"Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun!"

  1. v; to become absorbed in thought 
  2. n; [ fr. Any of the nine sister goddesses of learning and the arts in Greek Mythology ]: a source of inspiration
© 1999 by mjh

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Welcome to the Graphics Muse! Why a "muse"? Well, except for the sisters aspect, the above definitions are pretty much the way I'd describe my own interest in computer graphics: it keeps me deep in thought and it is a daily source of inspiration. 

[Graphics Mews][WebWonderings][Musings][Resources]

This column is dedicated to the use, creation, distribution, and discussion of computer graphics tools for Linux systems.

After returning in early April from a month long trek through New Zealand, I found myself with a slew of work to catch up on.  Aside from the mountain of email, I had three articles and some cover art for the Linux Journal, a new issue of TheGimp.com, and some things I've been sworn to secrecy on.  I also bought a new camera, so I could stop rumaging around for affordable stock photography and just go take the pictures myself.  I find photography as much an artistic outlet as my Gimp galleries, and plan to merge the two immediately.  Just as soon as I finish the classes that explain what all the knobs do on that thing.

Of course, I also had lots of laundry to do when I got back.  But thats an article for my HouseCleaning Muse column.*

I did a lot of catching up on the Web once I got back.  There is a new Web site for artists interested in Linux, linuxartist.org.  After taking a look over there and seeing the list of vector graphics tools, I found my topic for this months Musings and Web Wonderings.  So, in this months column you'll find:

  • The Macromedia Flash Plug-in for Linux
  • Vector Drawing on Linux - XFig, TGIF and friends

* If you ever catch me writing one of those, please, shoot me.

The Artists' Guide to the Gimp
Available online from FatBrain, SoftPro Books and Borders Books.

In Denver, try the Tattered Cover Book Store.

Also, check out the associated web site, TheGimp.com, sponsored by SSC, Inc. and edited by The Graphics Muse - Michael J. Hammel.

Other Announcements:
GIMP Dynamic Text
GNU plotting utilities V2.2
gView 0.1.2
Giram 0.0.14
X-Mame 0.35b10.1
tgif 4.1.7
R, a system for statistical computation and graphics.
XawTV 2.41
Ilib 1.1.1
GXanim 0.20a
gfontview 0.2
Scitech Display Doctor 7.0 Beta5 fixed
GIMP Imagemap plug-in 0.7
Panorama 0.11.1
Raychase 2.05
LAGII 0.1.0
kdem 1.0.1
XawTV 2.43
CMatrix 0.98a
Gqcam 0.1
< More Mews >

Most announcements courtesy of freshmeat.

Disclaimer: Before I get too far into this I should note that any of the news items I post in this section are just that - news. Either I happened to run across them via some mailing list I was on, via some Usenet newsgroup, or via email from someone. I'm not necessarily endorsing these products (some of which may be commercial), I'm just letting you know I'd heard about them in the past month.

aKtion! 0.3.5
Frederic L.W.Meunier (fredlwm) - April 08th 1999, 22:40 EST 

aKtion! is a video player based on xanim. It (xanim) supports many different file formats like FLI animations, FLC animations, IFF animations, GIF87a and GIF89a files, GIF89a animation extensions, DL animations, Amiga MovieSetter animations, Utah Raster Toolkit RLE images and animations, AVI animations, Quicktime Animations and SGI Movie Format files. 

Photo Mosaic plug-in for the Gimp

http://registry.gimp.org or http://www.kirchgessner.net

Works with Gimp V1.04
Enhanced scale algorithms
Quality=100 saves PPM-files instead of JPEG-files (no loss in quality)
Random select of sequence for tile replacement

Peter Kirchgessner

SideEffects to port Houdini® 3D animation software to Linux

From the press release:

Side Effects Software announced its plans to port its Houdini® 3D animation software to the Linux operating system. Side Effects Software is the first high-end 3D animation company to announce plans to adopt the Linux platform. While many hardware vendors support the popular operating system, there ar presently few graphics software packages available for it. It is expecte that a Linux version of Houdini will be beta tested with Houdini 4.0 beginning in May.
Full press Release:  http://www.sidefx.com/news_events/press_linux.html
SideEffects Software: http://www.sidefx.com/

Gimp @ SIGGRAPH 99

This years SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles runs from August 8-13. The exhibit days are Tuesday throughThursday. August 10-12.  Calvin Williamson is organizing a Gimp SIG for the conference.  Here is his announcment:

I've made some enquiries and we can have a Gimp SIG (special interest group) meeting without paying any money. (The conference costs though). I have a form we have to submit to reserve a spot.

