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EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 30 - January 20, 2001 - ISSN 1528-6703     4 of 8

The Gimp: Free Photo Editing Software

By Edith Reynolds

January 21, 2001

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Despite its politically incorrect name, The Gimp (the GNU Image Manipulation Program) is actually a nimble little file-swapping answer to Adobe's costly Photoshop software program. The Gimp performs such tasks as photo retouching, online batch processing, image rendering, and format conversion. If you take digital photos of your auction items, you can use The Gimp software to edit your photos before uploading them to a hosting service.

The Gimp uses GNUtella, the open source peer-to-peer file-sharing similar to lawsuit-riddled Napster. But in the case of GNUtella, there is no central server, thus it can't be shut down over royalty issues. Gimp creators Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis came up with the idea during their school days at Berkeley. The site continues and thrives with a cadre of faithful followers who regularly contribute to improving the program and launching ancillary sites that add benefits, list bugs, and serve as an online pep rally.

How well does The Gimp actually perform? According to our shop's jack-of-all-trades and Gimp cheerleader Furlan Primus, we should see very little difference between it and Photoshop. The best way to test this theory was to try it for ourselves. The first and wisest decision I made was to delegate the task to 18-year-old Vicky Semrow, who spent her high school years learning Photoshop. Our challenge was to create a simple Web page that rose above our Romper Room reject we had concocted using Frontpage.

Before lifting one finger to the keyboard, Vicky immediately started whining that we'd be MUCH BETTER OFF with Photoshop. My answer was to remind the girl that the $600 or so we'd spend on Photoshop could be better used elsewhere--say--PAYING HER SALARY. Vicky agreed, but not happily.

The look of The Gimp is similar to Photoshop. It employs toolboxes with understandable symbols. But despite these similarities, Vicky reported that some of the actual processes seemed backward and began another torrent of complains that had to be quieted with a quick smack to the head. That done, she was off and running.

What we hoped to accomplish was a simple image backdrop for the home page. Because we own an antiquarian bookstore, our initial design was a nice picture of 7 books. Vicky erased the titles and inserted text that dedicated each spine to the different menu operations. Then we exported the result to Frontpage to tidy everything up and publish.

During the actual work we heard a lot about Photoshop's superior methods, but as she got used to using The Gimp, Vicky's fingers flew across the keyboard, creating just the image we had in mind. Unfortunately, when she was done and ready for Frontpage, the consensus of everyone in the shop was that we hated it.

We went back to the drawing board to put The Gimp through the paces once more. This time we shot a digital image of an entire shelf of books. Miss Vicky began erasing and replaced the text with clean portions of the spine. We then prompted her to lighten the image and by her nature she began to play. That's how we discovered THE LOOK! Vicky had turned the image to black & white (or rather shades of gray). Without adding text this time, we exported her new creation and began adding the menu bar, the logo, and the spiffy Flash portion for the lower right hand corner. The menu was no problem but the logo (being text) had to be inserted piecemeal and the Flash didn't work.

Why, was it something with The Gimp? No, it turned out to be a simple error--the jpeg background was not compatible with our idea and simply changing it to wallpaper solved the problem. See http://www.sellusyourbooks.com for Vicky's final result.

So, when we all stopped breathing down her neck, Vicky's response to The Gimp was: "It's okay, but I like Photoshop better." This free software program may take a little time to learn, but time is all you'll pay. Given the fact that you'd have to spend time to learn Photoshop as well, The Gimp proves to be a bargain. When given the choice of whether to buy Photoshop or continue with The Gimp and use the cash we saved to buy her a present, Vicky quickly learned to love (tolerate) The Gimp. Our Miss Vick can be seen here http://www.taxter.com/images/MVC-006S.JPG working in her spiffy new chair that rocks, rolls, and slides up and down.

How can The Gimp help the average online auction user? According to David Busch, who wrote the "Guerrilla Guide to Great Graphics with The Gimp," simple techniques of photo enhancement are available. You may want to improve your images for clarity. Blotches can be erased using the same technique Vicky employed to erase the lettering off the spines of books. You can isolate the item you want to sell from the other images in the photograph.

For example, you snap a photo of your 1992 Toyota that's seen better days. With The Gimp, you can eliminate the background completely, lighten the image and add text with arrows to point out the flaws the buyer needs to recognize.

Granted, you can live without The Gimp for most of your auction images. But the program is free and readily available. And this gives you the benefit of exploring options like creating better-looking ads, pages that are linked to ads, and more involved graphics.

How to Download The Gimp
Go to the Web site http://www.gimp.org
Click on the download portion of the menu
Go to the bottom of the list of countries and under the United States, choose ftp://ftp.cs.umn.edu/pub/gimp
On the next page, click on gimp, then choose win32 version
On the last page before the actual download, you'll choose gimp-setup-20001226.zip

Recommended Reading
"Grokking the Gimp" at http://www.gimp-savvy.com (a tutorial manual, also available through bookstores) Federico Mena-Quintero's Gimp Web site at http://luthien.nuclecu.unam.mx/~federico/gimp

About the author:

Edith Reynolds is a former newspaper and magazine writer. She and her husband Dan own an antiquarian bookstore, The John Bale Book Company in Waterbury, CT. For the past 10 years, they have specialized in early Americana and rare bindings. They are members of the ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers of America Association), ILAB (International League of Antiquarian Booksellers) and OAUA (Online Auction Users Association). Edith manages online sales. In addition to their bookstore, they sell on eBay and at book fairs. They will launch American Booksellers in January, an e-fulfillment center for online booksellers. Visit their Web sites, http://www.johnbalebooks.com and http://www.sellusyourbooks.com. eBay ID: BALEBOOKS

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