Microsoft says it plans to deliver native support for digital camera RAW images in the next major version of Windows, code-named "Longhorn." It will also distribute a 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.
RAW formats vary from camera to camera; the name refers to the native format of the image data captured by the camera's sensor before it is processed by firmware and written to the camera's storage. The processing manipulates the image, changing its sharpness, saturation, contrast and other attributes based on user settings. These manipulations can't be reversed after the file is saved in another format, like JPG, so the RAW data represents the most malleable version of the image.
Some cameras, mainly high-end equipment intended for professionals, can save and export RAW files, and software such as Adobe Photoshop CS and Phase One's C1 can convert RAW to other formats. But for the growing numbers of photo hobbyists with digital cameras, working with RAW files has been a challenge. The Microsoft announcement appears aimed at making it easier for the average digital photographer to make the step up to working with RAW.
There is no standardization of RAW format. The files are typically produced in a format proprietary to each camera maker. Microsoft's approach has apparently been to create a modular software platform for handling the file format, and give each hardware and software maker the ability to provide an image-processing software plug-in called a "codec" (for "code and decode") specific to their RAW format that will work with applications and operating systems that support the platform. The company announced it is developing a certification program for third-party RAW image codecs to insure they work with its operating systems.
In addition, said Microsoft, 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 and supports professional-level conversion tools.
For consumers, the plug-in architecture should make it possible to upgrade their image-editing software when they upgrade their hardware by loading a codec plug-in supplied with the new camera.
Win XP RAW Image Apps To Be Available As Downloads
The Microsoft RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer for Windows XP will be available for free download at http://www.microsoft.com/, according to the company. The RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer will let users work 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.
"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, in a statement. "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."