Designing professional websites with Linux

Most web design companies and professionals do the majority of their work using either Windows or OS X. The primary reason for this, I argue, is that the industry standard tools such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Fireworks only run (natively) on these platforms. For many professionals using Linux as a primary platform for creating websites just isn’t even considered. Nevertheless, using open-source tools on Linux to design and develop websites is becoming more popular for many different reasons. In this article I’ll take a look at why Linux and it’s open-source programs are gaining steam, as well as address some of the challenges designers face when creating and designing websites with Linux in a professional environment.

To start, lets talk about the tools. The most popular open source pixel-based image editing program by far is Gimp, but there are others such as Krita, and there is also Pixel which runs on Linux but it’s not open source (so we won’t discuss that here). I’ll take the base assumption that Gimp is the best available alternative to Photoshop. As far as vector graphics go, I think Inkscape easily takes on most of the duties you would typically employ Illustrator or Quark for. So assuming that Gimp and Inkscape our are best choices, and if we want to reduce licensing cost to a bare minimum, and get the best use of our RAM, then there is no better choice than Linux for an operating system.

Why use products that aren’t as good?

The bottom line is that they’re free, and even if they do lack features of their closed-source counter parts, they are able to produce arguable similar end results for producing web ready graphics. In the near future I see the highest demand and use for these programs to come from Latin America, China, and Eastern Europe. Even if licensing costs for Windows were to eventually become more reasonable in these countries, Linux will still be a cheaper alternative for designers just starting up or operating on a tight budget. And while OS X is a really nice operating system, you need to buy a Mac to legally use it.

Designers coming from a background of using Adobe products, often scoff at the interface of Gimp and its lack of print support. Nonetheless people do switch, but it’s usually because of licensing costs. I don’t really imagine that many design firms or professionals would fall into this category, but casual users do, and so do people just getting into the industry that don’t have the money for CS4 and don’t want to use one that’s cracked. So for the most part, I don’t think there are going to be a lot of converters; people usually stick with what they’re used to.

Whatever the reason for choosing to design websites with Linux, you can’t argue that the price doesn’t come into the equation. Spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars for using the proprietary design software may make things easier, but if you’re really on a budget, there’s no better alternative. Are the end results that different? It’s arguable, but I don’t think they are. In my opinion a good artist is able to make their art on whatever medium or platform they have available.

Switching to Linux

If you’re self employed or a freelancer and using Linux as your primary platform, you might have a few hiccups or problems, but they would be minor compared to working for a large design firm. Making the assumption that a skilled user of Adobe’s creative design suite would switch to designing on Linux (or a creative company hired a designer that used Linux), problems in the workplace would be inevitable (aside from getting laughed out of the office). Your clients aren’t going to care whether your producing SVG and XCF file formats rather than AI or PSD, but your boss and colleagues probably will. Most web design companies expect (or even require) their designers use Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash, Fireworks, etc,.

However, if running Linux is something you’re permitted to do, there are still other obstacles. The primary being that your going to need to be working with PSDs, AIs, and other file formats that aren’t native to your open source design software. That’s not to say they aren’t going to work, but you might run into some problems (like crashes, data loss, and corrupted files) if you aren’t using the software it was created on.

Of course these problems are only going to be encountered at creative design companies that are using Adobe products. Take out Adobe, and take away the problems for our Linux web designer. Now I don’t actually think Adobe is going anywhere, and I think they make great products. I do however think that in the near future you might find design firms in developing countries using Linux and open-source software. I also think that as a result of Linux continually taking a larger percentage of the desktop market, Adobe may release some of its design software for Linux.

4 thoughts on “Designing professional websites with Linux

  1. Nice post! I’m trying to do some web design work on Open Source, but coming from Adobe products, the doorstep is a little high. But, as with everything in the Linux, I won’t give up and learn how to use the tools properly. It feels pretty good to be completely legit with licenses etc.

    Just wondered that after three years you are still only using Linux + Open Source or have fallen for the feature-packed commercial products?

  2. @Joe1 I still use open source software daily. WordPress is probably the software that I use the most (in conjunction with a LAMP server), but I use a lot of different FOSS depending on what I’m doing. I don’t use Linux at all for work anymore, as I primarily use OS X. However, I do use Ubuntu on my home computer.


  3. 2006-2007 where good times weren’t they? LOL Everyone and their mother wrote in their blog about using Linux (Ubuntu usually) for web dev for those two years. What happened? I’m guessing the authors eventually had enough work under their belt after those 2-3 years to have a little spending cash for a new Mac.

    Nothing wrong with that, but I chuckle every time an author responds back “Oh, heh, well…uhmmm I have a Mac now. Sorry.” and I completely understand. I’ve been using Macs at work since OS 7.5. I had one of my own, a G4 MDD with dual 800mHz running CS and CS2. But I felt like I was taking my work home with me. I wasn’t getting the wow factor of hardware design or OSX and eventually went back to a PC. I have Macs at my disposal any time, why spend it on one system when I can buy three new ones for my kids?

    Overall Linux is a great GREAT starting point to learn and study with; even in graphic design. Color theory, typography, marketing and branding psychology are not proprietary; they don’t require a file format. Your software should always ALWAYS be secondary to the design ideas. I’ve seen amazing things done with GIMP/Inkscape/Xara, and I’ve seen absolute crap created with Creative Suite that could have been done better by printing off the receipt and painting with it.

    No matter the “standard”, it’s always a matter of personal preference and what you want to accomplish.

  4. append- In this case you took the plunge and made something great with free software. You’re reward? Evidently what ever you want. Cool how that works isn’t it?

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