Microsoft Developing Alternative to JPEG Image Standard

Not content to take on PDF and PostScript with Windows, Microsoft (MSFT) now also is setting its sights on going head-to-head with the JPEG imaging standard.

Microsoft introduced on May 24 at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) here its proposed image-compression file-format specification, which it is calling "Windows Media Photo."

During a session on Windows Media Photo, Bill Crow, principal program manager with Microsoft's Digital Media Division, described some of the characteristics it plans to support with the fledgling spec.

Windows Media Photo will allow users to correct, render and print photos in half the size a comparable JPEG requires, Crow said.

As a result, images will retain more shadow and highlight detail, even when sent via e-mail, instant-messaging and other communications channels; and will require significantly less space for storage, he told WinHEC attendees.

"While the half the size of a JPG is interesting, it's largely irrelevant in my opinion," blogged Thomas Hawk, a San Francisco-based digital media enthusiast and author of the "Digital Media" blog. "Flash memory and hard drive storage cost being what it is these days storing JPG images is not inconvenient. But better quality is something and this could be meaningful."

Hawk added that while he doubted that "Microsoft's format still will be better than the RAW format that I shoot in today and I doubt that you'll see the top photographers switching to it over RAW, but for the world of amateurs shooting JPG this could be a positive step forward."

Another digital-technology enthusiast, Nathan Weinberg, who runs the Inside Microsoft blog, said it was "about damn time" that Microsoft took on JPEG.

Windows Media Photo "features 24:1 compression while retaining far more detail than JPEG or JPEG 2000 formats," blogged Weinberg. "Microsoft is shooting to have higher quality than typical digital cameras while at a 12:1 level (most cameras use 6:1, so that's a very good thing)."

On May 24, Microsoft posted to its Web site Version 0.9 of the Windows Media Photo specification. The 0.9 version of the spec was shipped with the Beta 2 versions of Windows Vista and WinFX runtime components.

According to the draft specification, Windows Media Photo will provide fixed or floating-point high-dynamic range image encoding; lossless or high quality lossy compression; and a small memory footprint for practical in-device encoding and decoding.

In order to make use of XPS, Microsoft's XML Paper Specification display/printing format that Microsoft is pushing as an alternative to PostScript and PDF, developers need to use the Windows Media Photo Device Porting Kit, according to Microsoft.

"If Microsoft is smart, it'll realize that owning a popular media format is more important than making money off of it, since adoption of Windows Media Photo will likely help calm people who are psychologically averse to using Windows Media Audio and Windows Media Video files," opined blogger Weinberg. "Give away a lifetime non-commercial license of WM Photo for free to Apple and Adobe, please!"

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