Windows 7 : Organizing, Fixing, and Sharing Digital Photos - Photo Management in Windows XP and Vista

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If you're used to either Windows XP or Vista for photo management, Windows 7 requires you to change your ways yet again. To understand why, you need to first look back to how this worked in previous versions of Windows.

When Windows XP first shipped several years ago, Microsoft imbued the system with a number of task-centric user interface elements that made it fairly easy to work with digital media files directly in the Explorer shell. For example, the My Pictures special shell folder provided a number of picture-specific tasks, such as Get pictures from camera or scanner, View as a slide show, and Order prints online, among others. Windows XP also included a number of picture-specific folder views, such as Filmstrip, which made viewing pictures from Explorer reasonably pleasing. The Windows XP My Pictures folder is shown in Figure 1.

Other operating systems, such as Mac OS X, offer fewer shell-based digital photo management features than does Windows, but Mac users have come to love the iPhoto digital photo management application; and on Windows, applications such as Google's Picasa have proven hugely popular with users. For this reason, Microsoft stepped away from the task-centric user interfaces it developed for Windows XP and instead created the iPhoto-like Windows Photo Gallery application for Windows Vista.

Figure 1. With Windows XP, digital photo management occurred directly in the Explorer shell, not within a separate application.

Windows Photo Gallery provided some decent if basic capabilities. It provided a friendlier place to manage photos than the Windows Vista shell, certainly. It had basic editing capabilities, with auto adjustment, exposure and color adjustment, cropping, and red eye reduction functionality. You could share photos from the application via e-mail, videos (via Windows Movie Maker), and DVDs (via Windows DVD Maker), and you could print, both to your own printers and to various online photo services. Windows Photo Gallery is shown in Figure 2.

While hardly exceptional, Windows Photo Gallery hit all the high points. The problem is that the application was bundled with Windows, a practice certain regulatory agencies—especially in Europe—complained about. But from a functional standpoint, it also meant that Microsoft could not update it very frequently and that doing so would require the company to pass such updates through the rigorous testing cycle that accompanies any Windows update.

To combat these issues, Microsoft began developing Windows Photo Gallery outside of Windows. Renamed to Windows Live Photo Gallery, this new version of Windows Photo Gallery has been updated significantly since Vista first shipped and is available as a free download. It is now included as part of the Windows Live Essentials suite, which, again, we do consider an essential part of the Windows 7 experience.

Figure 2. In Windows Vista, a bundled application called Windows Photo Gallery provided basic digital photo management, editing, and sharing functionality.


Windows Live Essentials—and, thus, Windows Live Photo Gallery—is available to users of Windows XP and Vista as well.

A bare install of Windows 7 does not include Windows Photo Gallery or Windows Live Photo Gallery, though it does include a stripped-down viewer application called Windows Photo Viewer, also discussed in this chapter. However, we will treat Windows Live Photo Gallery as a core part of Windows 7 regardless. This is an application that Microsoft would include in the OS if it weren't for antitrust-based bundling concerns.

Oddly enough, Microsoft also significantly enhanced the ways in which you can manage photos and other pictures via the Windows 7 shell, so we will begin our examination of Windows 7's image management capabilities there.

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