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Monday, February 06, 2006

GIMP Things

With a recent discussion on Slashdot debating the subject, and the linked article not listing enough criticisms, I thought I should chime in on why I don't use the free, open-source GIMP instead of Photoshop.

I have tried to use GIMP before. In fact, in my work at NIST, redesigning a departmental web page and doing some simple graphics work for presentations, I was forced to use GIMP because our office did not have enough photoshop licenses. The behind-the-title image on this very page was made with a gradient and simple filter in GIMP - much easier than making a similar thing in Photoshop. And yet, I still find GIMP too irritating to use. Why? Here's why:
  • GIMP's single-document-interface is deeply, deeply flawed. Basically, GIMP opens three windows: two control panels, and whatever image you want to open with it. The problem with this interface is that the control panels are the same level of window as the image itself. So, if you focus on the image (say, by clicking on it or using any tool on it), the toolbars for GIMP will become hidden behind it. Now maybe this is an okay schema for a 30" Apple Cinema display, but for any normal monitor size, it means you will spend more time moving windows around to gain access to the menus, than you will actually using any of the functions on those menus.
  • Speaking of menus - the menus in GIMP are totally inaccessable. They are grouped into categories that make very little sense, and I constantly had to read every item on a menu to determine whether the function I was looking for was there or not. I dare anyone to run a usability study on this - I think the results will be unpleasent.
  • The rest of the interface is very clunky as well. Filters and scripts and even color manipulations have a tendancy to pull up modal dialogue boxes. This means that you can't do anything else in the program until you complete that dialogue box. If you pull up the curves box, for example, and play with color curves, you cannot refocus and preview your image with the new settings. You can only see the part the color curves box isn't blocking. Now, they may have changed the curves box since I used it this summer, but there were so many of these quirks I didn't want to experiment with the various properties of an image at all.
  • OK buttons and the like are difficult. Maybe this is a property of GTK+ on windows, but whenevevr a dialogue came up, hitting "enter" did not hit the "OK" button. Using a crappy mouse at work, this caused many a hassle, as non-modal dialogues disappeared behind my image when I missed the "OK" button. I then had to resize my image in order to see the dialogue I had pulled up at all!

So basically, it's the interface, as it is with most Linux items. What I think people fail to realize (which Apple, Flickr and the like realize more than anyone) is that the user interface is not a way for the user to get to the product. The user interface IS the product. It's all the user sees. It's all they deal with. It is inseperable from your functionality, and it encompasses all aspects of your product. No matter how awesome your feature set, if it is awkward to arrive at, hidden, or impossible to get to, then it will not match up to the competition.

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Blogger James Gonzales-Meisler said...

It pales in comparison to Photoshop, this is true. But It is free.


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