Saturday, July 16, 2005

Idea: Open Source Image Suite

I've been thinking over an idea in my mind for a few days now for a project that is probably beyond what I could do, due to having done very little work with graphics before, but which I still think would be a great benefit to the world of computing. I'll go slowly so that non-geeks can hopefully follow this.

Consider two software packages: Firefox and Eclipse. Firefox is an open source web browser that if you have not tried, you really should. It's far ahead of Microsoft's Internet Explorer with security, and allows for adding extensions written by anyone to give you far more power and more features than you can imagine. Seriously, you need to go and try it out. It's really lightweight (it doesn't use lots of memory) and is just so nice.

Eclipse may be less familiar, especially if you're not a coder. It's an IDE (Integrated Development Environment), which means it lets you write code, run it, debug it, and lots more from within a single program. Eclipse is quite special because it's open source too and so is free to download, and it's designed to allow anyone to write plug-ins for it, similar to Firefox's extensions.

Open source software is becoming more and more common in IT, and there's good reason for this beyond penny-pinching. If more people can see the code behind the scenes, there's more chance of bugs being spotted and fixed. This makes the software more robust and secure. This is all very good, and there's far more to be said for OS software that I won't go into, but it fails to address the financial side of things: how do the people who wrote and maintain Eclipse get paid?

One source of revenue for the Eclipse team comes from the plug-ins written for the system. If someone wants to charge people to use their plug-in, Eclipse get a cut of whatever they charge. Using this model, everyone can use Eclipse for free, and if you want extra functionality, you can get that too, and you might have to pay for it, but you only pay for the plug-ins you want.

As a counter example, consider Microsoft Word. Around the 2000 version Microsoft added Auto-complete (suggesting how to finish a half-typed word) to Word. The cost of coding and testing that feature would be included in the price of every copy of Word 2000 sold. Auto-complete was probably a feature requested by some of Word's previous users, but not all of them. A lot of people would be happy to pay a little less for Word if it came without Auto-complete, but that isn't an option. So with Eclipse's model, users pay for exactly the features they want, and plug-ins are only made for features there is a demand for, not for pointless additions like a talking paperclip that no-one would pay money for (unless you have a passion for living stationery and want to let others share your passion, in which case you'd make the "Talking Staple" plug-in open source too).

So where is all this going? Well I've always wanted a fairly powerful Image/Photo editing suite, but don't want to pay hundreds of pounds for it. I'm not asking for much functionality: something above MS Paint (which I don't think has changed significantly since Windows 95), but not with all the fancy filters and effects available with Photoshop.

I started looking for an open source image suite but only found Gimp (for Linux). I've used Gimp before and found it to be a very different style of interaction to most other image editors, and with a steep learning curve. What the world needs is an open source image editor that has a base level similar to Paint, and with the option to add plug-ins/extensions that give you all the extra flair that the likes of Photoshop offer.

As I stated earlier, I doubt I could create such a system, or even the architecture behind it, without some serious research into plug-in frameworks and the inner workings of image editors. Until then, it will simply be an idea. Still, I think it would be quite fun to try to get a business loan for this project: I can imagine giving a bank manager a guided tour of Firefox, then Paint and Photoshop, and letting him join the dots.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Kostas said...

Paint.NET [http://www.eecs.wsu.edu/paint.net/index.htm] is a good Free and Open-Source image editor (granted, windows only and with no plans to port it to any other operating system). As the name implies, it is similar to Paint and it does allow plugins.

The Gimp is available for Windows [http://www.gimp.org/windows/] but as you mentioned the learning curve may put people off.

Also have a look at TheOpenCD project [http://www.theopencd.org]. It is a nice collection of Free and Open-Source Software professionally presented in an elegant CD browser. A very nice way to introduce non-geeks to FOSS.

Kostas

11:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check this out:
http://rsb.info.nih.gov/ij/

It's a plugin system too for image manipulation...

1:28 am  
Blogger Steven Morrison said...

Cheers for that. I'm now using Paint.NET for basic image manipulation. I've yet to investigate its features fully.

And I'm now addicted to Sokoban!

8:03 am  

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