Sunday, August 1, 2004

The GIMP, a free alternative to Photoshop


By Michael Oliveri

No worries, when we talk about the GIMP, we're not talking about Pulp Fiction or bondage. This is a family magazine.

In this case, the GIMP (or GNU Image Manipulation Program), a free (as in speech and beer) substitute for popular commercial image editors such as Adobe Photoshop and Corel PhotoPaint. For the majority of users, the GIMP will be able to accomplish all of their image-editing tasks and more. For the rest, the community-driven nature of the GIMP ensures that requested features will likely be available soon.

In this article, my plan is to provide you with a brief introduction to the GIMP from installation through a few basic tasks. Complete information on the GIMP can be found at the project's home page, A plethora of documentation is also available, and, in the true Open Source spirit, the book Grokking the GIMP is available for free at

Downloading and installing the GIMP

As of this writing, version 1.2.5 is the current stable release. Version 2.0 is in the pre-release stage for developers and power users and is at 2.0pre4. For those of you using Macs and Windows, I'm about to say some scary things about compiling source code. Don't worry; I'm only talking to Linux users. There's a point-and-click installer available if you don't want to get under the hood.

If you're running Linux, chances are you already have the GIMP installed as it comes with most major distributions. If not, source code can be downloaded from the Web site above by selecting Download from the menu bar and following links to the desired version.Installation is just a matter of compiling and installing in the standard three-step process: ./configure, make, make install.

Linux users desiring pre-compiled binaries for easy installation should have little to no trouble finding the GIMP in their distribution's package format. Start with your distribution's CD's, otherwise or apt-get should be able to set you up.

Running a Mac? With its BSD roots, OS X is about as close to Unix as you can get without slapping the label on the side. Check out for all your photo editing needs. I don't have a Mac available, so the specifics of the GIMP on OS X are unfortunately beyond the scope of this article.

While the GIMP is primarily written and developed for Linux and other Unix systems, Windows users should not feel left out, as shown in Figure A.


Here's the GIMP running on Windows XP. (click for larger image)

The GIMP for Windows is maintained separately and can be found at Because the GIMP makes extensive use of GTK+ or the GIMP Tool Kit, Windows users should download both the GIMP binaries and the GTK+ package. They are provided in .zip format and, once downloaded and unzipped, you will find the install program for each. Install GTK+ first, then the GIMP. The defaults should be fine for most users, such as install directories, languages, and components.