I ran across this post on Digg about how the folks who make GIMP are considering a revamp to the GIMP UI. I for one, think this is a positive direction for the application and it probably help build a stronger user base going forward. The current GIMP UI suffers from the same quirks that the NetBeans 3 series UI suffered from: it tried behave in an application-centric fashion like the Mac, but did this on a window-centric OS like Windows or GNOME.
On the Mac, applications like Photoshop and Quark XPress can have their tool bars floating around the screen along with the active document. If you are running other applications, you can still peek through to see the applications running the background. When an application is in the foreground, it will present it’s menu options in the global menu bar. Now when you try and to the same thing in an OS without a global menu bar, it kind of sucks. In the case of NetBeans, your main menu bar was attached to the code editor while the “pallet” windows would be menu-less. So on OS’s like Windows, each tool pallet was it’s own window, thus making increasing the number of tasks in the task bar, etc. It was also possible to alt-tab to the code editor and lose sight of your tool pallets. It was very annoying and one of the reasons I became an Eclipse fan.
Gimp makes takes NetBeans old problem to another level: the main tool pallet and the active windows both have menubars. And like NetBeans 3, you’re tool pallets are also windows. Have a look at this screen shot on Windows to get a better idea what I am talking about. Under GNOME things are as bad, but it’s still visually confusing. Even slightly more confusing, the tool pallet is actually your main window (you start there) and not the document window. Applications like Photoshop and PhotoPaint handle the tool organization a lot better on Windows.
As of version 4, NetBeans made a decision to to try a single-window interface. The UI has been substantially cleaned up and usability greatly improved. Now it looks like the GIMP team is trying a similar idea and by all appearance, it looks pretty damn good. I am eagerly looking forward to see what develops.