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Open source meets the world of graphics

By   |  February 26, 2001

This article was originally written for Enjin magazine, a publication catering to the desktop publishing and graphic artist market. It was an opportunity to explain to the graphics world that the Open Source was starting to include their interests.

Usually the word Unix is enough to strike fear into the heart of any self-respecting graphic or layout artist. After all, a Unix box is something that is most usually stuck away behind a firewall as a server and not a desktop computer capable of functioning in a graphic production environment.

Thanks mainly to the rapidly growing popularity of operating systems such as Linux and FreeBSD this perception is changing and the Unix operating system is currently experiencing something of a re-birth.

Linux is already a major player in the web-server market and is quickly making in roads into the desktop market winning over users with its stability and power. Interestingly, OS X, the new generation operating system from Apple, is based largely on FreeBSD, yet another Unix-based operating system. And contrary to it reputation as a text-based operating system today?s Unix variants include a powerful and highly configurable graphic interface and an ever-growing list of graphic tools including the GIMP, XV and KIllustrator.


The granddaddy among among graphic tools for Linux is the GNU Image Manipulation Program (the GIMP), a clone of the ever popular Adobe Photoshop. Originally created by two students in 1995, the GIMP has quickly progressed to become what many describe as the crown jewel of the open source movement – the proof that open source developers can produce tools suitable for both hackers and non-hackers alike.

Longtime Photoshop users will instantly recognise the GIMP interface. For a start the toolbox is a near-perfect replica of that of the Adobe program. The toolbox includes all the standard tools you would expect to find: brushes, pencils, airbrushes and cloning tools. Double clicking any of the tools brings up a tool-specific configuration box for adjusting brush sizes and shapes or line thicknesses.

Much of the power of the GIMP resides in its plug-in and scripting features. Plug-ins are fairly straight forward and add functionality through new palettes, brushes, tools and gradients and can be downloaded from the Internet. At last count there were more than 100 and counting on the site alone.

Scripting – which goes by the unlikely name Script-fu – is comparable to filters in most other graphics applications. Scripts add functionality by simplifying the process of applying and rendering effects, everything from embossing to animation. The GIMP is shipped with a fairly standard set of scripts and others can be downloaded from the Internet. Skilled users can also create their own scripts.

The GIMP is capable of multiple undos and redos, a feature most comparable high end tools have only recently introduced. Other features include subpixel-sampling, alpha channel support, layers, channels, and gradient and blend editors making the GIMP a highly-versatile tool.

The GIMP supports most file types including GIF, JPEG, PNG, XPM, TIFF, TGA, MPEG, PS, PDF, PCX, BMP and others can be added through plug-ins and scripts.

The GIMP is developed and distributed under the GNU general public license and is freely downloadable along with its source code in true open source tradition. Presently the GIMP runs on most Unix-like operating systems including Linux, BSD and Solaris and there is at least one preliminary version for Win32 machines. With Macintosh moving towards a Unix base, chances are that a GIMP for Macintosh version is not far off.


When it comes to vector-based drawing programs there are a number of tools available for Unix-based machines. One of the newer and more interesting additions to this range is KIllustrator, one of the applications developed as part of the KOffice suite. As its name suggests, KIllustrator is very much like Adobe?s Illustrator application while object handling is very similar to CorelDraw, making the transition between the two very easy.

KIllustrator is a fully functional illustration program including object types such as polylines, freehand lines, ellipses, rectangles and bezier curves. Layers, multi-line text handling and bitmap support round off the package.

KIllustrator works with most common file type including GIF, JPEG, XPM, XBM and PNG files as well as being able to export to Postscript and SVG formats. In its favour KIllustrator can import Windows MetaFile (WMF) format files. On the downside, KIllustrator can?t import native CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator files yet.

However with the most recent version being 0.7.2, KIllustrator is still in its early stages of development, and should probably be viewed as such. Although KIllustrator has been available for a while as a stand-alone program, the developers say that future versions will see the application more tightly integrated into the KOffice suite. As with the GIMP, KIllustrator is freely available on the Internet for download.


No desktop computer today would be complete without an image viewer and the same goes for Linux. One of the most popular Unix-based viewers is called XV. Despite its simple name and interface, xv hides a powerful collection of standard tools and supports an almost unlimited range of file formats including GIF, JPEG, TIFF, PBM, PGM, PPM, XPM, X11 bitmap, Sun Rasterfile, Targa,RLE, RGB, BMP, PCX and so on. Apart from just opening and viewing images, XV can also apply simple effects such as blurring, sharpening and embossing as well as gamma correction on files in RGB and HSV format. xv also does a speedy job of cropping images as well as grabbing a portion of the screen for screen shots. With the addition of XVScan, XV does becomes a lightweight scanning tool. Although XV can also convert files it is not one of its strong points.

XV is a shareware product available for download from the Internet. Commercial companies are required to pay the $25 license fee.


XV can be found at

The GIMP lives at

Killustrator homepage:


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