There’s no denying that Microsoft has both audacity and folly in equal measure, and never was this more clearly exemplified than in the news that it is launching an ‘industry leading compression quality’ image format.

Revealed in some detail at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2006 in Seattle, a picture containing more detail than a JPEG at 24:1 compression was proudly on show under the headline of ‘better picture, smaller file’. The Windows Media Photo format, as it’s being called, features multiple color formats for display and print, fixed or floating point high dynamic range image encoding, and extremely efficient decoding for multiple resolutions and sub-regions. Add a simple, extensible TIFF-like container structure, planar or interleaved alpha channel plus embedded ICC Profile, EXIF and XMP metadata for a more rounded picture of the format. If you’ve got access to Windows Vista Beta 2, then you’ll already have version 1.0 of the specification, but everyone else can visit Microsoft for the full technical detail.

While innovation and the march of technology cannot, and should not, be stifled; this is neither. Quite apart from anything else it’s going to have its work cut out to establish itself in the face of JPEG momentum. Marginal improvements aren’t going to convince anyone to take a ‘new’ format seriously, even (or perhaps especially) if it is Microsoft attempting the convincing. Heck, even when a better JPEG came along it didn’t so much as dent the original. Hands up if you remember JPEG2000, and a helping hand to get me up off the floor if you actually use it. I predict you’ll have the same response about Windows Media Photo within a couple of years. It would have to be both far superior to JPEG2000 and freely available to all to make the necessary impact, and I can’t see either happening.

In fact, about the only way I can see this succeeding would be if Microsoft ‘support’ the format in Vista by dropping supporting for JPEG, and that could be commercial suicide. Of course, there is the small matter of what metric you use to measure that success. If it’s replacing JPEG as the default image format of choice for amateur photographer and web designer alike, then it’s doomed to failure. On the other hand, if it’s to be licensed for use on mobile phones where smaller image size without quality compromise is something of a Holy Grail, then maybe I’m being too harsh on Microsoft. But seeing as this is Microsoft, it will probably kill off any hope of real market penetration because of licensing issues.

Recommended Answers

All 5 Replies

I remember JPEG2000. I also remember my computer science professor saying that it was the same compression algorithm as JPEG, with the only advantage being more efficient and streamlined code.

Without people and companies trying to innovate there will never be anything new.

But if you're Microsoft you're reported to be doing a bad thing if you innovate...
And if you're Microsoft and you don't innovate you're also reported as being bad...

And why can't you see this new format being freely available? I can't see Microsoft demanding GIF style license fees on BMP for example, or on CSS (yes, another format in which Microsoft had a major contribution).

While innovation and the march of technology cannot, and should not, be stifled; this is neither.

I don't think this is innovative, and it has nothing to do with it being Microsoft. Rather a lot more to do with introducing yet another format that isn't needed, at least not in the mainstream which is where Microsoft seems to be positioning this. It won't be a replacement for JPEG, for all the reasons stated.

However, when it comes to license fees I think it has everything to do with it being Microsoft. Your examples notwithstanding, the market for this technology looks like being very specific, mobile devices, and there's money to be made there: lots of it.

and for money to be made from selling software to create a format you first have to establish that format as an open standard in order to get people to use it in numbers.

That's what the JPEG group did very well, and now there's talk of starting to demand license fees...
Similar with GIF...

Microsoft AFAIK has never charged license fees for people using their file formats. They might not make all the relevant documentation openly available to decipher them, but they never stopped anyone from creating import/export filters.
No matter how hard the anti-Microsoft crowd screams, that's not the way the company works.
They could easily have stopped OpenOffice from ever taking off for example by demanding license fees for reading and writing MS Office documents.
Similarly with the tons of applications out there that manipulate BMP files, WAV files, AVI movies, etc. etc.

Microsoft in fact has a vested interest in people using their file formats. Such things are small fry if those people use Microsoft operating systems, maybe Microsoft hardware (they make some of the best keyboards in the industry, and some pretty decent rodents too), etc.

If Microsoft can come up with a (near) lossless compression algorithm and make it openly available without the threat of patent litigation which currently is rearing its ugly head around JPEG they could well have a serious threat to the dominance of JPEG.

At current there is no real standard image format for mobile devices (every manufacturer uses its own formats), if Microsoft has the clout to create such a standard I applaud them for trying.

I have to give you both hands, then, because I both remember and consistently use JPEG2000. If you use PDFs, you probably do, too.

I also use a little-known image format called DjVu, which uses wavelet-based compression (ala JPEG2000). I developed a "phone-book-on-CD" for a large regional Yellow Pages directory publishers which uses this format. I could find no other way to force 60GB+ worth of full-color, print quality EPS files onto a single CD.

While the news from Microsoft doesn't floor me, the JPEG2000 standard was the "real deal", and has had an impact on the printing and publishing industry.

Be a part of the DaniWeb community

We're a friendly, industry-focused community of developers, IT pros, digital marketers, and technology enthusiasts meeting, networking, learning, and sharing knowledge.