October 24, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
Vista aims to be snappier with photos
The new operating system offers a pretty complete overhaul of the way digital photos are managed. But some of Vista's nuances have drawn ire from the hard-core enthusiasts who have been putting it through its paces.
In particular, testers have complained that the photo import wizard that pops up when a digital camera or a memory card with photos is connected to Vista only gives the option of importing all the photos or none. Windows XP allowed users to either import all the photos or manually choose which ones to add, a boon for people who don't clear their camera card between outings.
One of those testers, Brandon LeBlanc, praised some of Vista's new tools, including the wizard that allows for easier automatic naming of photos. "Unfortunately I'm forced to quickly exit this tool and go to manually grab my photos from my camera and put them into a specific folder of my choosing," LeBlanc wrote on his blog last week.
Microsoft counters that it made that decision consciously, to make it easier for novices to get their photos into the computer. By default, duplicate photos, at least those already part of the photo album, are ignored.
"We wanted to err on the side of making it easier for consumers to get their pictures in," said JP Wollersheim, a senior product manager in the Vista imaging group.
Critics note, however, that photos that aren't necessarily duplicates, but are digital duds, would still all get added, a challenge given that those who take a lot of photos might fill a 2GB card in a single shoot, quickly overflowing a typical notebook computer's hard drive.
Wollersheim said that there are lots of new features designed to make it not just easier to import photos, but to give users more options once the pictures are on their PC.
At the center of photo handling in Vista is a new photo library program called Photo Gallery, which puts all the photos into one library and adds the ability to do basic photo editing without need for a separate program. Similar in many respects to Apple Computer's iPhoto, the new tool was demoed by Bill Gates at January's Consumer Electronics Show.
For starters, the software is designed to allow users to easily add keyword tags and rate their photos, something that takes time but makes it easier to later pick out photos from a library that might have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of images.
On the photo-sharing side, Wollersheim said that Microsoft wanted to give users more options.
"The challenge is that with digital photos, they are all locked up into your computers," Wollersheim said.
Pictures can be shown in a slide show on the PC, tapping Vista's improved built-in graphics. Images can also be burned onto a DVD, sent to an Xbox 360 or special digital photo frame, or e-mailed to others. For e-mailing photos, Microsoft said it has improved the ability to easily scale down the photo to a more manageable size. Vista will offer one more size option than XP (1280 x 1024) and show the estimated size of the final set of images, it said.
"It's kind of a challenge when you mail 3MB pictures across the pipe," Wollersheim said.
As for printing, Microsoft tried to simplify the process of printing at home, as well as expand the range of other options. Microsoft added an online printing option with Windows XP, a move that was somewhat controversial at the time. However, it turned out that research showed only 0.2 percent of users even knew the feature was there. With Vista, online printing options are more prominent, and Microsoft is adding the ability to send the photos to a nearby retailer where they can be picked up after as little as an hour's processing time.
"From our perspective, it's all about choice," Wollersheim said. "How do I get the pictures to my mom?"
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