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Microsoft promises RAW Support in Windows, details sketchy (UPDATED)
(Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - 12:19 EDT)

A lot will depend on the details of the eventual implementation, but Microsoft today announced that the next generation of Windows (codenamed "Longhorn") will deliver native support for a variety of digital camera RAW files.

In what looks to be a major victory for better accessibility of RAW files, Microsoft has announced that the next generation of its Windows operating system ("Longhorn") will support RAW files from cameras manufactured by Canon, Fujifilm, and Nikon. In a nearer time frame, a thumbnailer and viewer program will be available as a free download for Windows XP users. An email accompanying the release mentioned support for Canon and Nikon RAW formats in the thumbnailer/viewer program and in a future release of Microsoft Imaging Suite, but not Fujifilm, so it isn't clear at this point whether those near-term solutions will include Fujifilm support. (We've asked for clarification on this point, will update this story once if/as/when we receive any further details.)

On the face of it, this sounds like excellent news in the battle to keep RAW-format data freely available and protected against obsolescence, but the really big news is buried a little further down in the release, where it talks about a standardized architecture for image codecs (shorthand for image coder/decoder). This would allow people to develop their own codecs which could be "certified and implemented in Windows."

While this seems like a very promising development, we of course don't know any of the details at this point, and as usual, "the devil is in the details." For instance, how will the codecs be "certified," and will third party codecs that decrypt data encrypted by the manufacturers be allowed? (This is the bugaboo that's apparently stopped Adobe from fully processing RAW files from the Nikon D2x, D70s, and D50 cameras.) Will the standard API (application programming interface) provide third-party access to data that is currently encrypted (such as the white balance information from recent Nikon NEF files), or will that portion of the RAW data continue to only be accessible via proprietary software solutions?

The cover email that we received along with the release said that the forthcoming certification program "...ensures (software developers') solutions provide a consistent experience for consumers when using RAW image files." This begs the question of who will be making the decision of whether a particular codec provides a "consistent experience" or not. In similar vein, do we necessarily want a "consistent" user experience? What if a developer comes up with a solution that does a better job of the translation, would that be excluded because it isn't "consistent?"

So there's a lot to be seen about how this program rolls out before we can get too excited about it. One thing though: Regardless of implementation details, if it at least helps insure that proprietary RAW formats will remain readable further into the future than they might otherwise, that in itself would be good news.

Microsoft's PR agency has confirmed that initial releases of the Windows XP thumbnailer/viewer utility and the next release of Imaging Suite won't include support for the Fuji RAW format, although future versions could well do so.

Original Source Press Release:

Microsoft and Imaging Industry Leaders Unveil Support for Digital Camera RAW in Windows

Adobe, Canon, Fujifilm and Nikon are working with Microsoft to provide seamless digital camera RAW support in Windows

REDMOND, Wash. — June 1, 2005 — Microsoft Corp., together with leading companies in the digital imaging industry, today announced enhancements to the family of Windows® operating systems that will enable consumers to easily work with RAW files in current and future versions of Windows. Working closely with digital imaging industry leaders including Adobe Systems Inc., Canon Inc., Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd. and Nikon Corp., Microsoft plans to deliver native support for digital camera RAW images in the next major version of Windows, code-named “Longhorn.”

In addition, Microsoft is enhancing the digital imaging experience for Windows XP with the upcoming availability of the Microsoft® RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer for Windows XP, allowing consumers to view thumbnails and preview and print Canon and Nikon RAW files from Windows Explorer in Windows XP. These features, as well as the ability to organize and edit Canon and Nikon RAW files, will also be available in a future version of Digital Image Suite.

Microsoft also announced it is developing a certification program for third-party RAW image codecs that will ensure their solutions provide a consistent experience for consumers who are using RAW image files. With this new RAW support across the Windows platform and products, Microsoft is enabling a seamless experience for consumers working with RAW digital images and delivering an extensible architecture for hardware and software industry partners.

“The explosion in popularity of digital photography on Windows continues to progress and evolve as consumers discover the quality benefits of digital camera RAW,” said Amir Majidimehr, corporate vice president of Windows Digital Media at Microsoft. “By working with industry leaders to extend support for RAW in Windows, we are removing the obstacles for consumer use of RAW and enabling a seamless platform for the next era of digital imaging innovation.”

