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Two Different Worlds

As Libre Graphics Meeting (or LGM as it is known amongst insiders) is getting closer, projects and contributors are looking for sponsors.  Even in the Free world, conferences are expensive.  I’ve added the pledgie link to Hugin’s homepage and I believe other Free software projects have done the same.  And in the community, people are musing about corporate sponsorships.

My own humble opinion is that asking Linux vendors to sponsor Libre Graphic Software is like asking Walmart to enter the trucking business.  Those are two completely different worlds.  Sure they do business (Walmart needs to truck its goods), but the driving factors are different, the cultures and people are different, and they are good to each other at a distance.

Similarly, the Linux vendor are in the computing infrastructure business, not in the graphics business, and while they have some graphics needs (like every business); and we have some computing needs (like every business), there is no natural fit for more integration than just “using” each other’s products.

The right sponsorship to Libre Graphics would come from businesses whose core competence is the image.  A print-shop for Scribus (I can’t stress enough how good a print shop is Mardigrafe – if you have printing needs in Montreal, talk with Louis, who happens to be one of the driving forces behind LGM and Scribus).  A movie studio for Blender.  An advertising agency for Gimp.  A news agency for RAWstudio.

It does not always work.  Remember Cinepaint?

For it to work, the mentality within the industry must change. It is only when box vendors realized that Linux gives tham a competitive edge that they started funding it.  First as tactical counterweight to Microsoft.  Only in a second stage some of them realized that adopting Linux (rather than merely using it to put pressure on Microsoft) is a viable and profitable strategy, and now we have Android (Linux based) tablets.

Similarly, the initial pitch to the graphic design industry would be to put tactical weight on Adobe, to push Adobe into moving forward with features that appear first as “prototypes” in Free software; and into lowering its prices.

At some point, some will realize that adopting Libre Graphics is actually good for their bottom line.  And the small shop that pays $20.000/year on Adobe licenses now will get the same work done with $0/year of Libre Graphics software.  With such a competitive advantage they might consider plugging some of these savings back into what amount to R&D expenses on features that help their bottom line, as opposed to licensing fees that are just taxing their business.

Upgrade: 9.04

Today I upgraded my last box to Ubuntu 9.04. It’s my test box and media player, an energy efficient Intel Atom motherboard in an old Mac Quadra box sitting next to a color calibrated 47″ LG LCD TV (the easy way to get an S-IPS flat panel without paying the Apple tax or playing the panel lottery). It was a pleasant surprise: previous versions had issues with the Logitech diNovo Edge keyboard, requiring me to unplug and re-plug the USB-Bluetooth dongle after booting. Now it works like a charm with Kubuntu.

After the glitches I experienced a year ago upgrading to 8.04 my share of time spent in Ubuntu has diminished considerably and for all practical purposes I skipped on 8.10. Kernel upgrades broke VMWare; driver upgrades broke my dual screen display configuration; Wine upgrades broke emulation of Photoshop/Windows. Nothing that can’t be fixed, but every minute spent maintaining the system is a minute of lost productivity. I needed remarkably little effort to keep Windows XP going on my workstation, despite repeated abuse such as booting it from within the VMWare environment.

With 9.04 the glitches seem to be a thing of the past, at least for now. I replaced VMWare with Virtualbox and it has withstood a kernel update, dual screen works like a charm. We’ll see how long I will last this time.

In the end, the choice of system is driven by the use made of it. And for most applications there are solutions on every major platform. I favor platform-agnostic software whose behavior is 80%+ consistent across systems: learn once, use everywhere.

For basic office work, email and web access, OpenOffice, Thunderbird and Firefox feel pretty much the same on Ubuntu and on Windows and are mature, production grade tools. Free software works, and in some cases it can even be the 800 pound gorilla in the pack.

