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Potential Photoshop killer Pixel

By   |  September 29, 2006

According to the results of a survey conducted early this year by Novell, Adobe Photoshop tops users’ lists as the most critical application not available on Linux. While Adobe continues to only support Windows and Mac OS X with most of its products for its own, unknown reasons, alternatives are becoming increasingly popular with the ever-growing Linux user base.

While Gimp may be a popular free choice, an exciting project from Slovakia called Pixel is a potential Photoshop-killer under development. Pavel Kanzelsberger’s Pixel uses the best of Photoshop and adds some really great ideas and features to take it one step further.

Kanzelsberger was kind enough to offer us a review copy for Ubuntu. He’s been working on Pixel since 1997, with first releases appearing in 2005. He’s finally onto betas and release candidates, with the version we received still evidencing some annoying bugs. But he’s hoping to squash these and release a final version by the end of the year.

You’ll notice Pixel’s close similarity to Photoshop immediately. The look-and-feel, layout and menu systems are almost identical. Layers, colours, tool options and the main menu bar will be so familiar to Photoshop users that it should take them all of about five minutes to adjust. Some of the icons are a little different, but similar enough to recognise.

One really nice difference is the amount of support Kanzelsberger has added for web work, in effect merging Photoshop and ImageReady elements for a great all-round product. Animation, slicing and optimisation are all available immediately.

What really excited me about Pixel (I’m easy to please) is support for CMYK colour. This one feature has kept Gimp in the amateur leagues, while Photoshop has retained its title as the tool of choice for professionals.

Some features are noticeably missing. In particular, there’s no magnetic lasso tool in Pixel, which is something I use often and have never found an equivalent for on Linux (short of installing Photoshop on top of Wine). I also found the choice of algorithms for scaling a little lacking. With a couple of bugs, especially around undoing and changing colour palettes, it was hard to figure out if the final product will work as smoothly as Photoshop. I assume some features are still under development, like the bezier curve tool which looks unpolished but potentially very powerful. Other little problems, like the inability to select text with the shift key while editing inline, also annoyed me. But as I said, it’s still very much in development, so I’ll reserve final judgement until I see the finished product.

Other touches of genius, such as multiple working areas and a very good live colour reader in the top right hand corner, get two thumbs up. Lack of a dodge, burn, smudge and sharpen tool gets thumbs down. This makes it even harder to judge whether this product will eventually be worse, as good as, or better than Photoshop.

I’m obviously hoping for “better”, and the potential is definitely there. If Kanzelsberger gets it right, there could be serious trouble for Adobe, and it could end up paying the price of ignoring the Linux community. If it all comes together like it should, Pixel will be a serious competitor on Adobe-native platforms too. I don’t think that the first version will be quite up to Adobe’s standard, but future versions could be frighteningly good. (And particularly frightening for Adobe.)

Pixel will cost $79 for a license when it is finally released, but if you’re willing to put up with the bugs in return for some really awesome features, get it today for $32. There’s also a free demo version available which should give you an idea of what Pixel’s all about, and how closely it resembles Photoshop. It is available for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, BeOS, FreeBSD and other operating systems, for x86 and PowerPC chips.


3 Responses to “Potential Photoshop killer Pixel”

  1. John
    September 30th, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    Don\’t forget Krita which is looking to be the best FOSS option out there, does CMYK and all the rest already.


  2. Abbey Sparrow
    October 1st, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    Just so you know, the \’Magnetic Lasso\’ is a guided edge detection algorithm developed at Brigham Young long before it was implemented in Photoshop. There is an open paper on the subject that was presented in the Siggraph proceedings in the late 90s (I want to say 1996, but don\’t hold me to that).

    I was a little curious whether the scaling problems you refer to are for oversampling or undersampling (shirnking or growing the image), as these are slightly different processes.

    Otherwise, thanks for a great article!

  3. sam
    January 28th, 2009 @ 5:36 pm

    well, I wont be using it…I use dodge and burn All.The.Time.

    Why wouldn’t they include them? Even GIMP has them! WTF?!

    -Budget, Linux Photoshop FTW!

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