An Interview with Michael Schumacher, GIMP administrator

This is the second of a series of interviews of various people surrounding GIMP development and community. See also the interview of Mitch, GIMP maintainer

GIMP is made not only by hard-core developers but also through the hard work of many less technically-inclined contributors.
Michael Schumacher, aka Schumaml, is a great example of an important core contributor who has been with the project for over 10 years. Mostly known as the project administrator, nowadays he takes care of everything but programming: administrative tasks, management, PR, support…

Schumaml was recently named the maintainer of the 2.8 branch, the stable version of GIMP which only receives bugfixes, showing that it does not require a developer to manage important roles successfully.

This interview was held on Saturday, February 4, 2017, at about 12:27 AM in front of a fireplace and after a day of hacking at Wilber Week. With us were several team members, including Debarshi Ray (Rishi (R)), Øyvind Kolås (pippin (P)) and Simon Budig who also asked questions.

Schumaml, the tie-bearing GIMP office manager
Schumaml, GIMP administrator (photo by antenne used by permission (cba))

Jehan: Hello Michael. You are the GIMP administrator, at least that’s what everybody says.

Schumaml: That’s what everybody says, yes.

J: How would you describe your contribution to the GIMP project?

S: I don’t do much coding. It’s just that so many people — from my perspective — do coding on GIMP already and have a better grasp of the source code and how it is made up. So I don’t think I can contribute much in that regard. I try to do administrative stuff like handling the monetary aspect of the project such as telling GNOME that we need money for events like Wilber Week or for LGM reimbursements…
I also care about the bug reports we have. I try to have them categorized, have a proper status, make sure that they get replies, and that we don’t leave a bug report unattended for a long time.
Also, I have administrative privileges on the GIMP web server, on mailing lists, and… what else. Do I forget anything? That’s about it, yeah.

I’ve been called the tie-wearing GIMP office manager and I even got a t-shirt with a printed tie and a “TWOM” label, because I’ve actually been wearing a proper shirt (made to measure) at one GIMP meeting during the Libre Graphics Meeting 2012 in Vienna.

Schumaml, the tie-wearing GIMP office manager
Schumaml, the tie-wearing GIMP office manager (photo by houz (cba)).

J: How long have you been contributing?

S: I think I started somewhere between 2001 and 2004. The first contributions were probably getting GIMP buildable on MSYS, the minimal GNU build system on the Windows platform. Because I was annoyed that there were only GIMP builds for releases and not for every commit in between.

J: Was it like nightly builds?

S: No it was not like nightly builds. I just wanted to be able to have a current build for the MS Windows platform and also made on the MS Windows platform, so that I could build on my Windows system I was using at the time. Just to be able to follow GIMP development more closely than using a build someone made for a development release.

J: So you mostly use GIMP on Windows?

S: Back more than 10 years ago, I did use Windows exclusively. So basically, back then I had done the porting of GIMP to the Windows platform.

J: Do you use GIMP?

S: I use GIMP. Not as much as many other people but I use it to test many things of GIMP itself. I use it to edit photos I make. I don’t publish many of the images because when I’m editing them, I print them or I use them for some documentation work, so it goes to a customer. I even still use it on MS Windows, but now my main platform is Linux.

J: What kind of job do you do?

S: I’m working for a company that used to be a part of Siemens, which had been carved out by now. We are selling communication systems – in the past, you would have called these telephony systems. Nowadays this stuff is called “Communication Enabled Business Processes”, like everything which has to do with communication: calling someone or texting someone or exchanging chats or whatever. We are providing the software, the service, and the consulting.

J: Why do you contribute to GIMP?

S: It started due to pure selfishness: being able to have the most current GIMP available to me.

Since then, a lot has changed: I believe in Free Software. I believe software should be available for everyone for every purpose. GIMP is a Free Software project. Around the time I got hooked up with GIMP, I also got hooked up with Wikipedia, which follows the same approach towards knowledge. I feel like — yeah well — I’m contributing to something that helps a lot of people all over the world. I think that’s a good thing. GIMP happens to be the the first major project I contributed to, and I like it. It’s also in-line with the topics I specialized in at university: image synthesis, image manipulation. It kind of seemed like a logical extension.

Schumaml, the tie-bearing GIMP office manager
Not the Formula One driver. (Photo by Pat David (cba))

Rishi: What do you think of Michael Schumacher?

S: (laughs) The formula one driver?

R: Yeah.

S: First thing, you know about his current condition, like probably still in the coma. I hope that he will get better. He probably won’t make it to his former self but at least to a state allowing him to live in a somewhat decent way.
He got famous when I was in the so-called German “Gymnasium” (part of secondary education). It was a bit of an annoyance then – I got the same nickname – “Schumi” – as he had. I didn’t follow his career too closely, but knew about every race he won because I would be congratulated at school.

pippin: Have you ever made use of sharing the name?

