GIMP stands for “GNU Image Manipulation Program”, a self-explanatory name for an application that processes digital graphics and is part of the GNU Project, meaning that it follows the GNU standards and is released under the GNU General Public License, version 3 or later, to ensure maximum protection of users' freedom. It can be used both as a simple tool for basic painting and drawing and as a powerful program for complex tasks such as advanced photo retouching, digital image composition, editing and animation, as well as authoring of original art. Apart from the usual features included in similar programs, GIMP displays an array of highly sophisticated options aimed at computer graphics professionals. It is also multi-platform, and it handles a wide range of formats plus format conversion.
Who's Using It and How
The GIMP is used by a large number of artists, amateurs, Web developers, educators. At school it is a handy tool that assists students and teachers in the preparation of graphic materials for slides, handouts, the school's Web site or bulletin and similar projects.
French artist Isabel Saij describes how she uses GIMP for her work:
“It's a program I use for different works: photo manipulation (mixing images together), drawings (my 'digital fragments' in relation to my 'real fragments' made on paper), teaching to teenagers, preparing images for video, etc.). In other words, one of my favorite programs.”
There are many interesting examples of how this program is put to use by professionals and amateurs alike to effectively bring to life their ideas without giving up their freedom as computer users. Among those, there is one that goes beyond the ordinary.
How GIMP changed Mani's life.
Mani began his journey towards liberation from social constraints as an enthusiastic and talented teenager. His awareness and commitment to freedom led him to actively participate in the formation of a grassroots volunteer group in 2007, with the goal of introducing computer knowledge in his slum area in Bangalore through the use of freedom-respecting software. This brought sustained improvement to his community and ultimately a radical turn in his own life.
The group set up a Free Software computer lab in the slum dwelling and Mani learned fast, becoming a teacher himself to help his peers develop better skills in the use of the various applications. He soon acquired a mastery of the advanced techniques of GIMP, and, combining technical knowledge with innate artistic abilities, he produced graphical art that he exhibited and sold. The following three-minutes video portrays Mani's endeavor to learn Free Software.
(Note to the hearing impaired: the only audio in this video is the soundtrack, which is a piano version of the Free Software Song. A written description of the video is available for the visually impaired).
Watch and download the video as Ogg Theora at a higher resolution.
At the time of writing (March 2012) Mani is a student of Computer Science in Bangalore. He says:
“First I need to say thanks to the Free Software movement, it allowed me to start learning GIMP. It was my first achievement in life, and I sold many paintings at a Free Software conference. Later I started displaying my works in many conferences. Because of GIMP, my painting skills are brought out to the world. As you know, our talents are usually ignored by the world. Our aims in the community are: to share software and knowledge, to learn from each other; to promote the Free Software ethical values and raise awareness about the importance of software freedom in a marginalized social environment; to empower the poor with computer knowledge. We want to replicate our model, we are already running three computer centers in other slums in the area.”
Richard Stallman's comment on this case:
“I am more proud that GNU has been adopted by Indian Dalits than of its use by famous corporations.”
The interests of nonfree software developers are at odds with the needs of users from all segments of society, given that they deny basic human values such as collaboration and sharing. Proprietary software companies deem irrelevant to their profit goals the damage that their policies cause to users of their products.
In complex social structures such as that of India, exclusion of the underprivileged from access to information technologies is just one of the multiple instances of discrimination this sector of society faces at many levels: healthcare, housing, education, employment, to name a few. Over time, these vulnerable groups have attained a high degree of awareness about the importance of mutual collaboration, a basic human value often forgotten or even dismissed among the educated and affluent spheres of society in all cultures. The principles of sharing and reciprocal concern are deeply rooted in these communities and constitute valuable assets in their struggle for survival. The social bond among its members is solid and strong, a bulwark against the incursion of additional sources of exclusion.
In that scenario, the introduction of proprietary software would not be accepted by these socially committed people since that would result in the imposition of further restrictions on them as computer users. They would not refrain from installing the software in as many computers as needed or use it as they please, they would not give up their right to access knowledge by studying how computer programs work, they would not sign away their right to modify or distribute the programs and, above all, they would not give up their right to share copies with their neighbors. All of these freedoms are granted to them only by Free Software.
The restrictions imposed on users by proprietary software developers serve to attack other layers of society as well, specially the upper spending classes, since those are their main target. Artists and computer graphics professionals often get trapped in perpetual dependency from a company that may decide at any moment to discontinue the product if it is not profitable any longer; or it may decide to introduce updates that run only on specific platforms —most likely nonfree. So users have no choice but to keep the old version of the program or else invest in a new operating system.
Isabel Saij explains why she decided to break free from the trap by adopting Free Software:
“With proprietary programs the artist is at the mercy of the software development company. Early in 2003 I used LiveMotion to design my digital 2D and 3D works with interactive pieces. Later that year the company decided to discontinue it so I was left without support for a piece of software on which I had spent my money and my time to learn how to use it. Moreover, whenever proprietary software developers decide to introduce new functionalities, you have to buy an update which often runs on the latest versions of proprietary operating systems only. So you are stuck in a vicious circle completely helpless. It’s frustrating and there’s nothing you can do about it. With Free Software, good projects never die due to the community being able to access the code. Someone else can come along and continue developing the software.”
The introduction of Free Software in the slum removed the barriers that prevented this marginalized sector of society from accessing knowledge in the field of information technology. It provided these people with the opportunity to unfold innate capabilities that would otherwise have never come to surface. This newly discovered intellectual richness brings benefit and progress not only to the involved individuals themselves and to the local community but to society as a whole, since they have learned how to overcome the detrimental effects of unjust global economic policies and are now ready for a productive life.
With Free Software, users received all the benefits of digital education without being constrained to compromise their principles. The ethical values of Free Software are in line with and sustain those principles: not only were people free to use the software as they wished, install it in as many machines as they wished, but they were encouraged to copy it and share it with their neighbors in solidarity. Mani has become an artist using GIMP and a student of Computer Science; by now, he has acquired enough knowledge to study the source code and to modify it to meet the needs of his community, if necessary. Software freedom results in redistribution of intellectual and economic wealth, which is not possible where access to knowledge is restricted.
In less disadvantaged contexts, users of GIMP have benefited from software freedom in many ways. They are no longer subject to arbitrary decisions by proprietary software companies; instead, they belong to a large and strong community where developers do care about their needs and fellow users provide additional support. Apart from the official manuals and tutorials, enthusiastic users publish lots of instructional materials and, due to the availability of the source code, those with programming skills have contributed a number of plug-ins to enhance the performance of the application.
As a free program under the GNU GPL version 3 or later, no arbitrary decision by developers can ever stop the advancement of GIMP nor can the program be made proprietary.