It would be nice if we made this for any and all gimp users/developers and would basically be a reserved room that we can meet in for a couple of hours.  If we get our form in soon, it will probably be listed in various programs/schedules.

Anyway we're free to organize our SIG anyway we want.  I'm sure we can do that fine.  But what I wanted to find out was a guess at how many people we might get, and what times would be best. I need this for the forms to send in to set this up.

Heres some considerations:

  • The exhibits/papers/courses usually run to about 5 or 6 each day.
  • The Exhibit is Tuesday -Thursday.  Papers are Wednesday - Friday.  Courses are Sunday -Tuesday.
  • In my humble opinion, a good time might be something like 5:30-7:30 PM on Tuesday or Wednesday, which reduces the chance that it will actually overlap with anything else you might want to do.
  • As for number, Yosh "guessed" that we wouldnt get more than 40 people.  If all this sounds good, I'll fill out the forms accordingly and send them in a week or so.  If not let me know what you think.

    Yosh has set up an account (gimpsiggraph@gimp.org) we can use for logistics /suggestions/comments about the upcoming meeting. If you have an organizational issue or have a request of some sort, please email that account. It will help us keep things under control as time nears.

    In case your interested in conference costs:  http://www.siggraph.org/s99/registration/catNfees.html.  ($25 for exhibit only, but other stuff is pretty expensive.)  Last year the Linux3D group had a good meeting I think. (I missed it cause I didnt know about it though...)

    Calvin Williamson <calvin@rhythm.com>

    MathMap 0.8

    MathMap is a GIMP plug-in which allows distortion of images specified by mathematical formulae. For each pixel in the generated image, an expression is evaluated which should return a pixel value. The expression can either refer to a pixel in the source image or can generate pixels completely independent of the source. MathMap not only allows the generation of still images but also of animations.

    The MathMap homepage can be found at

    It includes a user's manual as well as screenshots and examples.

    Changes since 0.7:

    Mark Probst
    Student, Programmer

    GIMP 1.1.4 and 1.0.4 now available:

    Version 1.1.4 (developers release):
    Download:  ftp://ftp.gimp.org/pub/gimp/unstable/v1.1.4/
    It requires GTK+ 1.2:  ftp://ftp.gimp.org/pub/gtk/v1.2/

    Stuff that's new:

    Version 1.0.4 (stable release):
    Download:  ftp://ftp.gimp.org/pub/gimp/v1.0/v1.0.4/
    It requires GTK+ 1.2:  ftp://ftp.gimp.org/pub/gtk/v1.2/
    This release fixes the broken menu items and 8-bit display issues in 1.0.3.

    -Yosh (current GIMP source maintainer)

    GATOS 0.0.1-isg2oaa1bc1
    Insomnia (Stea Greene) - April 07th 1999, 23:32 EST

    The GATOS (General ATI TV and Overlay Software) Project is an effort to create standard drivers for all currently unsupported features of ATI video cards, specifically TV features.

    Changes: First release and it's still very buggy. Please read the "Original GATOS announcement" on the hompage and submit a report as specified there.

    libgeom 0.0.6
    Whitestar47 - April 07th 1999, 23:31 EST

    libgeom has many data types to handle common geometrical sub-primitives, such as point, line, line segment, vector, plane, arc, circle, and many functions to manipulate, convert and make new information. All functions are reasonably computation efficient. It is all coded in C and works well with gcc and egcs.

    Dr Geo 0.7.5
    Hilaire Fernandes - April 07th 1999, 23:29 EST

    Dr Geo stands for 'Dr Geo Refer to Geometry Exploration Observatory'. It is an interactive geometry software and allows the construction of dynamic figure. It's possible to draw basic geometric object as point, line, segment, locus, intersection beetween object but also to use geometric transformation as rotation, translation, etc. The usal geometric tools as parallel line are also available.