“Aggressive price moves in the digital SLR space are expected to increase demand for digital SLR cameras to achieve an average annual growth rate of 12 percent between 2005 and 2009. IDC expects that significant growth will derive from consumers who desire higher-quality images,” said Ron Glaz, program director of digital imaging services and solutions at IDC. “Microsoft’s implementation of the RAW file format in ‘Longhorn’ will simplify access to RAW files, and that is expected to increase the use of the RAW file format by various types of digital camera users.”

RAW image capture is becoming increasingly important to beginning and professional digital photographers because of its ability to preserve an image’s fidelity. Often likened to a digital negative, a RAW image is preferred by many photographers who feel it preserves the subtle color and detail possible with today’s digital cameras. Unlike a JPEG, which is processed in the camera, a RAW file is processed on a PC, where the exposure and color can be adjusted after the image has been captured. However, each new camera model introduces changes to RAW image files; this in turn requires that digital imaging applications must also be updated to support these changes. Microsoft is working with its partners to help solve this problem.

Native RAW Support Coming in “Longhorn”
Microsoft worked with imaging leaders to develop the digital camera RAW architecture in “Longhorn” and to provide the best digital photography experience for Windows consumers. “Longhorn” will deliver dramatic innovation in RAW support for independent software developers, camera manufacturers and consumers. Hardware and software partners will benefit from the standardized architecture for image codecs, which allows them to contribute their own codecs to be certified and implemented in Windows.

Microsoft’s platform approach provides built-in support for RAW files, enabling Windows-based applications to use all supported image types, including RAW. This architecture enables software applications to seamlessly support new image types upon codec certification by Microsoft. In addition, “Longhorn” will provide an application programming interface (API) that enables software vendors to exercise a higher degree of control over the RAW conversion in their applications, while enabling market opportunities for professional-level conversion tools.

For consumers, the ability to work with RAW image files just as easily as with JPEGs today will allow them to take advantage of the growing support for RAW in digital cameras and imaging software. Consumers will have more choices as new camera models are introduced because the new architecture in “Longhorn” makes it possible for all software programs on Windows to easily work with RAW image files.

RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer for Windows XP; Future Digital Image Suite Will Support RAW
In addition to announcing the imaging enhancements planned for the next version of Windows, Microsoft is helping Windows XP consumers realize the potential of RAW files. The Microsoft RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer for Windows XP will soon be available for free download* at http://www.microsoft.com. The RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer enhances the Windows XP photography experience by providing consumers with thumbnails, previews, printing and metadata display of RAW images directly in Windows Explorer. In addition, a future version of Microsoft Digital Image Suite will offer the ability to organize, edit and convert RAW files.

Industry Partner Support for Digital Camera RAW in Windows

“We believe Microsoft’s plans to deliver native support to digital camera RAW images in the Windows operating system is good news to consumers. RAW images are valued as one source of expanding the digital imaging world, and we welcome the possibility that more and more digital camera users will have the opportunity to experience and enjoy the world of RAW.”

—    Tomonori Iwashita
Director and Deputy Chief Executive of the Image Communication Products Group

“Microsoft’s support of digital camera RAW in both Windows XP and future versions of Windows is an exciting development that will make RAW image files much easier to use for the consumer. With these plans, users of Fujifilm cameras will enjoy a seamless, high-quality experience whenever working with Fujifilm RAW files on Windows-based PCs.”

—    Kenji Watanabe
General Manager, Marketing
Electronic Imaging Products Division

“Nikon is supporting Microsoft’s new operating system and compatible software, which will enable efficient and accurate handling of Nikon Electronic Format (NEF) RAW digital image file format. Through collaboration with Microsoft, we are confident that the expanded potential to use Nikon’s NEF will contribute substantially to the overall development of the photography industry’s use of RAW files among the broadest market.”

—    Kasuyuki Kazami
General Manager

* Connect-time fees may apply.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

Microsoft and Windows are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.
The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

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