We've produced an exclusive preview of the new "digital camera friendly" technologies available in Microsoft's upcoming Windows XP operating system. New features in Windows XP make it easier to acquire, manipulate, print and upload your digital photos.

Over the last few weeks DPReview have been testing Microsoft Windows XP Beta 2 (previously known as "Whistler") and examining the new "digital camera friendly" features which are designed to enhance your working "experience" (get it).

For general information on Windows XP check Microsoft's site. Bear in mind that this article is based on Beta 2 and things may well change in the final release of Windows XP and any problems which occurred during the making of this article (should) be fixed by then.

Key "digital camera friendly" technologies

  • Scanner and Camera Wizard (acquisition of images)
  • Explorer Views (display of EXIF information and new "filmstrip" view)
  • Photo Printing Wizard (multiple layouts, printing direct from Explorer)
  • Web Publishing (uploading of images to web publishing / photo sharing sites)
  • Inter Print Ordering (ordering of prints from Photo Finishers direct from Explorer)

System used in this preview: Sony Vaio R505TSK Notebook (850Mhz PIII, 256MB RAM, 20 GB HD). Most of the captures below have been reduced in size, clicking those with a magnifying glass will display the full size capture.


Scanner and Camera Wizard

The task of getting images from your digital camera (or scanner) onto your hard disk is now handled by the Scanner and Camera Wizard which is by default assigned to certain types of removable drive (AutoPlay for Hardware), including digital cameras connected by USB (or those with WIA compatible drivers) and card readers. In this example we're using the Vaio's internal MemoryStick slot.

Upon connecting the digital camera (or inserting media card into reader) the Removable Media wizard will pop up allowing you to choose the next action: acquire (Scanner and Camera Wizard), slideshow, print or open folder. This step can be bypassed next time.

Selecting "Acquire Pictures" moves on to the first page of the Scanner and Camera Wizard, at this stage you can select images to be copied (initially all are selected) and any rotation to be applied on each image at the time of copying.

Next, select the naming scheme and local folder to be used for storage, you can also choose to automatically upload the images to the Internet. You can choose to delete images once they've been copied. Shame there isn't any option for creating date named folders or renaming files with date/time stamps (such as with PIE).

The wizard copies (or moves) images from the camera (or card reader) directly to the selected directory. That's it. For novice users the new Scanner and Camera Wizard definitely makes acquiring images extremely straightforward, however I feel advanced users will find it too restrictive (no date renaming, too many steps involved).


Explorer Views and EXIF information

Windows Explorer now (almost) properly understands the EXIF information embedded in all digital camera JPEG (and TIFF) images. It's now possible to view this information in both the file's properties and directory list views. Also new to Windows XP are the Tile and Filmstrip views. In the left pane of an Explorer window you'll find new buttons for printing, photo finishing (online) and uploading to photo sharing sites.

Detailed file view - now with date and time photo was taken, its dimensions and the camera make and model. Thumbnail file view - thumbnails are now cached in a file called "thumbs.db" (a considerable improvement over the thumbnailing implemented in Windows 2000).. Still not a patch on ACDSEE.
Tiles file view - shows the file icon, image dimensions and file type. Film strip view file view - thumbnails are show in a filmstrip along the bottom of the window, the selected image is "previewed" directly above, you can zoom, rotate and of course scroll this view.
 
EXIF information can now be viewed directly in the file's property window, though obviously XP doesn't know anything about specific cameras, certain things like focal length won't make any sense.. And where's shutter speed?  


Photo Printing Wizard

The Photo Printing Wizard makes printing images very straightforward, just select the images you want (CTRL+Click or SHIFT+Click in the Explorer window) then click on "Print pictures".

The Photo Printing Wizard first asks for confirmation of the images you have selected (it would have been nice at this point to be able to specify the number of copies of each image).

Now select the print and paper options including output sizes, margins, quality etc.

Now you can select from an array of layout options, depending on the size of selected paper (in this case 8 x 10 / A4) you can choose from 8 x 10, full size, 5 x 7 cut-outs, 4 x 6 cut-outs, 3.5 x 5 cut-outs, wallet prints or a contact sheet. A montage of the various layout options is shown below:


Finally the images are printed.


Web Publishing

"Publish this file to the Internet" helps you to easily upload your images to web storage / photo sharing sites, obviously the selection is currently a little limited as you can only select MSN, XDrive or a user defined location. I'm sure (and hope) this will be expanded for Windows XP final.

Select the web publisher or photo sharing site to use for image storage, currently only MSN, XDrive and "Other" are available. Selecting "Other Network Location" allows you to enter FTP server credentials for direct FTP upload.

Using MSN you can select a storage folder, images are uploaded (this is currently pretty buggy so I won't cover it in any more detail).

Note, you can also send pictures by email, Windows XP will automatically generate reduced size images better suited to sending over email.


Internet Print Ordering

Clicking on "Order Prints from the Internet" allows you to order prints of your images direct from online photo finishers. We're assured by Microsoft that the SDK for this facility will be publicly available and that they'll have a much greater choice of finisher by the time the final Windows XP is available.

Select the company you wish to use for finishing, currently only Ofoto and Print@Kodak are available, obviously this will be more after Beta.

Next we're presented with an Ofoto Login page (all of the following pages are actually "mini" webpages). The exact steps involved from here onwards will no doubt vary slightly from one company to another.

Select print sizes and quantity.

Select recipient address.

Select shipping method.

Review Order Summary.

Select Payment method and confirm the order.


Conclusion

It's clear that Microsoft have done a lot to make Windows XP a far more pleasant and easier place to work, it's also clear that they see digital photography as an important technology both now and ongoing. The integration is welcome and well implemented, and on the whole seems to work.

Lets hope that the SDK's for these new technologies are freely available so that third party companies and developers can enhance and integrate with them.


Feedback!

Rick Turner, a developer for Microsoft and long time reader (and apparently until recently lurker) has posted a question on our PC Tools forum in response to this article. He's looking for feedback from YOU about what you think of these enhancements and what you'd like to see from these new technologies.

Click here for Rick's question posted on PC Tools
(please click on "Follow Up" to post your comments)