Friday, August 7, 2009

Thinking about switching to Linux for Photography

I have been using Windows for my personal use for the last 12 years or so and have had Windows 95, Me, XP, and Vista on various desktops and notebooks. My main use is the internet/email and photography. I have been working on digital photos (scanned film or digital cameras) since 1997 so I know very well which features of my current software I use and consider important and which I don't. I am trying to find out if the existing software on Linux has what I want. So far, it looks pretty good, but not perfect of course. :-) If you have any experience using Linux for photography then I would be happy to hear your thoughts.

There are several reasons I am looking at Linux (not necessarily in order of importance):

1. Windows is a huge target for various kinds of malware so there is a constant struggle to keep Windows updated with security fixes. Same for anti-virus software, firewall, etc. I realize that Linux is not immune to malware, but it is much less a target and, at least, in 2009 Linux just doesn't have much of a problem.

2. Although I am fairly happy with Photoshop CS2 the version of ACR it has won't accept my current camera's raw files and will not accept future camera raw files. Of course, I can give Adobe a few hundred dollars and get a new version of Photoshop. Then in a year or two do it again and then again and then again -- each time just because I need a new version of ACR. The story is often similar for other software. Sometimes it is because the version of software that worked on Win95 or WinXP doesn't work right with Vista or there are just new features and/or bug fixes I want. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with companies wanting to make money. Far from it. I am just saying that I like the idea of Linux and OSF so that *I* can get off that merry-go-round. :-)

3. Every Windows computer I have ever owned has needed to have a clean Windows install at least once while I had it, sometimes more. After enough time the computer has started acting funky or some problem has required me to do the clean install. Installing Windows is usually not all that difficult *but* then I have to download and install many megabytes (usually hundreds of megabytes) of Windows updates. Also, when that is all done I have to reconfigure everything. Then the worst part starts. I have to get all my CDs and one by one install all of my applications. Besides the Windows authentication most of the apps also have various authentication procedures. Even some Photoshop plugins have it. This is a real pain in the butt. Then I have to download and install updates for all of them. Then I have to configure all of them. Over the years I have had to do this quite a few times. Assuming I have all the CDs and a fast internet connection and there are no problems (I'll get back to this) then it takes many hours of work. After all of this is done then I have to get all my data files off backup and put them back on the computer.

4. One time while installing Photoshop it just hung part of the way through. After a very long wait I finally rebooted and Windows was hosed. I tried various things and finally did a clean install of Windows. I have had other less serious problems from time to time when installing software. Not often, but a few times.

5. I travel a lot and often spend extended periods in one place or another. Except when I am doing backpack travel I also have my 17" notebook with me (like right now). I also have to carry the Windows CD and app CDs in case I have to go through the nightmare of step 3. This has happened to me. If I didn't have all this stuff then I would really be up the creek.

6. After I went from WinXP to Vista a couple of years ago I discovered that a few Photoshop plugins that worked fine with Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro on XP don't work with Photoshop on Vista -- Photoshop crashes. Strangely, those Photoshop plugins still work fine with PSP on Vista.

7. I also like that Linux has a great software development environment with multiple compilers, assembler, linker, debuggers, etc.. Also, MySQL and lots of other stuff. Who knows, I might try to write a plugin for Gimp or Showfoto or Krita.

In 2002/2003 I did software development on Linux for 15 months. I installed Mandrake Linux on a couple of machines and it was surprisingly easy. Most software I wanted was automatically installed. No authentication, no stacks of app CDs, etc. I never had to reinstall Linux and I don't recall Linux ever crashing. I don't know if it is the same now, but it seems from what I have heard that Linux is still pretty robust and solid. At any time, if I need to, I can download a new Linux. Probably wouldn't need to do that though. Software updates are easy to get. Raw processing software gets updated regularly to handle new cameras. New features and bug fixes in apps are free.

By the way, besides Wine which will allow some Windows programs to be run on Linux -- I think my Picture Window Pro 3.5 is one of them -- I have also found that some Windows Photoshop plugins can be run with Linux Gimp.

I realize that I may find a few things that I would still need Windows for. If so I would have a dual-boot system with probably most of the disk space allocated to Linux.

The Gimp is only partially 16-bits at the moment, but it is supposed to be fully 16-bit in the next major release. There are also two other interesting image editors that I am looking at and they are both 16-bit: Krita and Showfoto. The image management program called digiKam (which also has an integrated version of Showfoto) looks very interesting too. There are several raw photo converters such as ufraw, which can be integrated into Gimp. Also, the free Rawtherapee is available for Linux as is Picasa. Anyway, I am still investigating, but Linux is looking pretty good.


Cantankerous and crotchety said...

I use Linux (Fedora 11) and I am interested in photography. I have only got two problems with Linux when processing photographs.

First is colour matching, getting a profile for my (Nikon) camera proved less than straight forward. Monitor and printer matching are similar. Most cameras are not a problem.

The second is printing boarderless prints in batch. This one is probably down to my preference for Canon printers, it was not a problem with a Postscript printer. Single prints are not a problem.

As for the limitations in the GIMP they are not worth worrying about. It is as good as photoshop and I would tell windows users to try the windows version.

As for stability in Linux I use Fedora which is known for trying out very new releases of software, so is less stable than many distributions. I have not had many crashes in all the time I hace used Linux and I can account for all bar one (I was playing the kernel in most cases).

Henry Richardson said...

I am sorry to be so late in responding. For some reason I didn't notice it before.

Thank you for your comments. I have PCLinuxOS on a live CD so I have been playing with it and Gimp a bit. I am taking my time since I don't need to do anything right now, but I am looking on it all favorably.

Do you shoot raw? Which raw processor do you use?

Cantankerous and crotchety said...

Yes, I shoot RAW. I use a Nikon D700 and have had few problems with RAW conversion. I use UFRaw normally. The only problem I had with RAW was (repeating my self) getting an .icm file.

If the old 8bit/16bit GIMP argument is a worry to you there are other options in Linux. My own advice would be to learn the GIMP and wait for the next release which is going to solve the problem.

I am currently looking at Linux versions of Bibble and LightZone to see if either helps my workflow. At the moment Bibble does not appear to offer anything for me but LightZone has possibilities. LightZone appears to let me quickly identify shots worth playing with in the GIMP! I have tired Blue Marine but it does not work with Fredora due to a dependency on Sun Java JDK rather than the installed Open Source alternatives. I will make a decision on LightZone once I have tried this.

Olivier G. said...

Henry, I read your thread on dpreview...I'll follow this as I'm quite interested too.
I'll be happy to be using Linux and have professional tools like Lightroom (I have close to 180000 photos in the database) running 100%...

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