7 Reasons Why Gimp vs Photoshop is the Stupidest Flamewar in History

Posted by: Rea Maor In: Image and Graphics - Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

1. It’s gone on long enough. A Google search for “Gimp vs Photoshop” in quotes currently shows 23,400 hits. I’ve been seeing it since the turn of the century. Much more often than I’ve seen the canonical geek flamewars of Emacs-vs-vi, Gnome-vs-KDE, and all.

2. The Gimp development team says that Gimp has nothing to do with Photoshop. As recently as Gimpcon 2006, the development team has stated “What GIMP is not: GIMP is not MS Paint or Adobe Photoshop”. They’ve had that on their home page for many versions. They also state on that same page:

…If someone comes with the request that the UI of GIMP should be like Photoshop, we can simply state: ?We are not trying to be like Photoshop, because we have a different product vision.? …

3. The Gimp development team also affirms that Gimp targets experienced users. That is another reference from the Gimpcon 2006 page. Worth bearing in mind: A lot of FOSS programs are the sophisticated tools that sophisticated users need to do what they do.

Yes, true, the development team also looks at feature requests and considers including them, but not just because Photoshop has it. They state in their TODO list that they are looking to provide a UI with a low barrier to entry, but that doesn’t mean ‘make it more like Photoshop’.

4. We already tried turning Gimp into Photoshop. It doesn’t work. Here’s Gimpshop. To quote their front page:

It shares all GIMP’s advantages, including the long feature list and customisability, while addressing some common criticisms regarding the program’s interface: GIMPshop modifies the menu structure to closely match Photoshop’s, adjusts the program’s terminology to match Adobe’s, and, in the Windows version, uses a plugin called ‘Deweirdifier’ to combine the application’s numerous windows in a similar manner to the MDI system used by most Windows graphics packages.

There you have it! It’s been there for years. So what’s up? Why are FOSS users not thundering all over to Gimpshop? Why aren’t Photoshop users snapping it up? Why do Linux distros keep including Gimp instead of Gimpshop? Because, like trying to write Visual Basic in C, trying to convert a Volkswagon into a Ferrari, and trying to come up with a recipe for chicken that will make it taste like sirloin steak, trying to stuff a Gimp into a Photoshop’s mold really isn’t a practical thing to do. You always end up with the worst of both worlds.

Or, as this unsung genius observes in a Lisp/Scheme discussion:

It is some aspect of the “let’s discard all the community effort and start
over from scratch because we’re smarter than everybody else” thing.

Each and every time someone in the Computer Science field has a Bright Idea,
the world had better be prepared to adapt, because Here Comes Genius and
everything everybody has done needs to be done differently from now on,
because This Genius Knows Best.

5. Gimp isn’t even the only game in town. There’s dozens of FOSS graphics applications out there. Here’s just a part of them. Amongst the simpler drawing utilities out there are Tuxpaint, a drawing program for kids, Xpaint, a very old-school Unix graphics application, and Inkscape, the vector-graphics editor. Inkscape is often overlooked; while being a vector graphics editor (as opposed to raster graphics, which is what Gimp is), it can be used to make many of the kinds of images that people complain that they can’t do in Gimp. 99% of the frustration people have with Gimp (the genuine frustration – see next point) comes from using the wrong tool.

Graphics editing is huge, and even Adobe doesn’t try to make one tool do everything! It is simply ridiculous to expect that you should make 16×16 icons and 3D special effects for a blockbuster movie with the same tool.

6. Gimp is just a straw-man to the trolls. Case in point: CMYK. Next time you see somebody on Digg or Slashdot complaining that Gimp doesn’t support CMYK… challenge them! Find out if they even know what it stands for and what it does. Unless you work in the printing industry (like, you design the cover of Vogue), CMYK means nothing to you. CMYK is just the letters the flamers have learned to type from seeing how other flamewars went.

If you’re actually dealing with someone who would need CMYK, refer them again to the What Gimp is… section. Let’s see, there’s “high-end photo manipulation”, “creating original art”, “producing icons, graphical elements of web pages, and art for user interface elements”, “programming cutting edge image processing algorithms”… no, it doesn’t ever claim to be for printing. So, complaints that Gimp doesn’t support CMYK are just as relevant as saying it doesn’t pick winning lottery numbers for you.

Another case in point: Pantone colors. As the talk page for Gimp educates us, Pantone’s name is trademarked, the numbers of the colors are copyrighted, and supporting it by paying the exorbitant fee to license it would render it no longer freely distributable software. This is akin to complaining that Wendy’s doesn’t serve Big Macs.

In fact, I have rarely encountered an anti-Gimp flamer online without the following conditions being true of them:

  1. Their user ID is brand new.
  2. They have no website.
  3. They have no portfolio.
  4. They couldn’t even be bothered to add an icon/avatar to their ID.
  5. They lack basic, beginner-level knowledge of graphic design. Can’t tell a vector from a raster or a serif font from a sans-serif. They make goofs like saying “an animated jpg”.

Now, I’m sure there’s exceptions to this rule out there somewhere. This is just what I’ve encountered, and I hang out on all of the major social websites. If there’s any actual employed graphic designers out there flaming about Gimp, they’re the exception, not the rule.

7. Microsoft isn’t the only evil proprietary software company. After all, Adobe has been vying to monopolize content production since the beginning. Like Microsoft, they don’t make most of their technology, they just buy it from somebody else. Yes, as that link says, the software that became Photoshop was originally free shareware. Netscape vs Internet Explorer(Mosaic), round two, anybody?

Like Microsoft, they alternate between trying to crush the rest of the market and forming shaky alliances in pursuit of goal #1. Abode Systems only broke their first billion in 1999, but have since rocketed towards the Fortune 500 (current ranking: 727, up from last year’s 817) based on revenue from – surprise! – a lot of buyouts. Like Microsoft, they have clutched a patent portfolio and sued or threatened to sue competitors before. Take a good look at Microsoft, because that’s what Adobe wants to look like in ten years.

The upshot is, Adobe has, of course, had animosity towards free and open source software. They have expressed as much, even to saying they see Linux and GNU as a threat. Considering that the shelf price of their flagship software is more than most people pay for their computer, I guess that’s pretty obvious. So, duh! of course they’d be eager to see the Gimp-vs-Photoshop flame war go on and on. If your multi-billion-dollar creative suite only had one competitor – a unique situation in itself – and it was all free/libre software, you wouldn’t rest easy, either.

Furthermore, what we’re really seeing is anger and frustration at Adobe which is then being redirected at Gimp for not being a free Photoshop clone. It simply is not Gimp’s fault that Adobe’s attitude towards their customer base ranges from lack of respect to downright hostile.

Nevertheless, it is a completely artificial flame war. People who really want to use Photoshop use it; no one is stopping them besides Adobe itself with its high price tag and restrictive licensing. People who don’t, use something else, and we develop the capabilities of that something else as best we can, given the patent minefield.

I’ve heard it pointed out that Gimp has one of the smallest developer teams in ratio to their user base. In other words – big surprise! – lots of complaining out there, very little coding anywhere. In the end, you still get what you pay for, so there’s no comparing the highest-cost graphics suite with the lowest-cost one anyway.


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51 Responses to “7 Reasons Why Gimp vs Photoshop is the Stupidest Flamewar in History”

  1. Wong Says:

    Well, I guess that settles it. The PS vs. GIMP wars must be over. It’s 2015. GIMP equals or surpasses PS in every way. Adobe sales have plunged.

    NOT.

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