaper alternative to support CMYK and Pantone colors without paying for the astronomical patents, and they all land on Gimp, only to discover that Gimp is not Photoshop, was (historically) never intended to be a Photoshop drop-in replacement, and would be sued to the end of the galaxy and back if it even dreamed of trying. Said disappointed students take to the Gimp mailing list to request “simple” improvements, only to be told to get stuffed. By the way, graphic designers’ brains are physically incapable of understanding software law or technology constraints, there’s a gene missing somewhere.
Now For The Other Corners Of The Flame War
But wait, there’s more! Gimp itself is built on top of GTK+, a quasi-FOSS toolkit which is itself integrated into the Gnome desktop environment, the chief desktop of Linux distributions. Gnome is FOSS licensed, but it’s also managed by a horribly oligarchical board of directors headed by Miguel de Icaza, an extremely controversial figure in the FOSS community. This guy rules the Gimp project like a banana republic dictator, just forcing new features or ripping them out at a whim. This has been going on for years.
So in addition to the other problems, the Gimp team is also extremely prone to anger FOSS purists. No less than Saint Ignucius himself, Richard M. Stallman, has called de Izcaza “the TRAITOR of the Free Software Community!” The discussion has generally tended to go downhill from there. That’s our RMS, always interjecting a moderating tone into the debate.
And finally, there’s the Gimp developers vs the Gimp users. The Gimp team is also suffering from the delusion that winning over Photoshop users is just a matter of how you tweak the UI. So they are constantly trying to appease Photoshop purists by trying to chop Gimp into a Photoshop mold. This even runs to the crazy extent of ripping out Gimp’s old features just because that’s not how Photoshop does it. Some examples include defaulting to single-window mode instead of multiple windows, and forcing the ‘save’ menu item to save in a customized editing format instead of the original image. You have to ‘export’ an edited image to save your edits to the image file itself.
Yes, let’s check how that last change went down with the loyal user base. “Bring back normal save!” “Artificial, Contrived, and Obstructed!” “This change is just sticking a thumb in all of our eyes.” And some more pixels spilled by this old time user, who also preserved the Gimp mailing list’s tone-deaf responses. It seems the Gimp mailing list maintainers, as a result of twenty years of non-stop flame wars, have been culled to the most battle-hardened veterans on the web. With the thousand-yard stare of a shell-shocked Vietnam vet, they will bite off your head in a single chomp without even knowing they’re doing it.
I Refuse To Use Either
The present author was a die-hard Gimp advocate for decades, but I finally was driven to abandon Gimp by the time it got around to changing normal, sane ‘save’ to stupid, broken, braindead ‘save.’ I just give up. All I (and I’m sure most app / web developers are with me here) need to do with an image editor is make logos, banners, icons, sprites, and other two-minute pixel-slinging jobs. I also have a pressing need to do this without fighting my way through a Wagnerian opera cycle every time. According to everyone on every side of the Gimp wars, we web and app developers can all go to H-E-double-hockey-sticks.
For 90% of your day-to-day graphic desktop needs, Inkscape just rocks the socks. For the other 10%, you’ll find Pinta and Krita to be workable fill-ins. All three of them have communities as serene and placid as a summer’s day in Albion. All three of them let you open an image, doodle on it, and save it. Then they cheerfully buzz off and let you get on with your life.
WAS. THAT. SO. HARD???