    Meteor 1.5.4
       Mark Sutton - April 07th 1999, 22:51 EST

    Meteor is a device driver and set of usefull applications for the Matrox Meteor frame grabber.

    Changes: Enhancements to this version over the previous version include several minor bug fixes and the ability to auto-configure itself for kernel version. It correctly configures itself for 2.0.* and 2.2.* kernels. It should also work correctly on most 2.1.* kernels if anyone is actually using them anymore.

    Terraform 0.2.10
       RNG - April 07th 1999, 13:29 EST

    Terraform allows you to create fractal terrain (also called a height field) and transform it using a number of algorithms. It is meant to be a tool for those who want to generate digital terrain models for use in raytracing or other simulations.  Terraform features different views and colormaps and has a preview mode which features interactive real-time rotation of the terrain object. Terraform is written using Gtk-- (the C++ wrapper for Gtk+).

    mpg_applet 0.1
       laertes - April 07th 1999, 13:24 EST

    mpg_applet is an mpg123 frontend. It supports playlists and uses almost no screen real estate. It uses mpg123 version 0.59q and GNOME version 1.0.4.

    Changes: This is the first public release.

    Did You Know?

    ...Digital Video magazine's March 1999 print issue has a terrific article on color spaces, written by Ben Waggoner.  If you've ever wondered about what the different color spaces are and why you might use them (and which programs and industries use which color spaces), check out this article.  A PDF version of this article is available online at http://www.dv.com/magazine/1999/0399/. PS:  no, I don't get anything from DV for promoting them, its just a really good article!

    Q and A

    Q:  Perhaps there's a question you can answer.  I scanned most of my pictures at 75dpi using a Windows program.  But I did a few at 150dpi.  For some reason, when I retouched the latter, they looked fine in the GIMP, but when I later used display or another viewer, they were twice as big (both directions) as I expected, and they took up much more disk space than they should.  It's like the GIMP had somehow gotten into a mode where it was showing me things at half the real size they were, without telling me.

    A:  Gimp will rescale the visual display of the image to fit your screen but the actual image size remains the same.  A 150DPI scanned image would look twice as large on a computer as the 75dpi image.  Each "d" is a pixel, essentially.  Gimp scaled it down so you could work on it.  But the other programs don't know about "inches" (the "i" in DPI), just about total number of pixels in the image.  So those other programs displayed all the pixels it read, one image pixel per one screen pixel.

    Reader Mail

    No really interesting reader mail this month.  I had lots when I got back from New Zealand, but most of it was covered over in the TheGimp.com.

    The Macromedia Flash Plugins for Linux

    Animations on the Web, for me at least, have been limited to what you can squeeze out of a really good multi-image GIF file.  For the most part, those haven't been very exciting or creative, and they really were limited to small spots within the browser window.  I haven't seen too many MPEG movies online but even those would be a little limited in a browser.  As for audio, well, I mostly just listen to the various tech news sites. and those only a couple times a day at most.

    So I was rather interested to see two versions of a Macromedia Flash plugin for Netscape recently announced.  One comes directly from Macromedia in binary format only, the other is an Open Source version which includes source code.  Since I'd never seen a Flash site in action (I run Linux - and only Linux - at home and work normally revolves around the various commercial Unix systems), I decided I'd grab these and take a look at what I'd been missing.

    Wow.  I'm stunned.  Apparently there was a whole other world out there.  Sites with full-window animation accompanied by driving electronica-style soundtracks.  My Graphics Muse site seems rather dull all of a sudden (maybe it already did to some of you, but I don't get out much).  Maybe the "Wow factor" (as one site put it) will wear off eventually, but I'm rather excited about this format.  Although I can't author the Flash files on Linux yet (you still need the Macromedia Flash 3 authoring software, which only runs on non-Linux systems), at least now I can visit Flash sites and not stare at those blank boxes with notes about where to download a player for Windows.

