Windows 7 : Managing Pictures with Windows Live Photo Gallery (part 1) - Examining the Windows Live Photo Gallery User Interface

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If you were a fan of the shell-based photo management features in Windows XP, you might be somewhat disappointed that Microsoft removed a lot of that functionality from Windows Vista and Windows 7. But fear not: those features—and many more—are now available in the new Windows Live Photo Gallery. This easy-to-use application provides a single location from which you can organize, edit, and share your digital memories. And in an interesting twist, Windows Live Photo Gallery can even manage digital videos as well, despite its name.

1. First Things First

The first time you run Windows Live Photo Gallery, a couple of things will happen that are worth discussing before we get into actual application usage.

First, you will be asked to sign into your Windows Live ID account, as shown in Figure 1. Doing so plugs you into the wider family of Windows Live online services and provides for some nice integration between this application and other Windows Live applications and services.

You can use Windows Live Photo Gallery without making this connection, but if think you may want to publish your photos to Windows Live Photos or Microsoft's Windows Live Spaces blogging service, it's worth doing.

Next, Windows Live Photo Gallery will ask you if you would like to use this application to open common image file formats—instead of Windows 7's built-in Windows Photo Viewer (see Figure 2). We recommend using Windows Live Photo Gallery, and not Windows Photo Viewer, because the former application has so many more useful features.

Okay, now it's time take a lap around the Photo Gallery interface.

Figure 1. Windows Live Photo Gallery works better if you're connected to Windows Live.

Figure 2. Pick your poison. Or, in this case, a superior photo viewer.

2. Examining the Windows Live Photo Gallery User Interface

Windows Live Photo Gallery utilizes the now familiar Windows 7 application style, with a simple, light-blue colored user interface and no visible menus, as shown in Figure 3.

If you're familiar with Microsoft's now-discontinued Digital Image Suite product line, you might find that Windows Live Photo Gallery looks and works similarly to Digital Image Suite Library. That's by design: Windows Live Photo Gallery offers a compelling subset of the features from Digital Image Suite, now available free.

Figure 3. Windows Live Photo Gallery looks basic but it's full-featured.

The Windows Live Photo Gallery user interface is divided into just a few main sections. Between the toolbar and bottom-mounted navigational controls, you'll see two areas, or panes, by default: a Navigation pane on the left that determines which photos (or videos) you will view, and the thumbnail pane, which displays the pictures (or videos) in the current view.

Windows Live Photo Gallery displays other panes under certain conditions. If you view a single image with the application or click the Info button in the toolbar, a right-mounted Info pane appears, providing information about the current picture. When you choose to edit an image—called Fix—a Fix pane appears with various editing options. We'll examine these functions in just a bit.

Picture Files: Where and Which Ones?

You may be wondering how Windows Live Photo Gallery aggregates the picture files found on your PC. Does it integrate with the Windows 7 HomeGroup feature? Access the same locations as your Pictures and Videos libraries? Or does it search your entire PC for content? Actually, it does none of those, betraying its pre-Windows 7 roots.

Instead, it simply looks in four locations by default. These locations happen to be the same ones that are aggregated by your Pictures and Videos libraries—your My Pictures and My Videos folders, and the Public Pictures and Public Videos folders—but that's more coincidence than anything. It's just that Windows Live Photo Gallery—which is also designed to work with Windows XP and Vista—is designed that way.

That said, you don't have to accept the application's defaults. You can add photos manually to the Windows Live Photo Gallery library by dragging them from the shell into the application. Or, you could simply add other folders to the Windows Live Photo Gallery list of watched folders. We show you how in the next section, but if you're familiar with the notion of Windows Media Player monitored folders, the concept here is similar.

What about picture file type support? Obviously, Windows Live Photo Gallery supports common image file types such as JPEG, (non-animated) GIF, PNG, TIFF, and Bitmap. Newer digital cameras support various RAW file types, which are uncompressed, and unfortunately Windows Live Photo Gallery cannot edit RAW images out of the box. But if you install a compatible Windows Imaging Components (WIC) driver from a camera maker, Windows Live Photo Gallery will allow you to edit RAW images and export them to JPEG. It cannot save edits directly to any RAW image
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