S: No I haven’t. It got me an interview opportunity with a locale radio station because they were calling all people who had the name “Michael Schumacher” and they were asking them “How hard does this affect your personal life? Has it ever affected you?“. Once, I almost had an appointment canceled because someone thought I was mocking them, but that was the only incident ever.

I’ve never used it. I’ve never abused it. Nowadays, after the end of his professional racing career, it basically didn’t matter anymore.

P: Any controversial theme you wish to be asked?

S: Like the fact that I would like to kill spammers? (Maintain several mailing lists, one forum, be a recipient for “can we haz ads on, plz?“, and you’ll know what I mean)

Simon: Not very controversial.

J: What do you want to see in GIMP?

S: Feature-wise, I’m quite OK with what GIMP is right now. I have to admit that some of the current stuff in the GIMP development version is still above my head – for example, I have no real concept yet of the difference between compositing and blending. Learning that it was 2 different things was quite useful. I hope that we can get the documentation of GIMP up-to-speed in time.

I’m more concerned about the project management. As in: how do we decide what new features go into GIMP, how they get into GIMP, and what GIMP development will look like. Particularly post-2.10. You can see it yourself: Right now, our release cycles are much too long. Even the fact that we have actual release cycles is probably bad. If you have a look at services like Twitter or similar, they are constantly releasing. They just push new features out to the people and there is a constant review “this is working, this is not working“. With our long release cycles, users get surprised by “Oh this does not work as it used to. Why have they changed it?“.

The project is still a bit old-fashioned in regard to releases. We are trailing current development models. “Development models” is the term I use because I’m not sure how to refer to this. I’m intrigued by the idea of having stable branches with continuously added new features, but I’m not quite sure if I want 2.10 to be constantly evolving. I would prefer to have 2.12. That’s details.

J: How do you see GIMP in 20 years?

S: First thing: in 20 years, I’ll be 60 (laughs). So I’m not even sure how I see myself at that point. I very much would like to still be part of the project in 20 years. I would still like to be able to see it as an image manipulation program. One of the major Free Software ones. I have no idea at all what it will look like (laughs) because there is so much that can change. Especially in the user interaction. How people interact with software might be the defining factor for how applications will look in 20 years.

J: What’s the feature you are really waiting for?

S: The feature I’m really waiting for… It’s not a feature of painting or image manipulation. It’s about organization. This thing we want to do, Plug-in or Resource Registry 2.0. Properly built and really managed. The thing we talked so much about, have so many great ideas, but always seem to lack the time to do. This is the feature I would like to see.

J: Do you contribute under influence?

S: Yeah, have a look at the 2.8.20 NEWS file. At the typos, which I totally didn’t notice. So now I prefer to not contribute under influence.

J: Indeed you are now the maintainer of the 2.8 branch, or at least the releaser. If not mistaken, you took care of 2.8.18 and 2.8.20 releases. What can you say about this?

S: I guess I should start at why I am doing more 2.8 releases. As I explained before, I’m not interested in coding that much but more engaged in user support and maintenance. Approximately one month before the release of 2.8.18, we had received a report about a security issue in the XCF loading code. It was fixed quickly, for both the development and 2.8 branches, but there was no plan to do a 2.8 release. We have instructions for this, and mitch replied “Just do it!” when I asked about it.

It still felt like flying blind. Had I done the version changes – to 2.8.18, and afterwards advancing to 2.8.19 – correctly? Was the tarball made correctly? Would it build on any other system than mine? It did, but I had still missed two action: the release tag is supposed to be signed (i.e. git tag -s) and the GNOME translations teams should be notified about planned releases with a string freeze be put in place until the release to make it easy for them to complete translations. 2.8.20 was much better prepared and even had an extra long string freeze. I had planned to do it in October 2016, but had to delay it to February 2017, during Wilber Week.

Releasing is definitely something you want to do right, and this means taking a moment of uninterrupted time to do it. My approach towards bug handling has changed a bit, too. I pay much more attention to bugs with attached patches, and try to apply and test those (we really neglected to do this) in order to get them into a stable release.

J: This was a good interview.

S: Thank you for doing it.

An Interview with Michael Natterer, GIMP maintainer

GIMP is Free Software, but even before this, it is people: the ones who create it, the ones who create with it… We don’t have accurate statistics and we take pride on not gathering your data. Yet we know (through other websites that have logged partial statistics over the years) that this is a widely used piece of software, by millions of people around the world. So wouldn’t it be neat to meet some of the individuals who make this project come alive?