    The two plugins I looked at are:

    1. The Macromedia Flash plugin, available from Macromedia's Web site
    2. The Open Flash plugin by Olivier Debon, available from http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Labyrinth/5084/flash.html
    I found links to both on the linuxartist.org site, which is how I got the idea for this article in the first place.  I jumped to their respective Web sites, downloaded binaries for both (plus the source for the Open Flash version) and installed them.  Installation of both plugins is easy enough - just copy the plugins (files with .so suffices) to your $HOME/.netscape/plugins directory.  If you don't have a plugins directory under $HOME/.netscape, just create it:
    % cd $HOME/.netscape
    % mkdir plugins
    Don't put both into the plugins directory at the same time.  Its not clear which one will get run if you do this, although I suspect the first matching plugin wins.  After you copy the plugin into its directory, and if you already have Netscape running, you can type the following in the Location field:


    That will get Netscape to update its plugins list.  You can verify this
    worked by typing


    in the same Location field.  If for some reason this doesn't work, exit and restart Netscape and you should see the plugins listed when you use the "about" command.

    Note:  There is a Linux-based Flash Generator available from http://www.swift-tools.com/.  This doesn't create the Flash file, it only allows you to manage it after its created, such as to modify it to generate on-the-fly weather maps.  You still need the Macromedia Flash 3 authoring tool to create the original Flash 3 file.

    Both of these are Flash 3.0 plugins, although they don't both support the complete 3.0 specification yet.  The test system was a Cyrix 200, 64Mb memory, running Netscape 4.51 with an Xi Graphics AcceleratedX X server on a stock Red Hat 5.2 (Linux 2.0.36) system.  Sound on my system is run through the commercial version of the Open Sound System driver from 4Front Technologies.  I restarted Netscape between invokations of each plugin, to make sure there weren't memory leak problems in one that might cause the other to fail.  In testing these, I picked out a set of Flash 3.0 web sites that were linked from either the Open Flash site or the Macromedia gallery site, or both.
    Web Site
    MacroMedia Flash Plugin
    Open Flash Plugin
    Macromedia's Flash site worked fine Ran faster than Macromedia's plugin on this page, but after the thumbnail images were positioned at the bottom of the window the images inside the boxes disappeared.  Moving the mouse in the window caused the Flash file to replay, and moving the mouse out of the window caused the flash file to clear (ie nothing was displayed but the blue background).  If you try to click on a box, everything starts over but if you don't move your mouse after you do that you can actually select that box the next time.  Unfortunately, nothing plays after that.  At this point I gave up on this site.
    Fusionary Media's Flash 3 samples page worked fine Crashed Netscape as soon as I placed the cursor over the animated tree.
    ARCANE - An animated online mystery game.  Very little sound as far as I could tell. worked fine worked fine, but might have been a little slower than the Macromedia player.
    The Open Flash test site no problems no problems
    ShockRave - various music, cartoons, and games based on Flash and Shockwave.  Took too long to load, though. no problems for what little I played of it no problems for what little I played of it
    Official Buffy the Vampire Slayer site
    Takes a while to load, but the feed was continuous (no stalls) so it loaded moderately quick.  Doesn't play much while its loading, however.  Kind of a corny site - the sounds really don't add much to the animations and all the individual animations/sounds are very short loops.
    played all of it just fine Appeared to play the small "Buffy" animation (center of screen) better than the Macromedia player.  This site is supposed to have PNG-based (or PNG-like?) animations so maybe the Open Flash player handles those better.  However, it plays the animations and audio for all the navigation images much faster, plus it only plays the loops once.
    http://www.snarg.net/ - Artistic, for lack of a better description. played all of it just fine Crashed netscape
    Wing Commander SecretOps site, from Origin
    Another big download, but it does play some as it loads.  You get to see the UI for Wing Commander using a Flash 3.0 implementation.  Kinda neat.  The audio wasn't all that interesting, though.
    played all of it just fine played all of it just fine

