In the late 1990s an innovative company called Enroute Imaging came out with QuickStitch, a program that could analyze a series of digital photos and "stitch" them together into a single image. It cleverly figured out where the image data repeated and combined the photos seamlessly. It was really cool software, but I couldn't quite see a wide need. The company fizzled. A number of companies have popped up since then offering similar solutions. Can you name one? I didn't think so.
But now Microsoft has released Photosynth, a Web service that does largely the same thing, but using its own back-end systems for storage and processing horsepower. The idea is that people would feed in between 20 and 300 photos of a particular subject and thePhotosynth.net Web site would spit out a "synth ," a navigable virtual representation of the images that you can pan and zoom. With the technology, Microsoft claims to turn 2D photos into 3D images, but that's a stretch. I'd describe it more like QuicktimeVR or like taping a bunch of photos to a clear beach ball and looking at them from the inside.
On the client side, a small viewer apps is required, as is an account on Live Labs, Microsoft's collaborative web site for "scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs," and now photographers, I guess.
It's interesting to note that the Photosynth client does not require Silverlight. The tool relies instead on Flash. That fact could be its saving grace since Flash is already present on the vast majority of systems and isn't limited by Silverlight's relatively large horsepower requirements.
And on the subject of horsepower, the site slowed to a crawl the first day, as it saw 286,000 image uploads, according to an InformationWeek story. So much for good first impressions.