Giving up the GIMP is a sign of Ubuntu’s mainstream maturity

During a planning session at the Ubuntu Developer Summit last week, a decision emerged to remove the GIMP from the default Ubuntu installation. Although this decision has generated a bit of controversy, it's a sign of Ubuntu's growing maturity as a mainstream platform for regular users. As a participant who attended the session in person, I want to shed some light on how and why the decision was made.

Canonical hosted its biannual Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS) last week in Dallas, Texas. I was one of many open source software developers who attended the event and participated in the collaborative process of planning Ubuntu 10.04, the next version of the popular Linux distribution.

An important part of the 10.04 roadmap that emerged during UDS is a tentative plan to remove the GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Tool, from the default Ubuntu installation. Although this decision is viewed by some as controversial, the reasoning behind it is valid. The removal of a niche professional graphics editing tool reflects Ubuntu's growing maturity as a mainstream platform for regular users.

How UDS works

Ubuntu adheres to a six-month development cycle that follows the GNOME release schedule. At the start of each cycle, Canonical hosts a developer summit that brings together its own team, a multitude of community contributors, and upstream developers from prominent open-source software projects. The event primarily consists of planning sessions that address specific features or technical issues. Proposed changes to the platform are described in "blueprint" pages on the Launchpad development site.

During each session, participants flesh out the blueprint and take notes in a shared document that is written with Gobby, a collaborative text editor. Remote participants who are not in the actual room can still be involved in the process by accessing the Gobby document, connecting to an IRC channel for the session, and listening to a live audio stream of the discussion. To understand how many Ubuntu development decisions are made at UDS, it's important to recognize that the process is extremely inclusive and transparent. The event is open to everyone who wants to be involved.

The decision to remove the GIMP was made during a morning session last Wednesday called "Application selection in the default install." The session itself was videotaped, so you can actually watch the discussion for yourself. I was there in person, along with a few upstream GNOME developers and many members of the Ubuntu community. There were also several people who took part in the discussion remotely through the IRC channel.

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28 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    I’ve been using Ubuntu as my main OS since Intrepid, I have opened GIMP maybe about, 5 times. Once just to see what it was, and the other four were just accidental mis-clicks.

    From my understanding people think it is great for what it does, but it’s definitely more for the professional user or photo-manipulator. I’m more of a cut’n’crop and paint user and most probably are.

  2. Neojames says:

    They are supporting f-spot? I use gimp regually as a amateur photographer and f-spot barley cuts it as a basic editor. Even the windows live gallery has more features and is easier to use! While I understand (sort-of) the removal of gimp, they may as well replace f-spot as well!

  3. J says:

    Part of the appeal of Ubuntu is that it has a complete desktop suite right out of the box, as opposed to a windows installation which is unusable until you’ve spent hours downloading/installing firefox, msoffice or openoffice, itunes, etc. Why would getting rid of that indicate maturity.

    I don’t know why I care. Karmic was bad enough that I’ve already switched back to debian. The only ‘l’ release I’ll be using is lenny.

  4. bruno says:

    totally agree!

  5. Anon says:

    I don’t mind much, as long as it is available though the standard repositories it’s not like it makes much of a difference.
    GIMP is a terribly bad application, confusing to newcomers and experts alike, you don’t use the GIMP unless you have a need for it. It will help the mainstream view of Ubuntu to hide it from plain sight.
    I can only find real value in GIMP for some careful resizing/cutting work, some plugins and it works surprisingly well for pixel artwork, interestingly, but it’s a mess of a program with good internals but terrible external work, and the 2.7 branch manages to be more irritating.
    Keeping it by default by 2.7 will cause a lot of trouble since GIMP will save XCF by default. Imagine an average user trying to mail XCF as if it was JPG to a Windows using friend. Complaints ensue. Because 2.7 saves XCF by default and you need to “Export” to other formats. No regular computer user will get that.

    I am personally more concerned about Pidgin being removed from default since it works mostly well saving for the obvious (camera, etc), but it was just a few clicks away into Synaptic.

  6. Brett says:

    Someone needs to talk Google into opening up Picasa so they can use that as their default. Picasa beats f-spot hands down. (or at the very least add the google Picasa std and test repo’s as third party repos) That way people will at least hopefully quit just downloading .deb’s to install from.

