The Ergosphere
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Why people still buy Microsoft

I don't run Windows at home.  My work is done exclusively in Linux.  Normally I savor the freedom from BSOD's and malware, and I accept the need to kill and restart Mozilla every couple of days when its memory leaks cause it to thrash and die.  Such problems are small and easily worked around.  But I've come across something which is an airtight roadblock in the way of what I need to do.

I've been working on a document with a number of images in it, which are coming from a CD-R.  A couple of the images are oriented at right angles to the way they need to be displayed.  No problem, right?  Just fire up the Gimp and go to town.  Version 1.2.3 is right here; should take about ten minutes, right?

That was several days ago, and I'm still stuck.

First, let me mention that the authors of the Gimp seem to like to insert half of obvious operation sets and leave out the other half.  There is a "flip" to swap an image left to right, but no top-bottom flip.  This is a strange omission.  I had to invert an image which was upside down, and I had to dig for quite some time before I found a tool which would let me manipulate the vertical dimension as well as the horizontal.  That was wasted time.

Second, the authors seem to have no talent for nomenclature.  The rotation tool isn't called "rotate", it's hidden in something called "transform" beneath "transform tools".  Once you find this tool, it allows you to specify a rotation angle; you can watch a grid representing the image rotate on the screen as you move the slider.  It took some digging and trial-and-error to find it, but find it I did.  Okay, that's what I need.

Only it isn't.  The operation does not rotate the entire image; it rotates a part which fits within the shape of the original image boundary, which is not rotated!  If the image is not square and the rotation is not 180 degrees, the parts which no longer fit the old boundary are chopped off.

I thought that maybe, just maybe, making my image square would let me rotate it 90 degrees without losing anything.  I dug a bit more and found a canvas-size control.  Unfortunately, expanding the canvas does not help.  First, the Gimp won't allow me to take my rectangular canvas and make it square; for reasons unknown to me it insists on growing both margins when I've specified only one.  (Why?  That's completely illogical, and there is not a hint of explanation.)  Second, rotating within the larger canvas produces the same uncommanded and undesired cropping of the image.  There's a perfectly good cropping tool.  I figured it out in about 10 seconds.  I will get the image cropped exactly how I want it when the time comes.  Why do these authors make me go through hell to find a way to not crop something when I don't want it?

And whose idea was it to not make a tool go away when the user clicks the "close" button on its pop-up?  Once you have that rotation tool up, you have to find a creative and very un-intuitive way to get rid of it again without using it.  Didn't anyone test this?

The help is useless.  Nobody ever thought to describe the theory behind these operations so that a user would have some clue as to where to look for the tools to accomplish a particular end.  The entire manual is devoid of insights of this kind.

So here I am, several days of delay and frustration later, no closer to getting one simple but essential transformation done to this image than I was when I started.  The value of my lost time is rapidly approaching the cost of Windows and Office.  And open-source advocates wonder why people still buy Microsoft?  Look no further.

Postscript:  Okay, the way you do it is to not change the canvas size, but to stretch the display window with the mouse and then select the transform tool.  For some reason it displays a different dialogue with fixed rotation angles and without the sliders - a dialogue that I cannot find again.  I found this completely by accident; the help was as utterly useless in this as in everything else thus far.

Second postscript:  Whatever I did to find that fortuitous useful menu, I cannot find it again.  I am back to "only-rotates-with-the-unwanted-cropping" mode.

Third postscript:  Okay, I think I have it.  The window has to be smaller than the displayed image; only then will the Gimp allow one to do the obvious and desired thing.

Fourth postscript:  It is not trivial to get the desired menu to come up.  The Gimp can apparently get stuck in a state where only the rotation-tool-that-crops-without-asking is accessible; I was very lucky to find the right tool at all, and I can't get to it now.  Even closing and restarting the program doesn't fix the problem, because state information seems to be saved between runs (bad news when the state is broken).

Fifth postscript:  The correct state is extremely difficult to recover.  Even removing the .gimp-1.2 directory and re-installing does not allow the correct menu to come up.

It is wrong to hide simple, obvious, essential operations behind what amounts to magical incantations.  It was weird, undocumented, counterintuitive state-dependent crap like this which turned me off so thoroughly to Microsoft stuff.  The last thing I need is the same grief under Linux.

It takes hard work to obfuscate things this well, work that could have added something useful.  The authors of the Gimp ought to be ashamed of themselves for releasing this.  Are there any folks with UI design expertise out there?  If these problems haven't been corrected yet, this project is ripe for a fork. 
For batch conversion I use ImageMagick and the "convert" tool. It should be on your distribution.

Try (in bash script):

for f in piccy1.jpg piccy2.jpg piccyN.jpg
echo "Converting $f"
convert -rotate 90 $f Out_$f

with, of course, your list of files.
Unfortunately gimp took the path of copying Photoshop into obscure nomenclature. They went out of their way to have their menus and features very similar to Photoshop and made it harder to use in the process. Kind of annoying.
Programs that make sense only to the programmer are as broken as programs that crash.

Come back to Microsoft...
Support professionalism in IT...
Ah, Simon, Simon... I think you've saved (what little remains of) my sanity! ;-)
Actually I find the least path of resistence is to use Photoshop 2.5 on a Mac.
Come now; if I'm unwilling to lay out funds for Windows, what makes you think I'd buy a Mac?

SimonC's suggestion worked like a charm.  All the images are perfect, even if the Gimp is still broken.
Sanity is overrated... :-)
Honestly Photoshop isn't easy nor is it cheap. Windows Picture viewer or paint don't have that functionality at all.

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