XnView - Small, feisty and powerful

Updated: June 22, 2022

This article should have probably been written twenty years ago. But then, Dedoimedo only came into being in 2006, and by that time, I was heavily entrenched in my love and use of IrfanView as my favorite image viewer. The passion extends beyond its native Windows environment; 'tis my favorite in Linux, too, and I find it superior to the native crop. Of course, when I wrote more extensively about this in my Windows-Linux migration saga, a bunch of folks emailed me, questioning my choices, and brining XnView into focus.

And then, I thought, well, I ought to give this program its due respect. Now, there is no cliffhanger moment here. I've tried and used XnView before, and I've always liked it. This means today's article will be contention and drama free. But I would like to give XnView its proper review, maybe do a little bit of comparison to my favorite, and mostly redress a long, outstanding gap in my writing history. To wit, let us talk about XnView in depth and detail. After me.

Teaser

Setting up

I decided to test XnView MP in Kubuntu 21.04. I double-clicked on the downloaded .deb file, and the package installer tool, whatever it is, informed me that it couldn't install the program because of missing dependencies. I then tried the installation on the command line, using dpkg -i, and this worked without a hitch. Not sure what the problem is, but there you go.

Dependency error

Raphic viewer ... raphic indeed.

When you launch the program, you get the first-run configuration, allowing to change certain parameters, like language, where to keep program settings, whether and when to check for updates, and if you want to share some basic telemetry via anonymous logs with the developer. Once you tick or untick whatever you want, the program will launch into a browser-like mode.

Startup

Finding your way around, and there's a lot to find

First, I didn't like the browser view. I am not happy with most image viewer programs doing this, because I prefer to focus on individual images rather than entire galleries. There's more to be said about this, but then, if you are not happy with the browser mode, you can disable it from showing up at startup, and then some. Indeed, XnView is a surprisingly overwhelming program for its modest, unassuming size. But let us proceed slowly.

Browser mode

For some reason, I don't like the thumbnail previews - I often disable this in file managers, too.

Startup mode

So, capabilities. Many, there are. XnView has a tabbed interface, it allows you to save your work session, you can manipulate image metadata, perform various basic and somewhat complex image processing functions, fiddle with color, add various filters, and more. Let us not forget batch processing, either. Since I can't do this review in isolation, I must compare to both GIMP and IrfanView. XnView seems to sit somewhere in between these two when it comes to what it can do. The only question is, how efficient is it?

Working 1

Working 2

Not bad, tabbed interface and all. But the task manager icon pinning doesn't work well in Plasma.

Customizing the program

Another strong suite of XnView is its almost extreme customization flexibility. You do need to invest time, but in the end, you can sort the UI and usage flow pretty much however you like it. Being an IrfanView fan, I am extremely keen on its speed, snappiness and simplicity. It allows you to do things with quick, single hotkey actions, with as little use of Meta modifiers as possible. For instance, you open files with just 'o' rather than Ctrl + o. Save as is done with 's' rather than Ctrl + S or Ctrl + Shift + S. Esc quits the program. Hitting the d key will delete the image buffer, leaving you with a blank, clean canvas.

Settings 1

Settings 2

You can set quality, smoothing, sampling, metadata for each and every supported write format.

XnView isn't as efficient by default. But, but, but. You can tweak all of its shortcuts. Not only that, you can tweak shortcuts separately for the Browser mode and the View (Normal) mode. I spent a few minutes doing this, and very soon, I almost had parity with IrfanView, shortcuts wise. I was able to quickly manipulate images, although IrfanView still wins when it comes to certain operations.

Next, I invested time in making XnView look how I prefer it. This also meant disabling thumbnail previews for folders. Again, you have so much freedom here that you can even decide the quality of thumbnails (if you use them) as well as their size. You can set read/write presets for a range of image formats, search for image files in many intricate ways, and the list goes on. What it doesn't do amazingly well, provided I'm not mistaken, is its ability to take timed screenshots. It can do that, but there doesn't seem to be a "reel" option like in IrfanView. But it compensates for with dozens of other features that aren't available in its so-called rival. But then, it all comes down to what you need, plus I don't want to turn this article into a side-by-side comparison. That's not the purpose here.

Thumbnail options

If you remove the tick mark for Visible and/or show as Thumbnail for Folders, you get a clean view in the Browser mode, provided you want to use it.

Having fun

Once I got past the initial micro-anger at the Browser mode, past the shock of how much stuff can be meaningfully crammed into a tiny program, and how incredible extensible XnView is, I set about using the program, to see how well it actually works. And works well it does. It's a pretty good program - no surprise there, I've known that for many a summer.

Lossless operations

Lossless operations. But then, note the low resolution on toolbar icons.

Batch conversion

Effects

Adjust colors

Conclusion

XnView is a fantastic program, overall. There are some bugs and problems, of course. In my Plasma desktop, the UI didn't render perfectly - some icons were low-res, some buttons didn't have all the border lines and such. The installation comes with a bogus dependency warning, and the program can be overwhelming to new users, due to its myriad options and settings and somewhat confusing Browser mode.

That said, once you settle in, and you invest a little bit of time taming the tool, XnView can look and behave the part. You can also adjust its shortcuts for a much more efficient work session, you have tons of filters and effects, plus you can work with image metadata, and there's a tabbed interface to boot. 'Tis a pretty solid program, with lots of great features. I still do find some elements a bit clunky, or not as fast or efficient as I'd like them. That said, IrfanView aside, this is one of the more capable and useful image viewers out there. You should definitely check it out. And with that, I bid you farewell.

Cheers.

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