  7. dfb says:

    You do not address whether there are other default image editing tools that Ubuntu will install by default and direct people to use. I dislike F-Spot for image editing so I hope you won’t say that it will be the default tool.

    I happen to think the default install needs to always have: 1) office suite; 2) image editing; 3) music and video player; and 4) browser.

  8. RZ says:

    I agree with other posters that f-spot should go, it is a neverending nightmare to use.

    Gimp is really nice and it would be perfect if someone could figure out a more intuitive user interface.

  9. Pipps says:

    I think this was the right decision.

  10. Vladimir Boyd says:

    how does that relate to maturity? When puberty hits you, that’s time to talk about maturity.
    I am starting to think that Canonical is serious about putting Ubuntu up there with the M$ and Mac. Mainstream Ubuntu OS?
    We shall notice more changes to the OS, as it becomes “more-like-the-OS-for-Window$-users”. It all comes down to market share and not the community. Yeah, sure, F-spot is exactly what the n00bs want – easy to use, sizing-cropping and uploading to Faceb00k. Not once, did I need to use something like GIMP and thought to myself “thank goodness it was there”.
    At the end of the day it is all about market share, advertising and money. Note, there will be more casualties to come.

    J’s right, I am myself still using 9.04 (9.10 no good) and have successfully tested Debian on my machine. I am not even sure why I bother with Ubuntu anymore. Debian guys, Debian.

    P.S. Debian base install rocks!!!

  11. 02134 says:

    GIMP is an excellent photo editor for people familiar with Photoshop. It’s the main reason I switched to Ubuntu from Vista, but if it’s gone I’ll go back to Windows or another Linux distro.

  12. Sunng says:

    It’s quite a right choice to remove gimp from default install, but how about adding PiTiVi?

    Just replace gimp with a more professional and huge video editor? I cannot understand why.

  13. mee says:

    I switched to sidux, because iam pissed off. I dont want a music store, i dont want ubuntu-one but i want gimp. Ubuntu 9.10 sucks, because it is unstable. Ubuntu is really to much mainstream distro.

  14. MarcoA says:

    I can understand the reasons to remove Gimp from the default installation: it’s “a niche professional graphics editing tool”.

    So… what?
    For the same reasons I expect:
    – to be replaced by AbiWord+Gnumeric, because it’s a niche professional DTP tool;
    – Evolution to be replaced by Thunderbird, because it’s a professional mail client.
    – …

    I imagine they won’t be removed: so I see that the real reason is to made Ubuntu a SOHO Linux distribution.
    It’s a choice. Just tell us clearly.

  15. Linux Advocate says:

    Removing The Gimp is the absolute worst idea Canonical has come up with since agreeing to replace Pidgin with Empathy, which doesnt even WORK. It is painfully obvious and absolutely NON Arguable that Canonical has no idea whatsoever what the people actually want or need. Replacing The Gimp with F-Spot is akin to Replacing your Refridgerator with a Microwave. They are entirely different applications.

    Bad move Canonical .. bad move.

  16. Simon B. says:

    Stop complaining of lack of Gimp already. IF Ubuntu is *too* newbie-friendly for your taste, then get a more hard-to-get-started-with distro, or just roll your own. Or, Linus forbid, you could perhaps add Gimp manually.

    The idea about making a Simple view of Gimp as standard is also interesting.
    And Saving by default as PNG or JPG if no layers have been created could be a great idea. It could upgrade itself to a XCF file when the need arises, and save the user from being forced (assuming you use Gimp to make material to be used, not only to be kept in Gimp forever) to keep two files as the default behaviour.

  17. Vladimir Boyd says:

    I believe we are just warming up here 😉
    In fact, I think Ubuntu is the least n00b-friendly OS out there, due to its multiple bugs and crapy default packages (DEPENDENCIES). Linux Advocate is right, Empathy was a terrible move. Together with the whole of 9.10 release actually. If Canonical wants everything to work out of the box, then Empathy is losing to Pidgin hands down.
    Gimp is indeed an advocate for freedom of software. It is terrible idea of having GIMP on your netbook, but with computer hardware we use today I personally don’t even notice the presence of GIMP on my system. Perhaps it is just me – a geek with lots of disk space 🙂
    More of these bad moves to come and it ain’t looking good thus far. Are Canonical really becoming more product-oriented? What about the community then?