So the choice of system boils down to the infamous “killer apps” – applications that are so desirable that they determine all other choices:

  • Photoshop is a killer app for me. Not because what it does is unique, but because I know it so well that I am now faster than on any image retouching application. I’ve tried to use the GIMP to produce the upcoming group photo for Libre Graphics Meeting and failed miserably. I spent hours trying to figure out how to do things that in Photoshop are instinctive to me. After wasting a weekend trying hard, I realized that the result is more important than the tool.
  • SONY Vegas Platinum has become a killer app for me in the past few months: I love my camcorder but the bundled software is useless. Looking for usable software to edit AVCHD videos (mostly home videos) I found that SONY Vegas Platinum had all I needed with an intuitive user interface and at a reasonable price tag. It’s cool to edit movies rather than fiddle with system libraries and other stuff to try to make something work. The downside is that it is available only for Windows. Bassam’s speech at LGM inspired me to try Blender. Blender’s user interface may seem intimidating at first, but dip the toe in the water and you’ll find that it is very consistent, well thought through, and connects efficiently the user with an extremely broad and complex set of functionalities. And, oh, it’s platform agnostic!
  • And so the killer app that got me onto Ubuntu again? MathMap. Although a Windows alpha version is out there, it is much easier to build and install on Ubuntu. And I was going to use the notebook for a presentation at LGM.

MathMap motivated me to refresh the Ubuntu installs on my workstation and on my notebook and to give myself another chance at trying to make the switch to Ubuntu. And on the server? FreeBSD rules!

Flash Panoramas, the more the merrier.

The beginnings

In the beginning there was QuickTimeVR. Or was it ptviewer? Those were the days! At the turn of the millenium fans of both technologies fought endless verbal battles about which one is best to display their full spherical artwork. Then two things happened that left them in the cold:

  • now defunct iPix forced Helmut Dersch to pull the plug on panotools and ptviewer. The first Open Source panorama authoring and publishing solution survived thanks to the contributions of Fulvio Senore (ptviewer) Jim Watters, Bruno Postle, Daniel M. German and other contributors (panotools). Helmut’s software was ahead of time. He is now back in the community with new ideas.
  • business logic at Apple pulled the plug on QTVR development. It has lingered unsupported inside QuickTime, until recent updates crippled some functionality dear to VR-artists.

Life went on

  • Starting with the release of Windows XP Service Pack 1, Microsoft removed Java from its system and initiated Java’s decline in ubiquity. It has continuously lost market share since then and is now down at about 84%. Ten years after the inception of the web there was no widely deployed standard yet to display VR content!
  • 3D accelerated video cards became mainstream, and with them the market share of Adobe Shockwave increased too. Probably the first 3D accelerated panorama viewer, SPi-V was released November 22 2004 by Aldo Hoeben.
  • A flurry of viewing technologies came and went. None of them achieved more than single-digit market share. Noteworthy is DevalVR that attracted a passionate following of discerning users for its smooth panning and small footprint.

A new Open Source viewer is born September 14, 2005 when Pablo d’Angelo starts the FreePV Open Source Panoramic Viewer Project with Fulvio Senore and Thomas Rauscher. It is the first viewer to play QTVR on Linux and raises a lot o

f hopes in the community. A Google Summer of Code 2007 project by Leon Moctezuma added SPi-V playing capabilities, but the viewer is still experimental and suffers of the same problem the flurry of other viewing technologies: lack of market penetration. Keep fingers crossed, this year it may become a Google Summer of Code again, integration with the VLC media player.

Flash to the rescue!

flash logo

Flash based panorama players have existed for a while, though most of them did not correct perspective properly and where apt for either flat pictures (like Zoomify), or for cylindrical panoramas.

With the arrival of Flash 8 in August 2005 (although Linux users had to wait until January 2007, when Flash 9 for Linux was released), full spherical panoramas became possible. First generation full spherical players include Thomas Rauscher’s Pano2QTVR and Immervision’s PurePlayer Flash. Flash 8 was not completely up to the challenge yet. The audience reported seeing snakes instead of straight line.

With Flash 9 quality improved dramatically. Denis V. Chumakov’s FPP became the most popular Flash 9 player.

Flash is the most widely distributed plugin, with a market penetration of 98%. Adobe has done almost everything right to get Flash widely accepted. It’s a unique value proposition of ubiquity, features and flexibility.