    And the three coolest sites I found...
    Gabocorp - Fairly cool site for Gabocorp, a graphics arts/Web design company.  A little slow in loading but plays a little background musing (booming sounds) while it loads). played all of it just fine The intro text, which sort of unscrolls top to bottom, plays more jumpy than the Macromedia player did.  The Open Flash player was playing from the cache while Macromedia played from the net.  I wonder if that makes a difference?  Hitting the "next" key didn't clear the previous text so the newly displayed, unscrolling text became garbled.  This site didn't quite work right with the Open Flash player, although it didn't crash Netscape.
    Matinee Sound and Vision - includes sound but take a long time to load over a 28.8 modem (over 300K downloads).  Fairly high "Wow" factor (as they say on their site).
    no problems with audio or video Played intro quite well, but then opened a new Navigator window while playing second page audio.  Sound got completely out of sync too.  The second page should have played completely in the original Navigator window - I don't know why the second window opened.
    EYE4U Active Media site - includes sound and video; one of the absolutely coolest sites I've ever been too!  Plays while it loads!  Easily the fastest site I went to.
    no problems with audio or video Sound played badly but the animations seem to be ok (a little jumpy but ok).  However, when it reached a point where the user is supposed to place the mouse over some small balls, the original Flash file replayed.  That wasn't supposed to happen.

    The Open Flash package includes a standalone Flash player so you can test Flash files without having to run Netscape Navigator.  However, its README states it doesn't currently support morphing, alpha blending or anti-aliasing and its sound support is limited.  Running this version (0.4.3) of the Open Flash plugin wouldn't allow me to get to the Gallery from the main Flash Web site at www.flash.com.  I had to go directly to the gallery page (see link in table).

    While testing all the sites running with the Macromedia Flash plugin there was not a single crash of Netscape.  I'd say thats a pretty solid plugin.  I had absolutely no problems using this plugin with any site I visited.

    So, although the Open Flash plugin still has a few problems, both of these plugins offer you a chance to see some very interesting sites out there.  I highly recommend, if you're into some flashy (pardon the pun) pages, that you give these plugins a try.  You've got little to lose, right?

    Vector Drawing on Linux - XFig, TGIF and friends

    Over the past year we've heard a lot about the killer app for Linux - Gimp, the Photoshop-like tool for graphic arts work.  By now many of you may even be sick of hearing about it.  Especially if what you really need isn't a raster-based effects package, but a vector-based drawing tool.  For the past several years you really only had two choices:  XFig and TGIF.  Recently, a number of new projects have sprung up that aim to provide more modern interfaces and features for vector-based tools.  Despite the abundance of enthusiasm from the developers of those projects, none is quite ready for the average Joe Newbie, particularly because few of them are as easy to build and install as the two grandfathers in this category of applications.

    The first thing I did was try to find what vector tools are currently available.  A new site, linuxartist.org, has several listed.  A couple aren't tools for creating vector graphics.  The Flash plug-ins are only for viewing images, so I didn't look at them for this article (but see this months Web Wonderings).  The other tools I did look at were

    There are also vector based drawing tools available in the ApplixWare and StarOffice commercial packages.  The ApplixWare version is a little limited in features, but very stable and easy to use.  Installation of ApplixWare was quite simple as well.  I haven't used StarOffice's StarDraw package so can't speak of its ease of installation, stability, or feature set, although the specifications for it on the StarDivision web site seem fairly impressive.  Core's CorelDraw package is also due out sometime this year, I believe.  I don't know anything about it, however.  I'll save a head-to-head review of these commercial packages for a later date.

    By far the easiest vector tool to build and install was tgif, which required only an "xmkmf; make" for Linux systems.  No editing of any configuration files was necessary.  XFig was probably the next easiest, although it had quite a few configurable items to set in the Makefile if you wanted to get things optimized and looking their best.  Of the rest, I was only able to get XEBOT running under a limited environment.  The others required extra packages that were not already available on my Red Hat system or that were not complete enough on my system in order to build or install the drawing tool.

    Sketch is based entirely on the Python intepreted language.  Along with the interpreter and libraries, you also need an additional image library called PIL - the Python Imaging Library.  Unfortunately, this doesn't build with my RPM-based Python that was installed when I installed Red Hat 5.2.  This library expects some other parts which I could only get if I built Python itself and installed it.  I tried to build Python without installing it to see if I could tell PIL where that was, but it became too much work  in the long run.  Sketch, therefore, is more of a developers toy than an artists (or average users) tool.

    KIllustrator turned out to be much like Sketch, at least for me and from an installation point of view.  Its tied to KDE, which means I need to install KDE just to get it to work (not to mention the Qt libraries).  I glanced through the KDE web site and decided there were far too many packages to try to install just to get KIllustrator running.  Red Hat 6.0 is supposed to include KDE so maybe I'll try it then, when I have less work to do in order to get it running.  Personally, I think applications should be KDE and GNOME aware, but they shouldn't be tied to those environments.  Not if you want to reach the largest possible audience.

