March 1, 2006
Written by Nate Mook
In the two years since it began as a senior project, Paint.NET has surged in popularity around the world and its developers continue the open source work from their new jobs at Microsoft. BetaNews sat down with project lead Rick Brewster to gain insight into Paint.NET, which he calls “Photoshop for everyone.”
Microsoft may not be known for its support of open source, but the company mentored the software in its early stages and Paint.NET is used internally on the Redmond campus. For now, however, Paint.NET remains an “unofficial” project and Brewster says it — and the code inside — will remain free. Version 2.6 is now available for download.
BetaNews: Let’s start with a little background on Paint.NET. How did the project begin and what was Microsoft’s involvement?
Rick Brewster: The project started in January 2004 as a Senior Design project at Washington State University [WSU] (the class was Comp. Sci. 423). Kerry Hammil from Microsoft, who mentored the project that semester, had the idea of updating Paint to make use of the new features in GDI+ (antialiasing, etc).
I nominated myself to the project manager position and the four of us (Brandon Ortiz, Chris Trevino, Luke Walker, and myself) kicked out a v1.0 product in about 15 weeks. We didn’t start with the source code to Paint, but instead built Paint.NET from scratch — I was quite impressed with how easy it was to build an application in C# and to keep it organized.
Kerry’s role as mentor was to provide guidance and requirements. She made sure that we had certain design documents in place, that certain deliverables were accounted for (e.g. the help file), and she answered many questions we had about various things.
BetaNews: What are the goals of Paint.NET? It seems like you have built a very powerful image editor while retaining simplicity. Is Paint.NET a Photoshop or GIMP for novices?
Rick Brewster: The primary goal of Paint.NET is ease of use. One rule of ease of use is recognizing that “people don’t.” They don’t follow or even read directions (I certainly don’t), they don’t read dialog boxes (I hate dialog boxes), they don’t backup their files, etc. And many people aren’t interested in figuring out all sorts of complex or technical things. They just want it to work. We try to make things simple and discoverable enough so that you don’t have to hit F1 and read a page of text just to figure out how to get things done.
Right now I believe we have the subset of features [from Photoshop/GIMP] that most people want to use most of the time. Hopefully we’re also doing a good job of introducing more advanced functionality (e.g. layers) to people who would otherwise not have been able to use them (either because of cost or complexity). But if they don’t want to use that functionality, we don’t want it to get in their way.
I don’t believe that we should be aiming to replace Photoshop or The GIMP. Photoshop is an incredible piece of software that is used by serious professionals — $600 is not a lot of money when you’re running a business, and it ends up paying for itself. It also has a small army dedicated to its full-time development, whereas we have three people with spare time.
Right about the time of our v1.0 release, we had an open house at WSU where we had a lot of people come and look at all the senior design projects (not just Paint.NET). There was a young woman who bluntly asked, “I already have Photoshop, why in the world would I want this?” I responded by saying, quite simply, “You wouldn’t.” I then explained that while she wouldn’t have much use for it, other people she knew probably would. Her mom, for instance, might just have a need to resize, crop, or add a caption to an image — using Paint.NET in this case is much cheaper than Photoshop, and much simpler than The GIMP.
Saying that Paint.NET is “Photoshop for novices” might be slightly pejorative; a better description is probably “Photoshop for everyone.”