Some people think there’s a huge company behind GIMP. This is not the case.
GIMP has always been developed by a handful of random people scattered around the world.
Most of them are volunteers and none of them work on it full-time.
As an insider myself, I’ve wanted to launch a series of interviews with the many awesome people I’ve met since I started contributing. So who better to start with than our own benevolent dictator, GIMP maintainer, and the biggest code contributor: Michael Natterer, aka “mitch”.

This interview was held on Friday, February 3, 2017 at around 3AM in front of a fireplace and after a day of hacking at Wilber Week.
With us were several team members, including Michael Schumacher (schumaml (S)) and Øyvind Kolås (pippin (P)), who also asked questions.

Mitch, the man, the myth, the legend
Mitch. The man. The myth. The legend.
The reason your commit probably got reverted.

Jehan: Hello Mitch! In a few words, what’s the close future of GIMP?

Mitch: In 2.10, there is the GEGL port.
Then the GTK+3 port immediately after, which will go as fast as possible.
We don’t plan many features during the GTK+3 port.

J: What are your preferred features of 2.10?

M: High bit depth, on-canvas filter previews… I don’t actually remember the features of 2.8 [to compare] because I never use it.

J: You use 2.10 instead?

M: Yes.

J: Do you use GIMP often?

M: Mostly for testing what I implement, and also for making postcards I sell in my family business. That’s the only thing I use it for.

A maintainer

J: How did you start hacking GIMP?

M: There was this code that saved the user-assigned keyboard shortcuts for menu actions. The code had an escaping bug where you couldn’t have a hyphen as an accelerator. So I wrote code for escaping the string. That was my first GIMP
in 1997 or 1998.

J: How did you become the maintainer?

M: I killed the previous maintainer.
He is now in my cave in boxes.

Schumaml: Have you ever met the original authors (Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis)?

M: No. Has anyone?

S: Have they ever contacted you?

M: Yes, they sent me a few plugins which I pushed. Neon, photocopy and cartoon. It was around 10 years after they left the project, one of them comes to me and says “Hey Mitch, I coded 3 plugins, here they are”. Everything looked perfect so I just pushed them as-is, and they still exist.

These days, they’ve been reimplemented in GEGL, but the new versions give different results, so the old plugins are still in the menu.

J: Why do you continue working on GIMP?

M: That’s a good question. (laughs)
I don’t know. You guys, perhaps?
It can be really annoying sometimes.
Why do you guys continue?

J: Me? It’s fun.

M: It’s fun yes but sometimes it’s not fun and you do it anyway.

GIMPers at Montserrat, España
GIMPers at Montserrat.

J: Where do you see GIMP 20 years from now?

M: It will probably end up in a pile of bits rotting in some corner. I may have been thinking the same thing twenty years ago, though, so you never know.

A hacker

J: What do you think of Free Software?

M: It’s the way to go, but you need to use the software which is available for a task, so for some tasks you have no choice but to use something that’s not exactly free.

For example: [pointing to nomis trying to make a label printer work on a GNU/Linux
if you were using the closed-source driver for that, it would work.

*: (laughs)

J: What’s your operating system, distribution, desktop…?

M: Debian Unstable, GNOME 3.

J: You often complain about all these though.

M: Because it’s all shit.
Just because you have the least shitty [software] doesn’t mean it’s not all shit.
Like autotools. They are shit, but it’s the best shit we have.
There is no software that isn’t shit, except perhaps the most simple of software which does one task.

J: What’s your development environment or text editor of choice?

M: Terminal & emacs.

J: How do you like to hack?

M: It depends. Sometimes I need silence and sometimes a crowded room.

J: You are your own boss in a shop. But we see commits from you all the time. Are you hacking in your bookstore when you get free time and don’t have to take care of your employees or customers?

M: Sometimes, but very rarely. I’m mostly hacking in the evenings, or I commit something during the daytime that I worked on the night before until 2AM.
If I think “I better go to sleep before I push this”, then I’ll wait until the next day when I’m awake to check it once more before I do.

But I don’t have time to do 5-hour long patches during working hours.

J: You don’t sleep?

M: I don’t really sleep, no.

S: What channels do you use to communicate on behalf or in the project?

M: IRC, and IRC.

pippin: What was the first computer you programmed?

M: It was a Schneider CPC, a variation of the Amstrad. At 15 or 16?

S: How did you write your first hello world?

M: In BASIC of course. My programming languages were BASIC, Assembly, Pascal, Modula-2, C, in that weird order. 🙂 Plus some others at university nobody cares about. 🙂

J: Do you code under the influence?

M: Always! That’s the only way to code.

XKCD Ballmer Peak
Obligatory XKCD, by Randall Munroe (Creative Commons By-NC 2.5).

GIMP: present

J: So all software is shit, but in the list of shitty software, is GIMP not so bad?