    GILT simply didn't compile.  It does include a "configure" script-based build process, but apparently its not quite ready for the average Joe's use.  I sent email to the author but really didn't give him much time to respond (Muse deadlines, once again, running up against work that pays).  In fairness, GILT is listed as being in very early development so its not unexpected that this particular tool isn't ready for the average user.

    IPAD/XEBOT required an 8-bit display to function.  I tried XEBOT first, which is supposed to contain all of the features of IPAD, plus a few more.  Even when I switched to 8-bit mode (which was a bit of a pain because my FVWM environment doesn't look correct in that mode) I wasn't able to do anything useful.  The UI is very user unfriendly.  It uses an interface that is obviously platform inspecific and drops it inside of a generic X window.  It just wasn't what I was looking for, especially since I'm not concerned with usability on non-Unix platforms.  IPAD looked and worked about the same as XEBOT.

    When it came right down to it, I was back to the old favorites, XFig and TGIF.  Since I couldn't really get the others to work very well, I thought I'd do a little side by side comparison of these two.  A little head to head competition, if you will.  If you don't like these two, and are up to the challenge of getting one of the others to work, you at least have a choice these days.

    TGIF vs XFig

    The easiest to learn to use was probably TGIF, but both TGIF and XFIG have so many features its easy to get lost in them.  I'd have to say TGIF's interface is more intuitive, using familiar menu configurations (File is on the left of the menu bar, for example).  TGIF is a little easier to use initially.  Its seems more intuitive to be able to draw a shape, then select it to edit its points.  XFig allows this, but the method to get to editing the points seems a little harder to figure out.  For example, with TGIF you select an object to edit by clicking on it while in selection mode.  In XFig you select "Move Points" and all the points for all visible objects are shown.  You then click on one to move it.  The hard part was finding the hotspot for the points in XFig.  You really have to get right on the little boxes (which represent the points) to grab them.  In TGIF, however, the hot spots are larger and you only mess with the objects you specifically selected.
    Sure, the problem here may be my unfamiliarity with using XFig.  But I'm also a GUI designer by trade so I understand about usability issues.  XFig's buttons across the top are either discreet features or menus, with the menus on the right side of that set of buttons.  This is counter to standard UI design styles, where menus are on the left, especially the File menu.  Additionally, TGIF uses standard layouts for most of its dialogs.  XFig does not.  For example, look for the Cancel button on the File Selection dialog in XFig versus where its located on any other dialog.  Seldom the same twice.  TGIF's dialogs are more standardized, which makes them easier to learn.

    One feature which both tools have is a visual display of what the mouse buttons do for any selected feature.  In TGIF this is along the bottom of the window.  In XFig it is in the upper right corner.  I like XFig's implementation of this better because its simpler - three buttons side by side, with text to the sides or above the buttons.  TGIF's is cute - the icons for the mouse are more realistic - but visually it takes a moment to get your bearings on which text goes with which button.  Its not difficult, mind you, I just prefer XFigs implementation.

    Ease of Setup
    User Interface
    Look and Feel    
         Ease of Use
         Online Help
    Example files
    File Import
    File Export
    Overall Rating
    Ratings: 1=Poor, 5=Superb

    One feature which both tools have is a visual display of what the mouse buttons do for any selected feature.  In TGIF this is along the bottom of the window.  In XFig it is in the upper right corner.  I like XFig's implementation of this better because its simpler - three buttons side by side, with text to the sides or above the buttons.  TGIF's is cute - the icons for the mouse are more realistic - but visually it takes a moment to get your bearings on which text goes with which button.  Its not difficult, mind you, I just prefer XFigs implementation.

    Rulers are handled differently in the two programs too.  In TGIF you have the traditional slider bars to move the page around.  The bottom slider is rather small, it doesn't expand the width of the visible page.  In XFig you click and drag within the rulers themselves to move around the page.  This one is a toss up.  TGIF's method is familiar, but XFig makes the rulers serve a dual purpose and thus saves a little screen space.  I like both methods equally well.

