A Penny for Your Apps -- Open-Source Alternatives

Susie Ochs's picture

A Penny for Your Apps -- Open-Source Alternatives


When you launch GIMP, you’ll also see the icon for X11 in your Dock. You can ignore it, but X11 must be running while you’re using GIMP. You’ll notice that the menus for GIMP aren’t in the menubar (which shows the menus for X11—again, just ignore them), but rather at the tops of the floating GIMP windows themselves. To quit the app, choose File > Quit from the main GIMP window, which looks more like a palette.


GIMP’s main advantage, of course, is that it’s free. But if you’re a Photoshop veteran, the Mac version may seem unintuitive at first. Open-source aficionados who use GIMP on other platforms, like Windows or Linux, tend to regard the Mac version as the ugliest of the bunch. But it does have support for layers, and it can read and write many popular image formats, including bitmap, JPEG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, and PSD (Photoshop Document). It can open PDFs and many cameras’ RAW image files, but not write to them. The native GIMP format is called XCF.


Wilbur Loves Apple is a great resource for learning GIMP, along with Wilber’s Wiki at wiki.gimp.org (Wilber/Wilbur is the GIMP mascot, who appears on the Dock icon), which has links to plug-ins, scripts, directions for compiling the app yourself, a glossary, tutorials, documentation, and lots more. Overall, we found GIMP to be powerful, but somewhat intimidating, and with a slightly steeper learning curve than two other open-source image editors that are built on the same tech: GIMPshop and Seashore.


If you like Photoshop, GIMPshop’s tools and menus will seem a little more familiar, although under the hood it’s all GIMP.


GIMPshop. If you’re comfortable working with Photoshop’s menus but still want to go open-source, GIMPshop might be your happy medium. This app is still GIMP under the hood, but it comes wrapped in a more familiar package, with the menus rebuilt to resemble Photoshop’s and the terms changed to match what Adobe uses. It’s just as powerful as GIMP.app and only about half as ugly. GIMPshop also requires X11, but you can download a disk image of the app from www.gimpshop.com/download.shtml.


As is the case with GIMP, the X11 menus appear in your menubar while the GIMPshop menus appear on the palette-like application windows themselves. And like GIMP, it supports modules and plug-ins, lets you build your own brushes, and supports a number of image formats. Both apps are snappy and won’t bog down your system—GIMP requires less than 100MB of space on your drive, and GIMPshop is twice as big but still svelte at under 200MB. Photoshop CS3, by comparison, requires 2GB.


Fewer online resources are available for GIMPshop help than for GIMP, but you can ask questions at the forum (www.gimpshop
). Its resemblance to Photoshop makes it easier to learn in the first place, and since the menus are so close, once you’re familiar with the interface, you’ll be dusting off your Photoshop skills in a zero-cost, open-source image-editing playground.


X11 Quick Tips


A couple of quirks to watch for when using X11 apps: You generally have to select a window before you can click on any buttons or tools inside it. And you need to substitute the Ctrl key for the Command key in any keyboard shortcuts.


GIMP and GIMPshop give you helpful tips every time you launch the app. Once you’re a GIMP ninja, you can disable the pop-up tips, of course.


Seashore. If you don’t need all the power of Photoshop, or you don’t want to install X11, try Seashore. If GIMPshop is the closest thing to open-source Photoshop, Seashore is like GIMPshop Elements. In fact, it’s even built on GIMP’s technology, although it uses Mac OS X’s Cocoa framework, so it doesn’t need X11 to run. You can download a beta from seashore.sourceforge.net. Since the app is still in development, it’s a good idea to keep another copy of whatever image you’re working on, in case your file winds up corrupted somehow.


Seashore includes four layered XCF image files, and the 53-page documentation uses them as examples for its helpful tutorials.


Seashore supports layers, alpha channel editing, gradients, and textures, and it uses the same native file format, XCF, as GIMP. You also get Save As and Export support for JPEG, GIF, PNG, and TIFF. But it also aims for simplicity—this is meant for basic photo-editing tasks, not a replacement for Photoshop. Even this early in its development, Seashore is a Universal binary.


Online help is a bit sparse, but the Sourceforge page does have small forum, and the 53-page PDF Seashore Guide is extremely thorough and clearly answered any questions we had. Seashore is an intuitive app, and since it’s built on Cocoa, it really looks at home on the Mac.




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This feature strikes me as well-meaning but singularly misguided.

First of all, free ist not automatically synonymous with open-source, and viceversa.

Second, there are lots of excellent, invaluable, free Mac apps; most of them utilities. But when it comes to free Office or Adobe Suites equivalents, let's face it: you'd be better off with a cheap Linux box. Gimp, OpenOffice and their siblings are functional, but not yet terribly polished ports from Linux, and relative resource hogs at that.

Under Linux, they shine. Though if you direly need free OS X Office software, chances are your Mac may be getting on a bit, too. The two factors combined make for a less-than-thrilling experience on older PPC Macs.

Consider a simpler approach: identify your precise needs, see if there is a native Cocoa freeware or a solid X11-less Java port, and get shareware classics just for the remnant. (If you have a fairly recent PPC or Intel Mac and at least 1 GB RAM, get iWorks '08. Period.)
So let us see how far just a hard nose and a little money will take us:
- iPhoto + imageJ + Raw Photo Processor: FREE;
- TextEdit + TextWrangler + Smultron: FREE;
- DrawIt Lite: as of now, FREE.
This covers the basics; now a few GREAT but cheap little apps that really can compete if used wisely:
- NisusWriter (Express or Pro), Mellel, or Scrivener;
- Tables;
- GraphicConverter or Pixelmator;
- LineForm or Intaglio.
Many of the above - old mainstays or instant classics - were favorably, even glowingly reviewed on this site and are every now and then promoted at bargain prices.

Gimp, NeoOffice & Co. are noble efforts; they deserve every encouragement (including donations! NeoOffice especially shows how much a couple of dedicated folks on no budget at all can achieve.) But on the Mac, they're not quite there yet.



I have two words to add here: GIMP SUCKS!!!



When I first made the swith to Mac (and never going back) I found www.opensourcemac.org an invaluable resource.



If you're into MATLAB (a Math/Science/Engineering tool) then try out FreeMat. It has a long way to go before its as comprehensive as matlab, but in the meantime its free.



www.thriftmac.com is an excellent source as well



www.freemacware.com is also a great source for mac freeware.

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