    P.S. I liked the following: ‘we [developers] got together, we did not listen to many users and we decided it would be a splendid idea to remove GIMP. Our selection process is open and transparent.’ Yeah, right!

  18. Simon B. says:

    Main topic GIMP: Can someone find the data of how many *Ubuntu users* actually use GIMP, compared to Firefox and the photo viewers? Google fails me.

    Second topic: Bugs. How is this measured? Average number of bugs seen per month? Is there some crash counter data available on this?

    (I used Ubuntu for a couple months, now on Vista.)

  19. Vladimir Boyd says:

    Main topic would be Ubuntu’s mainstream “maturity”. Who cares about what package was removed, it could have been another package altogether. Look at the whole roadmap of Ubuntu – where are Canonical heading? Where does that leave those who love 8.10 and 9.04? Are we going to be “surprised” if any other (likes of GIMP, Pidgin, etc) packages should be removed later on?

    How do we measure who is who? who do you consider Ubuntu user: those with XP dualboot, xp VirtualBox, any other dualboot OS, those who come and then go? Measuring such thing, as well as the ones Simon B. mentioned, is going to be tricky. Besides, GIMP, firefox, f-spot can’t even be compared – Linux Advocate: ‘ They are entirely different applications. ‘ How many times has anyone played Klotski? yet it is still a default app.

    Ok, about 9900 bugs for Jaunty since it was released, and 12 000 for Karmic SINCE IT WAS RELEASED! i used Launchpad to search for Jaunty and Karmic bugs. Of course it is not precise, but I think webmasters at Launchpad should release some proper stats (excluding repeated bugs, etc.)

    to repeat the point made earlier, it is not what was removed that’s important, it is what do we expect from our Ubuntu OS in the future.

    Simon B. I am not surprised you had gone back to Vista. No one can blame you. I hope you would consider moving back to Linux, but I am not sure if I’d be advising Ubuntu at this stage 🙂

    We need to open up a prediction website for Ubuntu, and I reckon GIMP is going to die out slowly. I think a number of other OS had dropped it already. I certainly hope that we won’t have a herd ( for GNU lovers 😉 ) of distros walking slowly after Google and it’s idea of cloud computing.

    Soz for the rant which takes up a lot of space 😉

  20. Simon B. says:

    I’ve lived with C64,CP/M,DOS 5-7,Slackware,Win, a bite of OS/2 Warp and BeOS, Win XP, Mandriva, then Ubuntu. And Win2k and Vista due to work and usability. Windows is _not_ for beginners. I still beleive Ubuntu can and will be for both, and it’s what I’ll work towards. There are tons of ways Ubuntu can outmatch Vista/Win7. The effort to squash the 100 most occurring bugs/forum support questions is a good start.

    Existing Ubuntu users&lovers; why do you need GIMP default-installed? Do you expect to loose a lot of bugfixing due to lowered install base ~ usage?

    Bugginess: Eyeballs ~ bugreports? Just count the amount of bugs as seen by users? Save for later(tm) on how to balance user categories, which would involve decisions about the Ubuntu roadmap.
    I get emails when my users hit a bug. MS, G, perhaps others, collect data on feature usage and bug/crash reports.
    BTW, UDS Application choosing session shows a core ubuntu user being “angry” at his computer. Does ubuntu get in your face? Then file it in the “100 worst issues” place (I forgot its name for now).

    According to 2yrs GIMP studying, referenced on UDS – the researcher says “most ppl use GIMP for 10 minutes at a time, and typically using 6 commands”. If its the 6 same commands all the time, then these users should use a simpler, more easy to use and less in your face software.

  21. russthered says:

    I use the GIMP, Ufraw and a couple of plugins for all my photo needs. Does what it says on the tin.

    Still as long as it’s in the repositories one can’t really complain.

  22. Vladimir Boyd says:

    due to lack of gui config tools in ubuntu, a new ubuntu user will search google for answers. most of them require you to launch a terminal. hm, not that i remember using cmd in vista a lot.
    new users find it off-putting, since they are not used to it.

    any data collection process shall be hampered by statistical inaccuracies. it is an empty talk if none of us have any data to back our views.

