Mac users live in a 21st century paradise. Not only do we have the latest and greatest Macs– arguably the fastest ever, bristling with user beneficial features– but we have a veritable plethora of apps. It could be called the Golden Era of Mac apps.
The only dimple or pimple on that statement is the growing trend toward monthly rentals for apps. Adobe’s Photoshop and Microsoft’s Office 365 come to mind. You pay for use by the month or year.
Alright, there are plenty of alternatives. On the graphic design side there’s the highly capable and remarkably affordable Pixelmator. For Office users. Google Docs can be used for free (if you don’t mind someone looking through your documents and email all the time). Even Apple’s capable iWorks apps– Pages, Numbers, Keynote– are free for Mac, iPhone, iPad, and to Windows users on the web.
Back to graphic design and image editing. On a budget? Try GIMP for Mac. It’s free and absolutely packed with Photoshop-like and Pixelmator-like features, in an interface that would make 1999 very proud.
GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program and has a history dating back to the mid-1990s (Photoshop 1.0 shipped in early 1990 on the Mac). GIMP is a very good tool for any Mac user on a tight budget, or who wants to learn image editing without committing to Adobe’s new monthly rental scheme.
It’s an image editor, a photo enhancement app, a paint and drawing app, and a good start to learn image composition and photo retouching. The latest version runs on OS X Mavericks, but versions of GIMP on OS X go back to Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion, and Mountain Lion.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that GIMP is a visual mess of an app with features bolted onto a growing and cluttered interface that time forgot.
One feature I like that sets GIMP apart from Photoshop and Pixelmator is the all-in-one-window approach, sans the floating palettes so common today. GIMP for OS X can also be expanded and extended with a built-in plug-in and extension architecture, which seems to be useful for students and geek minded Mac users with extra time and not much money.
As tools and capability go, GIMP is very powerful, quite flexible, and oh so feature laden– and obviously priced right at free. It’s also very slow to manipulate much larger and more complex images (when compared to Photoshop or Pixelmator which can take advantage of the Mac’s built-in GPUs).
GIMP even has a few of the modern image editing buzzword features prevalent on commercial imaging apps, including noise reduction, liquid rescale, and focus-blur. There’s also support for RAW images using UFRaw.
Speaking of support, GIMP support is available on the SourceForge forums, and it might be a good idea to check out what problems users are having before trying to learn GIMP. If time is money you might find Pixelmator’s $15 price tag a bargain, even when competing against free.