M: I hope so, but of course it’s shitty.
We’re just a handful of volunteers doing what companies with hundreds of (paid) people do.

J: But sometimes we do things not so bad, right?

M: Yes, but there is nobody to make sure of it.
It’s not often that someone spends the time and effort to make a plugin perfect.
Sometimes it happens, but usually it gets dumped on us and that’s it.
Ten years later, we look at the code again and say “oh my god, this is complete garbage”.
Very rarely do people maintain their code long term and we cannot seriously expect that to happen with everyone being a volunteer here.

S: Is there something you’d like to do much more in the project, apart from coding?

M: In the project? No, coding is fun. I’m happy that I don’t have to do that much administrative work.

S: When will 2.10 be released?

M: Oh go away! The answer is “go away!”. Read my lips: “go away”. When it’s ready.

S: Do you expect it to be this year?

M: Yes of course.

J: So we have a promise!

*: (laughs)

GIMP: future

S: There was this thing that the UI should use Python and the core should use C.

M: Python for the user interface. Horrible! Why?

S: This is something we had discussed.

M: Yes but in the past people wanted to use JavaScript. The year before they wanted to use Java, the year before they wanted to use this, and the year after they want to use that. Now they’re all gone.

Everyone who ever said “I want to use this or that”, and “It’s all shit, let’s use JavaScript”, none of them are still in the project, so…

S: So you don’t see any big changes regarding GIMP in the near future?

M: In the near future definitely not because we need to get some releases out.
Unless, of course, there is a well-done patch that doesn’t need weeks of discussion and back-and-forth negotiations on how things should be done.

About using other languages: why not? There is Rust. There is maybe simpler stuff for doing user interfaces, but making such decisions for a codebase the size of GIMP is not something we can decide based on “the latest hot stuff”.

I mean, look at this javascript mess.
Is that really better? Just because it’s easier?
Easier just means that more clueless people can write code, and they are clueless enough already.
So making it easier doesn’t make it better.
Arrogant but true.

S: Anything else you want to change?

M: Yes a lot of stuff as long as I don’t have to do all the changes, because I really have enough things to do already (laughs).

You can be the maintainer of whatever subpart, please.
Please. Take away the work from me.
All contributors need to realize that if they do something really well, they will be in charge of that part.

J: That’s a very good point.

M: If you do it right, then you’ll be in charge of the part you are doing right.
It always works like that.

S: They don’t need a blessing from you, right?

M: I don’t do blessings. (laughs)

J: GTK+ comes from GIMP. What do you think of GTK+ now?

M: They lost their minds, but they are also doing really good work. I don’t really understand some of their decisions.

On the other hand, look at the mails we get. People say exactly the same about GIMP: “Have the GIMP devs lost their minds?!?”. I was involved with GTK+ for a long time and people thought that I had lost my mind, which was (and is) probably true. Bottom line is that all is fine between GTK+ and GIMP, I just reserve the right to complain for myself.

S: So we will release GIMP 3 with GTK+3 or 4?

M: They just branched for GTK+ 4.x, so that’s not going to happen overnight.

P: It won’t hurt to suddenly have GIMP 4 instead of 3.

M: No it wouldn’t. If they are done in a few weeks, we’d go for GIMP 4 right away. So why not. That would be cool. (laughs) Or GIMP 5!

J: GIMP 10?


Various rants

S: If you happen to be in a conversation with people talking about GIMP, but they don’t know that you are involved, do you come out as the GIMP principal developer?

M: Only if they start talking utter bullshit, or if things simply need clarification. It has happened, of course. A guy wanted to convert me to GIMP once and I had to tell him: yeah you don’t need to. It was in a non-hacker situation.

J: Who is Wilber?

M: Nobody knows. Wilber is a GIMP.

S: What special device would you like to see GIMP on?

M: This cool Microsoft thing (Surface Studio PC) where they have this hyped video online, and it looks super slick with touch and everything.
It’s an ad like Apple used to do in the past and now Microsoft does it, which is a bit weird.
The official Microsoft YouTube video makes you want to have one of these things.

S: What advice you would like to give to someone who would want to contribute?
What to do and what not to do?

M: Listen to advice and be persistent.

Don’t give up because somebody says “this patch isn’t quite right”, most of the time it won’t be. My first commit to GIMP was reverted immediately.

S: I think you also reverted my first.

M: Yes, that’s kind of a tradition. Everybody fucks up on their first commit and it gets reverted. That’s a good standard.

S: So do not be afraid of errors?

M: Yes exactly. Unless they jeopardize the fate of humanity or something. That’s unlikely.

*: Thanks for the interview.

M: You are welcome!

Mitch at work

Images in this post are courtesy of antenne and used by permission (cba).