dinsdag 20 november 2012

GIMP 2.8 gripes

I have used Photoshop since one of the early versions when it came as a freebie with a UMAX flatbed scanner (yes, a time when Photoshop was given away for free, I am that old). When the price of Photoshop started rising to astronomical levels and when I started using Linux more often, I tried GIMP and gradually became accustomed to its unusual interface. It did most of what I required, except higher bit-depth editing. Eventually I almost completely ditched Photoshop and do pretty much everything in GIMP.

Now I have been using GIMP for years, and I have seen it evolve. This evolution was always gradual and most of the time it was subtle between versions. With version 2.8 however, there are some not so subtle changes and some of those rub me in a pretty wrong way:
  1. The sliders: there are many, many people complaining about these. They are completely non-intuitive. Apparently the sliders are invisibly divided in different regions that cause different behaviour, which has to be guessed from the cryptic changing arrow cursors. I refuse to follow a tutorial or read a manual just to use something essential as a slider. And what's up with stuffing the text display inside the slider? These things violate the KISS principle in a way that makes me hurl and would make Steve Jobs cry. I simply gave up and now always enter the numbers manually, which also requires quite a bit of skill because of the risk of grabbing the sliders instead of clicking the editable text.
  2. Brush size: previously, absolute brush size depended on two factors: their actual size (radius or bitmap size) in the preset, and a scale factor in the brush settings. The upside of this was that it was possible to create presets for commonly used brush sizes. Simply click a brush and off you go, if you wanted a custom size then adjust with the scale slider. What they now did is decouple the radius from the presets: each brush shape is normalised to one-pixel radius. Defining three circles at radii of 5, 10, and 20, is almost pointless because those three brushes will behave identically. The size must be set manually with — yes indeed — the awkward sliders, each and every time a different brush size is required. What used to be as simple as clicking one preset in the palette has now become: a) clicking the desired shape in the palette, b) having a go at the horrible sliders and giving up, c) trying the up/down buttons and giving up because they use ridiculous 0.01 size increments, c) having a fight with the slider to obtain access to the size edit field, d) typing the desired size. After some experimenting I found out that for brush shapes that do not fit in a square, the radius is determined by their largest dimension. For instance, to paint a brush shape defined at 24×35 pixels at its original size, the size must be set to 35. Now, the radius or bitmap size in the preset has not become entirely useless. There is a small obscure button to the right of the size field that will set the brush to its ‘native’ radius. Hence the old behaviour can be mimicked with two clicks. This may not seem like a big deal but I heavily rely on pixel-accurate brush presets for a lot of my editing. I am already annoyed by the amount of clicking around I need to do in GIMP, therefore every additional click is an added nuisance. My suggestion: clicking a brush preset while holding some modifier key (shift, alt, …) should both select the brush and set it to its native size.
  3. The default brush is the clipboard brush: I almost never use the clipboard brush and if nothing was copied, nothing is brushed. And of course, if something is in the clipboard it is rescaled to the default size of 20 pixels thanks to what I described above! Doesn't it make a lot more sense to select the plain circular brush upon starting GIMP?
  4. Separate save and export: the ‘save’ dialog now only allows to save in GIMP-specific formats. For all the rest, a different dialog called ‘export’ is needed. The point is, this dialog is identical in design and function to the save dialog, only it needs to be accessed from a different menu item. What is the point of this? Hidden propaganda for the XCF format?
  5. Brush dynamics: to replicate the old “fade out” feature, I had to take a journey through many unintuitive windows. Eventually I arrived at something that behaves like the old fade, only it felt like I had to configure things backwards to make it work. I guess the new dynamics controls are an improvement if I would actually have something with pressure sensitive input, but was it too much asked to add a simple ready-to-use preset that mimics the simple old “fade out”?
  6. Weird tool behaviour: sometimes the ‘move’ tool suddenly switches to path mode, which makes me wonder why I cannot move anything until I look at the tool window, or the ‘select’ tool switches to subtract mode for reasons unknown. There are other weird things like the arrow keys suddenly acting as “zoom in/out” even when the move tool is active. It seems like there are hidden key bindings and hidden states. One of the things I dislike about GIMP compared to Photoshop is that I often have to mash my keyboard and mouse just to do a few simple things that required one keypress and one mouse click in Photoshop, because in GIMP keys behave differently depending on what window in the interface has focus. With this version, this dependency on contexts only seems to have got worse.
  7. Fuzzy select: I have always found the ability to adjust the threshold on-the-fly of the magic wand (fuzzy select) or similar colour tools to be one of the greatest features that sets GIMP apart from other editors. The way in which the selected regions are highlighted has now changed however, with two consequences: one, unless when zoomed in single-pixel regions are not visible in the selection. This is very annoying because I often use these tools to detect and remove single-pixel noise. Second, the updating of the selected area when changing the threshold has become horribly slow. I cannot tell whether this is inherent to the new system or due to the slow display update bug in the OS X version, but it has made working with these tools a hassle.
The whole redesign gives me the impression that a few newcomers have joined the project and imposed their specific ideas of image editing upon everyone. My impression is corroborated by reports from other people who say that the developers, apparently in a bout of arrogance, feel that GIMP 2.8 is perfect and everyone who dislikes the new design is a noobish amateur. I guess I must also be a n00b with my more than eighteen years of graphics editing experience.

Of course there are some plus points as well to the new version, like a native Mac OS X build, the text editing system, and layer groups. If only there was an option to switch back to plain sliders, and to instantly set brush size to the native radius when choosing a preset, then I would happily adapt to the few other minor things that bug me — if the obvious bugs would get solved too.

I also experience very slow canvas redraws for large images and when using the magic wand tool, but I suspect this to be a bug in the OS X build.

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