© 1998 Michael J. Hammel
Summary of Vector Drawing Tools for Linux

XFig - screen shots

Requirements:  just a regular X Window System installation, plus the Xaw3D library if you want the 3D buttons and so forth.

Probably the grandfather of vector tools on Linux, xfig is a fairly feature rich package that requires no extra packages to get running on a stock Linux distribution - basically it should build and run pretty quick on any Red Hat, SuSE, Debian, Pacific High Tech system.  Any distribution with a standard X Windows System installation (and that should be all of them) should work.  You can build xfig using the Xaw3D libraries, which will give the UI a much nicer 3D effect, but thats not required.

The main window opens pretty large and resizing doesn't automatically realign the buttons along the left side of the window.  You can specify the use of smaller icons during the build process.  This may help if you use a smaller display resolution like 800x600.

The HTML based help system tries to launch Netscape but doesn't check for an existing Netscape process first.  It also doesn't open the browser to the pages of interest.  The code looks like it tries to do so, but for some reason it didn't do it.  Maybe it was my Netscape configuration, I don't know for certain.  Besides HTML based help, there are PDF help files too.  These require the Adobe acroread program.  Information is provided in the documentation that accompanies the source on where to find this tool.  Unfortunately, if xfig doesn't find acroread at run time, there are no messages saying it wasn't found.

One good thing about xfig is that it installs under /usr/local by default, which is better for system administration purposes.  Tons of examples are provided in the source distribution, but these do not get installed so hang on to the source directory if you want to take a look at them.

TGIF - screen shots

TGIF gets installed under /usr/X11R6 by default, which is a little more difficult in terms of managing software packages.  Its not clear from the Imakefile, the README or the Imake templates how to change this behaviour, either.  Requirements:  just a regular X Window System installation, plus the Xaw3D library if you want the 3D buttons and so forth.

The interface has improved dramatically since the last time I used TGIF, probably 2 years ago.  Its amazing how a little 3D look can improve the impact of the UI.

An annoying aspect of the new UI is that mouse clicks don't get recognized unless I move my mouse after clicking.  Seems a minor thing, but after a while it gets to be a bit annoying.

TGIF, like xfig, doesn't realign buttons along the left side either but it does a better job of UI design by allowing a much smaller window to be fully viewable.  You don't lose as many buttons, options, etc, when you sqeeze the window way down like you do with xfig.  Thats useful on smaller displays.

I found it a bit hard to find help using this package, but you can find useful info in the FAQ at http://bourbon.cs.umd.edu:8001/tgif/faq/.  You can also find the very large man pages, in various formats (ASCII, PDF, HTML, etc) at http://bourbon.cs.umd.edu:8001/tgif/download.html.  The man page is also available in nroff format in the source distribution.

There are some examples at http://bourbon.cs.umd.edu:8001/tgif/goodies.html.  There are a few interesting examples there, but not as many as XFig has.

Sketch - screen shot

Sketch is implemented completely in Python, a high level interpreted language.  It has some limitations, such as the visuals it will support.  The Web site says:

For Sketch to work properly with transformed text, you also need an X-server capable of scaling and transforming fonts. (XFree86 does support this.  Otherwise, you need X11R6 as far as I know).
Xi Graphics AcceleratedX also supports this, at least from version 4.1.  I don't know if Metro Link does, but assuming its an R6 conformant server, it should.  This is the first time I've seen this requirement on any X program.

Sketch requires Python v1.5.1 or later, the Python Imaging Library, v1.0b1 and Tcl/TK, version 8.0 or later.  To build the Python Imaging Library (aka PIL) you can't use the RPM version of Python - you have to build the python distribution from source and install it.  This is because you have to build PIL under the "Extensions" directory of the Python 1.5 directories.  Although I have Python 1.5 installed on my stock RH 5.2 box, there is no Extensions directory.  Plus, if I just made the directory where 1.5 is installed (/usr/lib/python1.5), I'd have to build the PIL as the root user.  Not a good thing.  So I downloaded the Python 1.5 source, built it, then tried the PIL buid.  It didn't work - something about missing a config directory.  And all this before I could even try to build sketch.  Can you say "pain in the butt?"  Why do I have to install 10 packages every time I want 1?  I  find myself yearning for the dear old days of Xt and Athena based tools.

Sketch appears to come with a lot of pages of HTLM documentation, but there isn't really much content in them.  Keep in mind, of course, that sketch (like most of the other tools) is still in early development.

KIllustrator - screen shots

KIllustrator requires the QT 1.41 libraries and the K Desktop Environment (KDE) version 1.1 or later.  The web site specifically states the current version does not compile with gcc 2.7.x, which comes standard on RH 5.2.  It will compile with egcs-1.x, however, and that does come with RH 5.2.  Its getting annoying:   first the migration from a.out to ELF, then migrating from libc5 to libc6 (aka glibc), and eventually migrating to egcs from gcc.  I hope this last migration is simpler than the previous two.  sigh  Is Linux ever going to go 2 full years without some major migration?

The information on the web site is quite useful and the tool looks impressive.  If you run KDE already then you might want to take a look at this one.  Let me know if you had much trouble getting it up and running and I'll pass that along to my readers.  (No fair saying it was a breeze if you're one of the developers!)

I didn't try this one because the installation of KDE is an adventure in itself (there are a ton of packages listed on the KDE home page and its not completely clear which ones are mandatory and which are not).  Any application that is so tied to some other application is a little more than I'm willing to deal with right now.  Even the Gimp isn't tied to GNOME.  Killustrator should be decoupled, if possible, from KDE so non-KDE users could enjoy its benefits as well.

GILT - screen shot

This is a merge, of sorts, of XFIG and Gimp, in very early stages of development.  The project is currently a one-man work. The goal is a freehand-like program with the following features:

According to the author, Ralf Engles:
The current state of the project is pre-alpha and not usable but making fast progress.   I am currently looking for experienced programmers. My plan is to be faster than the Correl-Draw Version for Linux, which is hard as a one man team.

IPAD/XEBOT - screen shots

These tools are neither shareware nor freeware.  They are currently only available in binary format and are free for evaluation purposes.  XEBOT has not superceded IPAD, but the Web site recommends looking at it instead since it includes all the functionality of IPAD plus some extras. According to the author, Sergio Masci:

IPAD is a vector graphics tool and XEBOT is a forms / dialog editor come IPAD-Pro core interface.  IPAD, XEBOT and ZMECH are all derived apps built on the IPAD-Pro core.  IPAD uses a large subset of the IPAD-Pro interface in its raw form. In the past users were encouraged to use XEBOT instead of IPAD because XEBOT has all the vector manipulation capabilities of IPAD and at that time I did not have the time to spare to maintain the seperate IPAD release.
The binary comes in SVGA and X11R6 versions.  The X11R6 version is not completely statically linked and is compiled with libc5.  That means RH5.2 users (and possibly others) may have to do a little fiddling with the LD_LIBRARY_PATH environment variable to get this to work.

When I ran both XEBOT and IPAD I got a bunch of X protocol errors.  This is because neither program likes running in 24-bit (TrueColor) colour visuals.  I had to restart in 8-bit mode (256 color) to run this.
© 1998 by Michael J. Hammel