    Existing Ubuntu users&lovers: why do you need Rhythmbox default-installed?
    ah, just do the base install and then add software on top of it all, window$ users do exactly that. why should “mainstream ubuntu” be any different?
    Simon B. thanks for the video link. 100 papercuts is a good idea, but isn’t it what debian developers are doing. of course, cracking on 100-most issues and having an up-to-date system is good, but there is a possibility of 100 papercuts being dropped altogether.

    how else is anyone going to know about the bugs if the bugs aren’t seen by users? doesn’t a good user experience, which relies on as little bugginess as possible, count in your books??? ‘eyeballs~popped’

    it’s gone anyway. arguing about this is to fuel further controversy. a nice psychological trick by Canonical, i suppose. as long as it is still buzzing on the net, it will generate publicity. which will eventually lead to more window$ users migrating to ubu. those ones will dictate what’s good for Ubuntu and what its roadmap should look like. ooops, that’s getting ahead of myself 😉

  23. Michael says:

    GIMP is a powerful program and one that I prefer using over my thousand dollar plus installation of Adobe CS, which, frankly, was a financial mistake in my situation.

    It definitely isn’t for beginners; it’s barely for experts.

    While I’m annoyed at the decision to remove it I do understand the rationale.

    FSpot, or something like it, is exactly what mainstream users need.

  24. Simon B. says:

    I continue watching UDS vids; apparently they’re releasing an API into Launchpad, @30m into Perhaps some numbers are available from there.

    I’m also curious, what are the differences in what a beginner and an expert want from their software? Or ~”Why not use a Mac?” => It’s too locked down, and some basic software might be too limited for the expert user. Is there a “middle way”?
    I switched to Chrome/Chromium ASAP since it stays “out of my face”. I propose modelling more software to the ideas “text as UI” and “less is more”, but then I’m pro cloud-computing. About owning my own data; I just make sure to have the same stuff on several machines as well as in the cloud. For privacy, data should be stored in encrypted form both locally and cloud-stored, but HTTP still lacks encryption

  25. Vladimir Boyd says:

    I guess beginners and experts would want to have a more or less functioning system which offers productivity and connectivity. Once again, it would be very difficult to break down users into categories.

    I must say that “less is more” is a great idea. That’s where F-spot comes in. Yet sometimes productiveness can’t be achieved without packages like GIMP. It is sad to see it go, but we’ll have to make peace with it.

    As far as cloud computing’s concerned, some of my research has to be saved on my local machine, which offers a little more security than HTT Protocols, as Simon B. mentioned.

    That was a great discussion, keep it up 😉

  26. James King says:

    Well, from my perspective, I’ve installed Karmic and switched from Vista after being a longtime MacOS user (and still happy with OS X). So far, all but one thing has worked “out of the box”: I have an external 3G modem that freezes the computer every time it’s inserted. Installing and uninstalling software is easy for me. One of the programs I was holding on to Mac/Win for, Finale, works for my needs within Wine without any issues. I haven’t used Ardour yet, but transferring from Logic Express to Ardour shouldn’t be rocket science. I am pleased with the speed of the system compared to Vista.

  27. tz says:

    The anagram of F-Stop is suffering from a severe case of mono so shouldn’t be a replacement even if it worked. I would note they also need to dump Tomboy. Unless they want to get caught in Microsoft’s net.

    But they are NOT “Giving up on GIMP” – the title is inflammatory. As the ability to install extra things gets easier, the larger, more specific, and complex packages will be moved there. I use xpaint and gpaint for a lot of things, and the gthumb does the basics. And as mentioned, Picasa if you need something like iPhoto.

    The question is whether the complexity and size of the GIMP justifies its inclusion in the limited size default install.

    I have a list of packages (dpkg –get-selections with some sediting) which I add to the install – some/many from medibuntu which are never going to be on the default install.

    I suppose if there were a network post-install
    “popular program” meta-package it would be included there.

  28. Elmo says:

    I love GIMP – use it all the time – and I like Ubuntu enough to spend the five mins tops it will take me to put GIMP on my machine manually..

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