Hello and welcome to the GIMP book!
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is an open-source image editing program, licensed under the GNU General Public Licence. It can be used for editing electronic bitmap images like photographs. Whilst GIMP can edit vector graphics such as SVGs other programs such as Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator are far more capable. GIMP, as a fully functioning image editor, rivals other industry standard software such as Adobe Photoshop and Corel Paint Shop Pro in terms of features such as multiple layers, the ability to resize and re-shape images, cropping, colour manipulation, and so on.
The project was started in 1995, and its first public release (0.54) was in January of 1996. Now, 13 years after its first release, GIMP is used by a variety of people ranging from professional graphic artists, to computer hobbyists of all ages who don't want to put down $700 for a copy of the newest Photoshop.
Since its original release for Unix and GNU/Linux operating systems, GIMP has been ported to many major operating systems and platforms including Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X. GIMP requires the GIMP Toolkit (GTK), an advanced widget library created during the development of GIMP. If you download GIMP for any platform, you must first install GTK if it isn't installed already. Although this comes standard in most modern Linux distributions that ship with GNOME, it does not come standard with Windows nor Mac OS X. Additionally, GTK does not run fully native on Mac OS X and requires a special X Server package.
Many image editing tutorials are available on the web. Some of the available tutorials can be used interchangeably, since the image-editing functionality provided by the GIMP and Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro are similar (images can be cropped, resized, colours altered, pixels erased, pixels added etc.). A moderately advanced GIMP user can follow Photoshop tutorials as if they were written for the GIMP, and vice-versa except when the tutorial uses a feature that one of the programs does not support. However, following a Photoshop tutorial using the GIMP (or any other image editor, in reality) as written can be difficult, or nigh impossible. Unfortunately, the GIMP lacks some features that are commonly used in Photoshop, such as adjustment layers (which, for example, may affect the brightness or contrast of an image without permanently modifying it) and colorspaces other than RGB and grayscale (CMYK is essentially a necessity if you're wanting to print something). In most situations, luckily, these features do little more than just make your workflow a tad easier, thus there might just be a different way to achieve the same results.
The current look of GIMP consists of 2 main windows - the image window and a toolbox. Also by default there's another utility window. The image window is always under the utility windows, but can easily go over by using the Tab key.
Note that if you want to start using the GIMP right away, right clicking an image window will open a menu that gives access to most of the GIMP's editing tools and features. Obviously, all commands can also be accessed via the toolbar at the top of the window of the image you're currently working on.
You can find out a lot more about GIMP on its website, http://www.gimp.org/.