    TGIF imports XBM, XPM, GIF, and EPS files and has an interface for adding other import filters.  XFig imports the same, plus JPEG and PCX files.  The difference is that TGIF calls this "Import", while you have to know to click on the camera icon to import a "Picture" in XFig.

    XFig easily wins on the file export side.  If you're into Latex then you're in luck because XFig supports a wide range of Latex export options.  Additionally, it supports all the well supported Web image formats: PNG, JPEG, GIF, XBM, etc.  TGIF supports GIF and a few others, but its export capabilities aren't quite as extensive as XFig's.  TGIF also exports via its print function, which isn't the obvious place to put it.  Both tools support export to Postscript.  Strangely enough, I wasn't able to get XFig to export to any file format.  I also wasn't able to print because XFig said it couldn't open a temporary file.  I think my installation wasn't quite correct and may have been the cause of these problems.  Still, the print features of both appear fairly decent, with both making use of the basic print facilities on your Linux box.

    All this talks about fairly mundane issues.  What about real feature comparison?  Well, both support a wide range of drawing primitives:  circles and ovals, boxes, freehand drawings, polygons, polylines, and arcs.  TGIF has a few other canned shapes that may or may not be useful.  XFig provides a few different methods for doing splines (closed or open curves).  Both provide text input, with XFig providing far more fonts.  However, neither makes use of your complete set of installed fonts - they each have their own font support.  I have to say, although XFig offers far more font options, the dialog which provides it is rather, well, unusual looking.


    When I first started looking at XFig I thought it was pretty nifty.  This was even after having used TGIF in the past.  But when I compared the two side by side I found I much preferred TGIF.  Its just simpler to use.  Looking at the rating chart you might think I'd recommend XFig over TGIF.  Not necessarily.  In my case I'm concerned with ease of use and the time it takes to get to doing productive work.  Here, TGIF is a better choice.  XFig wins points for extensive documentation (and should be applauded loudly for this considering how many Open Source products come with so little, and/or so poor, documentation) and a large collection of examples that come directly with the source distribution.

    There may be a few more features in XFig that TGIF doesn't have that some users will need.  If thats the case then definitely check out XFig.  In fact, I recommend you take a look at both of them anyway.  You may find the problems I see in the XFig UI just don't bother you as much.  Both tools are quite extensive in basic drawing features and I'm sure one of them will provide at least some measure of satisfaction for your vector-based needs.

    [ Summary of Vector Drawing Tools for Linux ]

    The following links are just starting points for finding more information about computer graphics and multimedia in general for Linux systems. If you have some application specific information for me, I'll add them to my other pages or you can contact the maintainer of some other web site. I'll consider adding other general references here, but application or site specific information needs to go into one of the following general references and not listed here.
    Online Magazines and News sources 
    C|Net Tech News
    Linux Weekly News

    General Web Sites 
    Linux Graphics
    Linux Sound/Midi Page
    Linux Artist.org

    Some of the Mailing Lists and Newsgroups I keep an eye on and where I get much of the information in this column 
    The Gimp User and Gimp Developer Mailing Lists
    The IRTC-L discussion list

    Future Directions

    Next month:

    Let me know what you'd like to hear about!

    © 1999 Michael J. Hammel

    Previous ``Graphics Muse'' Columns

    Graphics Muse #1, November 1996
    Graphics Muse #2, December 1996
    Graphics Muse #3, January 1997
    Graphics Muse #4, February 1997
    Graphics Muse #5, March 1997
    Graphics Muse #6, April 1997
    Graphics Muse #7, May 1997
    Graphics Muse #8, June 1997
    Graphics Muse #9, July 1997
    Graphics Muse #10, August 1997
    Graphics Muse #11, October 1997
    Graphics Muse #12, December 1997
    Graphics Muse #13, February 1998
    Graphics Muse #14, March 1998
    Graphics Muse #15, April 1998
    Graphics Muse #16, August 1998
    Graphics Muse #17, September 1998
    Graphics Muse #18, October 1998
    Graphics Muse #19, November 1998
    Graphics Muse #20, February 1999
    Graphics Muse #21, March 1999

    Copyright © 1999, Michael J. Hammel
    Published in Issue 41 of Linux Gazette, May 1999

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