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.