GIMP has always been a decent, free alternative to Photoshop if you need some quick and dirty PS work done. But my problem with GIMP is that the program itself always felt so quick and dirty. Sure, it’s free, but I’ve never really been a fan. With GIMP 2.8, finally the program looks like it’s a “real” piece of photo manipulation software. 2.8 has a new, unified window interface, so no more floating panels all over as well as some new bells and whistles.
The single-window mode offers a user experience that feels more streamlined and less cluttered. It makes the GIMP easier to manage and simpler to use. It has a number of limitations, however, that might prove troubling to intensive users. For example, there doesn’t appear to be a way to snap content tabs out of the main window or split the content area, which means that users won’t be able to view multiple images at the same time.
In addition to the single-window mode, the GIMP also gained a number of other design and usability improvements. The title bar on the floating palette windows was removed and the associated configuration button was sucked up into the tab bar. Although it’s a minor change, it cuts down on some of the space waste in the palette layout.
Another modest usability improvement comes in the form of a new design for spin buttons, the user interface control that displays adjustable numerical values. The new spin buttons are larger and have a colored fill that indicates the level of their value. In addition to the traditional means of adjustment (direct keyboard input and clickable up/down arrow buttons) the widget’s value can be configured by clicking and dragging back and forth inside of the fill area. This change will make the spin buttons easier to operate with touchscreen stylus input devices, which are commonly used by artists.
In an effort to improve the GIMP’s predictability, the developers worked to simplify the file saving workflow. The application’s “Save” feature can now only save images in the GIMP’s native XCF format. Generating output in any other format is now an “export” operation. The change is sensible because the XCF format is obviously the only one that will actually preserve all of the document state characteristics that users require for works-in-progress.
Alongside the interface changes, GIMP 2.8 introduces a number of major feature improvements. Most notably, support for nested layer groups. This will give artists more flexibility over how they structure their work. Another major functional improvement is the new canvas-based text editing support, a feature that is sure to please the lolcat crafting masses.
Right now, GIMP 2.8 is only available as source code, if you’re up to compiling yourself. You can get the source here.
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