Microsoft Windows XP doesn't offer much in the way of built-in tools for organizing your collection of digital and scanned photographs. Sure, you can launch the anemic Windows Picture and Fax Viewer and page through your images--but if you want to edit one of them, you're dropped unceremoniously into Windows Paint. There's no way to tag or caption your images so you can easily find them later, and watching a slide show in Win XP isn't much more engaging than turning the pages in a photo album.
Considering the hugely growing popularity of digital imaging, I'd say it's a good thing that Windows Vista manages to make the experience more appealing from start to finish. When I plugged in a digital camera, Vista seamlessly installed the drivers and asked if I wanted to apply a tag to all the images I was downloading. It also offered to rotate automatically any pictures that it thought were taken in a vertical rather than horizontal orientation. Moments later, Vista launched the Windows Photo Gallery application so that I could view and organize all my photos.
The imaging features built into Vista aren't a substitute for a full photo-editing application. But for the many users who want the instant gratification of being able to plug in a camera, download pictures, correct basic defects, and build up a library of images to share with friends and family, Vista looks poised to provide a much more seamless and enjoyable experience right out of the box.
Photo Gallery tries to make common imaging-oriented tasks easier, starting with simple photo touch-ups. Click the Fix button and you can adjust an image's contrast and color balance, correct red-eye, and crop. There's also a one-touch Auto Adjust feature that, in Beta 2, tended to alter color balance in ways I found unsatisfying.
Slide shows in Vista are vastly improved over those in Win XP. Vista actually uses animation, zooming, and compositing to display images in a visually compelling way--though on one of my test bed machines it had to switch to a low-resolution mode that introduced prominent "jaggies."
The gallery view in Windows Photo Gallery lets you see file details or thumbnails that you can scale to arbitrary sizes. Most important, Windows Photo Gallery lets you tag photographs with any keywords you choose. These tags provide a convenient and natural way to organize images thematically--no more trying to shoehorn them into a directory hierarchy.
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