In March 2007 I predicted a mushrooming of Flash based panorama viewers within 12-18 month, similarly to Flash based mp3 players. Today, Patrick Cheatham and Zephyr Renner made my prediction come true with the release of an Open Source viewer based on the Papervision3D engine. I hope it is the start of a growing community effort.

Meanwhile, Adobe works on Flash 10 that will include hardware accelerated 3D. Exciting times ahead!

Don’t touch my RAW files!

detail of raw image

I am looking for a RAW converter. I am quite happy with Adobe Lightroom, but unfortunately, unlike Photoshop, I can’t get it to work in wine, the tool that enables applications written for Windows to run on Linux.

Even if Photoshop’s RAW converter shares the same DNA, a RAW converter is more useful to me when integrated into the image browser upstream in my workflow, not in the image editor downstream. Therefore, I am looking for an image browser in combination with a RAW converter.

Canon’s DPP works well in Linux, but it would lock me in to a camera vendor. Moreover it lacks the ability to correct chromatic aberration. On the good side, it has a feature that Adobe lacks: true linear conversion.

One major show stopper for me is a RAW converter that writes into the original RAW files! At least DPP is kind enough to ask every time for permission first. Some photo management software does this without asking permission – it assumes it was given when the (default!) preferences were set.

dpp write dialog

Writing to RAW files is a recipe for disaster. RAW files should be treated as if they were read-only. They are unique and precious. Writing to them is off-limit on my system. Any software that can’t respect this basic principle is slated for deletion.

Adobe Lightroom keeps the meta data in its own database. That’s OK, but what if the database corrupts, or if I want to drop in a replacement photo management tool? A database locks me into a format – even if it is an open and well documented format like the one of digiKam.

Better than a database are tiny separate files, XMP sidecars. Adobe Lightroom offers the option (which in my opinion should be the default) to store the metadata in XMP sidecars. And being XML, they can be expanded and translated easily when additional software enters the picture. Embed metadata in derivative work if you wish, but don’t touch my original RAW files. Ever!

converted and processed

Canon Digital Photo Professional in Ubuntu Linux

DPP ubuntu

I’ve been looking for a Linux native application to browse through my ever growing collection of RAW files and convert them for further processing. Coming from the Windows world, so far I did not find any such application that matches my expectation of speed, comfort and features.

My benchmark is Adobe Lightroom, but unlike Photoshop it does not work in wine yet. So I took the dust off the CD that came with my camera and installed Canon Digital Photo Professional.

It works with quirks. The left hand side file system navigation pane has problems refreshing the display and the tool palette moves sometimes out of sight on my dual display. To keep it in sight, I open the picture window on the right display.

Installation was not completely straight forward:

  1. insert the CD and run wine setup.exe from the command line.
  2. download the latest update from Canon.The link is for North America only. Isn’t geographic market segmentation for this kind of product pathetic in the days of the global internet?
  3. The difficult step: edit the wine registry key. In HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/Software/Microsoft/Windows NT/CurrentVersion/AeDebug set Auto from 1 to 0 (remember to change it back after the update).
  4. run the update from the command line.

Overall it’s fast browsing through my tons of RAW files. I’d prefer a Linux native application, but all I’ve seen so far doesn’t match the speed and comfort of Canon’s DPP. The search for the better image browser / raw converter goes on.

Photoshop in ubuntu

photoshop ubuntu thumb

This is my current desktop. It’s a standard ubuntu, and on the right it runs Photoshop CS2, thanks to Wine’s latest version. The integration is not yet very polished – I can’t drag and drop images on Photoshop, and I had to write a shell script to open files with Photoshop from Nautilus that is still not clean enough (I can’t get multiple images concurrently into the RAW converter plugin). But it works well enough to be useful.

Photoshop was the last application that was keeping me using Windows. I have not seen my Windows desktop for a whole week and I am not missing it.

The install was fairly simple:

  • get the latest Wine from the WineHQ APT repository
  • get winetricks, start them and tick the box to install the corefonts
$ wget http://www.kegel.com/wine/winetricks
$ chmod u+x winetricks
$ ./winetricks
  • insert the photoshop CD, change into the folder and run the setup application.
$ wine Setup.exe
  • activate Photoshop by phone.

Hasta la vista, babe!