Open source, open wounds!

by Joe Gillespie — Jun 1, 2004

Last month's review of MacGimp stirred up quite a hornet's nest. Someone put a link to it on slashdot.org and it opened up a long and heated debate about the GIMP, graphics editor and open source software in general.

Some of that debate spilled over onto the WPDFD Forum and varied between total agreement with my review to immature rantings about how awful Mac OS is – "Hey, real men use Linux and drive their kids to school in a Mack truck!". Somewhere in-between, there was a lot of serious discussion about the pros and cons of the open source philosophy and strong views about graphic editing programs.

The MacGimp I reviewed was based upon the GIMP, an open source software started, like many others, as a college or university project. It was then opened up for people to download, modify, and fold back into the mix. This is also how Mozilla and Firefox were developed along with many other programs that are trying to compete with their more expensive, commercial counterparts.

Open source software seems to be strongly rooted in the UNIX/Linux culture and then filters out onto Windows and Mac OS. Sometimes the 'ports' of the software are fine-tuned to the target platform and sometimes not.

To me, Mozilla is a Mac OS application. It looks and behaves like other Mac programs and I prefer it to any other browser because it suits my 'Web design' purposes admirably. It's probably too complicated for the average surfer – that's why there is Netscape.

Mozilla is a triumph for open source and puts many 'commercial' programs to shame. Thanks to a band of stalwart programmers, it is honed to perfection and runs on virtually all modern operating systems and costs nothing to the end user.

The GIMP is also produced by a group of enthusiasts. Unlike Mozilla, however, it is not fine-tuned to Mac OS and seems inextricably ensconced in the Linux way of doing things – which is fine for people who use Linux but a culture shock for Mac users.

The other problem is that it doesn't stand up to the commercial competition. If you hand a violin to non-violin player and ask them if it a good one or not, how can they possibly make a meaningful judgement? They might offer an opinion but it won't have the same value as that of an expert violinist. The same goes for graphics programs. It is not enough to get the 'mechanics' right, the beauty is in the detail. The same detail that makes a traditional artist prefer one particular paintbrush above all others.

Open source producers need to do more research – that's where the commercial companies have a great advantage. Praise from other programmers is all very well but what about people who are highly demanding in their business needs and care nothing about operating systems or hardware minutiae. They have jobs to do and need good tools to help do them.

That, in the end, is all that matters. If it costs money, it’s an investment, not an expense. A few months or years down the line, the fact that a piece of software was initially free pales into insignificance if it was not the best tool for the job.

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