image: something appropriate to break up the text

I’ve had a deserved go at Microsoft’s Word in the past, and its open source imitators. Now it’s the turn of the Gimp, a paint program.

Let me start off my emphasising the positive. The Gimp is a free for use program with immense power, and it can do many many things.

But the user interface just doesn’t work properly. You can do those many many things, but not easily. Let me give you an example that I’ve just faced. I have a draft cover page. It has some text on it, in the wrong place. I want to move that text to the correct place.

I started off by deciding to select the area I wanted to move. So I used the rectangle selection tool to select it. Then I moved the selected area. It just moved the selection box, not the contents. Ok, fine, I thought, that doesn’t work as expected, but it makes sense.

So I looked in the menu, and spotted a move command. Aha, I thought. So, having made the selection, I chose move, then attempted to move the selected area. Now this is the Gump’s first almighty fuck up. This move didn’t move the selected area, it moved the entire image. The move command completely ignored the selection, even to the extent of leaving the selection box where it was. If I wanted to move the entire image, I wouldn’t have selected a part of it first. Good God!

Now the Gimp, like many similar programmers, suffers from an abortion called layers. This concept stinks of ignoring the capabilities of computer user interfaces, and pandering to how things were done before computers were invented. I have never come across a positive benefit to layers. I have often come across them getting in the way. So you can see why I thought: perhaps this is a layer thing. So I tried the Duplicate Layer comment to duplicate my selection into a new layer. Guess what: it ignored my selection and duplicated the entire image. If I wanted to duplicate the entire image, I wouldn’t have selected a part of it first. Again, Good God!

Now, it turns out the command to convert the selection into a layer is actually Select Float. Yup, the command to create a layer is not in the Layer menu. So, a process that should be select something and drag it turns out to be select something, then say you want to drag it, then actually drag it, then say you’ve dragged it. That last command, incidentally, is in the Layer menu, a completely different menu to Select Float. There’s two utterly pointless additional commands which aren’t even related to each other to say something you have to say that shouldn’t need saying. WTF?!

I will give the Gimp, this stupidity of layers is not the Gimp’s concept, it’s something stolen from another badly designed program (it must be badly designed because it’s got layers in it). I suspect, though, the Gimp’s clunky menu layout is entirely its own innovation.

I do wish Open Source software would innovate the user interface, not just copy a commercial concept badly. I suspect this is a generic problem because Open Office, a product completely independent to the Gimp, has exactly the same problem: adequately implemented poorly assembled concepts behind a badly flawed user interface.

Now I must emphasise something: the Gimp is free. It is one hell of a lot better than nothing. It can do a great deal, it is a powerful product, it should be on the computer of everyone interested in images. But this does not mean it’s perfect. Not at all.

For those of you who quite rightly say: if you don’t like it, contribute, fix it; I’ll just point out I make my own, quite different, creative commons contributions.

For those of who who say if you want a good product you’ll have to pay for it, I’ll say Microsoft Office: very sleek, very pretty, full of fundamental design flaws. Why should I believe a commercial image program is significantly better than the Gimp? Indeed, when Paint Shop Pro went commercial, it got noticeably worse. From my experience, the worthwhile commercial image programs are the specialist ones designed by people who love their subject, e.g. Studio Artist. An exception to that general rule is Apple’s Aperture, although that’s a photography program, not an image program.