My image editor for Mac OS X is now Acorn.

I moved from Linux to OS X years ago, but I still kept going to GIMP for image editing. Keep in mind that only in the last year or so has GIMP become Cocoa-native. Prior to that it required an X11 runtime that was available as an installable extra from Apple.

Running GIMP inside X11 on OS X looked poor with the antiquated GTK+ widget set. The runtime situation made it impossible to directly Alt+Tab to GIMP; the X11 process would gain focus instead. The GIMP shortcut keys used Control instead of Command. There we other quirks I cannot remember now.

When GIMP become Cocoa-native, I was relieved. But a keyboard focus bug caused text entered into text fields to be interpreted as Alt+Key strokes, which are shortcut keys for menu items. Fine, so I disabled all shortcut keys in the app and did everything solely from touchpad clicks. In the next version, that bug got fixed but not the bug that fails to order files by name properly.

Yesterday, in GIMP, I was trying to figure out why I could not select a layer in the Layer dialog. I had already converted my floating selection to a new layer, so what could be the problem? GIMP hung as I poked around, and I had to force quit it. At that point, I decided to buy an image editor.

I had previously researched other image editors for Mac OS X, but the different choices were daunting. The review articles I had found were either outdated or incomplete (missing a prominent application). Finally, in a bogus article which I will not link to, several comments to that article recommended Acorn. I took a look at the feature list of Acorn, and I was impressed. It only cost $30, and I trust the crowd more than a self-appointed authority on those user-generated content repositories, so I bought it.

What a huge difference! I am still in the process of kicking myself for being so foolish as to not leave GIMP earlier. I rate GIMP's ease-of-use at 3 (out of 10). I rate Acorn's at 9 (because nothing is perfect). Exploring Acorn to figure out how to do something is fast, simple, and straightforward. I had to look up how to add to a selection, and the Acorn documentation is up-to-date and complete with good search results.

And that brings me to what really struck me about the difference. In GIMP I had seen the different selection method (add, subtract, union) mini-buttons before, but until Acorn it was all just so much clutter in my face that I never thought about what to do with those buttons. So suddenly, because of Acorn's superior UI design and full documentation, my skills as an editor of images have increased.

For those of you thinking I should use Photoshop, Photoshop Lightroom, or Photoshop Elements: just no, guys. I think I tried out Lightroom, and what a convoluted mess. The install was odd somehow. The look and feel was that wannabe nouveau Adobe Flex. It tried to take over my Mac by asking me about all my images and whatnot. And the UI was like advanced GIMP. I went running back to GIMP very quickly. The next time I tried to give Lightroom another chance my trail period had expired, and I decided it was not worth it to pursue again.

To those who might think this product review was unfair: I did not set out to write a product review when I started using PS Lightroom, Acorn, or GIMP. I'm just a guy who used GIMP on OS X for far too long, and I used the immense power of an inference engine that I keep stored in my skull, and the output I got from the input provided lead me to spend $30 on Acorn, and I'm very happy with that decision. In fact, I'm so pleased that I wrote this blog entry about it.

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