Friday, September 5, 2008

Is Linux Ready for Prime Time Photography?

I am a software developer by profession, and I have been writing code for Unix systems (and inside the Unix kernel) for most of my professional life.  I have always thought of Unix as a good system for software R&D, but a poor system for a consumer's desktop.  For years this was the case, despite a movement of Unix and Linux into the server market, and constant talk of Linux as a home desktop.

This has all changed recently with Ubuntu, a Linux system that is easy to install and run, and with the availability of free, top-notch applications like Open Office for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, Firefox for web browsing and, Thunderbird for email, all of which run on Linux systems (as well as Windows and Mac).

Despite my continuing use of Windows XP at home, I use as much open-source and free software as possible.  However, I have always used purchased, Windows-based applications for photography.  Whenever I have searched for Linux-based photography apps, I have been disappointed with the quality and functionality of what was available.

For the past year or so, I have been using Ubuntu at work, and we have also converted one of our home laptops to Ubuntu to prolong it's useful life.  Even though Windows XP is a reasonably stable platform, the thought of having Vista in my future is frightening.  I thought it was time again to see what photo software was available, either as freeware, or for purchase to run on Linux, and on Ubuntu in particular.

I use a number of different applications for photography on Windows:
  1. a raw converter, Capture One
  2. a photo editor, Paint Shop Pro
  3. a photograph display and management tool, ThumbsPlus
  4. a generic scanner driver, Vuescan
  5. a digital noise filter, Noise Ninja
  6. a panorama image sticher, Panaview Image Assembler
  7. a program to create and manage my website, FrontPage (no longer in production).
  8. monitor calibration software (and hardware).
All of this software was purchased, and most (except for Vuescan) have ongoing costs to acquire new versions.  I'm sure that I could reduce the number of applications that I use, since many apps support several of these functions.  However, with a limited budget, I have been able to find high quality applications at a low price, and buy them whenever I could afford to do so.

I will have to replace all of these functions in order to switch my desktop to Ubuntu.  In the next few posts, I will look at each application area in turn, and see how Linux apps stack up.  The end result is not yet known -- however, I have been very pleasantly surprised in my research so far.

. . . Rob Williams