Digital Imaging, Windows XP
and Mac OS X
(Together Again for the First Time)
by Mark Hawver
The digital camera has come a long way
since its inception and introduction to the retail marketplace,
especially in its user-friendliness and compatibility with home
computers and their operating systems. The bad, old days of the
serial cable download, with its glacially slow downloads, brittle
stability and battery power-sapping legacy have been swept away by
the convenience of USB-powered flash memory readers, and more
recently, USB-enabled digicams that offer a direct download that is
fast, self-initiating and reliable.
The Universal Serial Bus (USB) has become the "serial killer," terminating with extreme prejudice one of the biggest obstacles to consumer acceptance of the digital camera. The boom in sales of digital cameras is in no small part attributable to this significant improvement in digicam-computer interface protocols.
Once digicam manufacturers got their act together, it became imperative for Microsoft and Apple to embrace the leap of faith and technology by upgrading their respective operating systems to accept digital images with open arms and receptive software. The key to the next major OS releases of both Windows and Macintosh would be not just compatibility with digital cameras, but rather the full integration of digital media into the core functionality of each new OS. Digital cameras and the new generation of operating systems would need to go together, in the cinematic words of Forrest Gump, "like peas and carrots," rather than "like a box of chocolates-you never know what you're gonna get."
Are You XP-erienced?
Microsoft's Windows XP has been ballyhooed as the most stable and versatile iteration of the Windows franchise. Built on the core of the rock-steady business-oriented Windows 2000, Windows XP brings the virtues of both reliability and simplicity to the home Wintel PC user for perhaps the first time. Installed as the default OS in PCs since the fall of 2001, Windows XP has thoroughly modernized the Windows platform and the incorporation of digital media tools has been at the center of the renaissance of the Windows OS.
Much of the attraction of Windows XP is based around its newfound simplicity and "plain speaking" user-friendliness. For the digital photography enthusiast, this is manifested in an interface system between camera and computer that couldn't be more facile. Connect a USB-enabled digicam to a Windows XP-powered computer, and the OS immediately recognizes the digicam by manufacturer and model number. That is, if the digicam is on the rapidly growing list of supported devices built in to Windows XP's pre-installed driver set. In some cases, a proprietary driver may have to be installed prior to using Windows XP's integrated digital imaging software. At this time, most of the major manufacturers and their most current models are supported or supportable via Windows XP.
Upon connection and recognition of the images to be downloaded, the Windows XP Photo Wizard prompts the user to select the images (singularly or en masse) for download. Once this task is accomplished, the images are downloaded into the default My Pictures folder, which is easily accessible via the "Start" button on the PC's taskbar. Windows XP also provides the capability of deleting images on the digicam from the computer if it suits the user. The downloaded images appear in the Wizard as a slide show with left-right scrolling for image selection.
Once the images are safely ensconced in the My Pictures folder, Windows XP allows the user to name the set of images for organizing purposes. The Photo Wizard also provides the user with an array of options for the freshly imported images. They can be re-arranged within the set, deleted, rotated into desired vertical or horizontal orientations and prepared (via image compression and file size pre-sets) and dispatched to the resident e-mail program for easy transmission of images to lucky viewers far and wide.
Alternatively, the Wizard offers the ability to optimize images for printing (with choices for paper type and print size), upload images directly to a personal website (on MSN, of course. This is Bill Gates we're talking about) or order prints directly online. If archiving is desired, the Wizard also provides a one-click CD-burning option.
Where the Photo Wizard trips over its beard is in the limited image editing and manipulation that it affords; limited, basically, to rotation and image compression options. But most Windows XP-powered PCs also include bundled image manipulation software, as do most digicams.
Steve Jobs has made it clear that Apple Computer will strive to be the digital hub of the computer universe. Having covered sound and digital video with free applications such as iTunes, iMovie and iDVD, Apple has polished off phase one of this plan with the recent introduction of iPhoto, another free, downloadable application that fully integrates digital still photography under the Apple media circus tent. Unlike the other media apps, though, iPhoto will run only under their newest operating system, Mac OS X (and only in version 10.1.2 or higher). iPhoto also trumps Image Capture, a basic downloading utility built into the original release of OS X.
Images are imported into iPhoto via a USB port directly from the digicam, or through a memory card reader. The program can be set up to automatically download images, or the user can initiate the process manually. Unlike its Windows counterpart, iPhoto requires no additional camera manufacturer driver support. Again, most of the major manufacturers and models are compatible with iPhoto's Import command.
The downloaded images appear on an attractive interface controlled by five buttons; Import, Organize, Edit, Book and Share. Import brings the images into the program. Organize allows the user to re-arrange the images into folders and sets. Book is an Apple-exclusive feature that enables the user to order photo albums from an Internet-based partner; actual, physical photo albums containing the user's images in a choice of classy presentations. Camera retailers might look into using iPhoto, and particularly the Book feature, by setting up a Mac digital developing station, offering the customer the service of setting up images and ordering photo albums through the store as a convenience to those customers who may be time-challenged, not Mac owners or technologically intimidated.