Open source advent calendar: the image editing program Gimp

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This is an advent calendar for techies. In the fully commercialized digital world, almost everything belongs to a large Internet corporation. Their software is neither open nor free. As an alternative, there is this small island of the open source world: software whose code is publicly visible and can be independently checked for possible security gaps and backdoors. Software that can be freely used, distributed and improved. Often the drive for work is simply the joy of providing something useful to society.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1st to December 24th. These are about the functions of the respective software, the pitfalls, the history, the background and the financing. Some projects are backed by an individual, others by a loosely organized community, a tightly managed foundation with full-time employees or a consortium. The work is done entirely on a voluntary basis, or it is financed through donations, cooperation with Internet companies, government funding or an open source business model. Regardless of whether it is a single application or a complex ecosystem, whether a PC program, app or operating system – the diversity of open source is overwhelming.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1st to December 24th. These are about the functions of the respective software, the pitfalls, the history, the background and the financing.

Gimp does not have a formal structure and is supported by a loose community. One of the key people in the project is a bookseller from the Allgäu.

Schnipp Schnapp: With Gimp, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, you can crop holiday photos with just a few clicks and little graphic know-how. The PC program also enables complex image processing. Gimp is under a GNU GPLv3 license. There is no smartphone version, and there is none in the pipeline, says Michael Natterer, one of the main developers.

He cannot provide figures on the distribution. You don’t record them, nor can he say anything about download numbers. They would have little informative value anyway, since Gimp is by default from one of the external Mirror-Server downloaded and delivered independently from various Linux operating systems as part of the respective software packages. The project assumes that Gimp is widespread.

Almost all open source projects include some organization that at least accepts donations and holds the trademark rights. There is no formal structure whatsoever at Gimp, explains Natterer in an interview with heise online. The community is only held together by working together. donate accepts the US Gnome Foundation for Gimp. Via the Liberapay donation subscription platform receives Gimp around 100 euros per week out of 160 regular sponsors.

Alternatively, you can donate directly to three community members who on current projects work. An overview on Gimp.org lists 371 people “who made Gimp possible”: 323 people contributed code, 15 worked on the design and 29 on the documentation. However, these are all who have contributed something at some point in the 25-year history, says Natterer. The size of the currently active community is in the low double-digit range.

There is no central point of contact for the community. A lot of communication runs through IRC chat channels. There are also some forums. Plays a special role Pixls.us. The maintainer of the forum, which deals with the intersection of photography and open source software, has also been active at Gimp for a long time. The core community, usually five to ten people, meets once or twice a year. In normal times, at least: The pandemic is also frustrating for the Gimp project, complains Natterer. These real-life meetings have simply been missing for almost two years.

Like many open source programs, Gimp began as a university project. It was invented by Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis, two computer science students at the University of California, Berkeley. Not in 1995 they announced Gimp in various newsgroups as a free alternative to the commercial and paid Adobe Photoshop program.

In February 1995 a first, as yet unfinished beta version appeared, which they continuously developed. In June 1998 it was Version 1.0 ready. The two fathers of the software had withdrawn from the project shortly before.

Michael Natterer, who has been with Gimp since the early days, is named as one of the two main developers on the Gimp website. Natterer lives in the Baden-Württemberg town of Wangen im Allgäu and is a bookseller.

His career with the Gimp program also began during his student days. He just used it, discovered a bug and downloaded the source code according to the motto “Can’t be that difficult”: “Hours later a patch was ready and that was my first Gimp hack. In the following semester break I then signed up as Volunteer registered (‘Give me something to do’). And bang – I was there. “

The work on the series of articles is based in part on a “Neustart Kultur” grant from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, awarded by VG Wort.

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