Duncan Evans and the ePHOTOzine members put James O'Neill from
Microsoft in the hot seat.
To start this feature, we're going to let James explain who he is and
what Vista is all about. Then we move on to the question and answer
session where all your concerns were put to him.
Who am I and what do I do?
I got into computers at school and went on to do a degree in computer
science although I probably spent more time on photography
then. I’ve worked in IT all of my career, I joined Microsoft
Consulting Services in 2000 after running a small training company. I
moved over to being an evangelist last year. Most people’s
contact with Microsoft is 1:1 with either sales or services (consulting
or support). I deal with people in groups at events, in user
groups and I keep a blog
My work focuses on showing those audiences how they can do more with
they’ve bought or to starting them thinking about new
products. I own about 20 cameras – most of which are roll
from the 1920s, but most of my shots are taken with a Pentax DSLR.
I’ve just upgraded my *ist D to a K10D.
What is Windows Vista?
The Welcome screen shows info and offers help with a
variety of tasks.
It’s the new version of Windows for Desktop, Laptop and home
It’s the biggest change to Windows since Windows 2000 came
and at the same time as shipping Vista we’re shipping a new
version of Office and our business E-mail server, Exchange. This is why
people are saying this is our most significant release since Windows 95.
Everyone notices that it has a new look – a lot of which
on the abilities of modern graphics cards which simply
there when XP was being designed. So there’s a lot of use of
transparency (glass) and live previews of what is happening in a Window
before you switch to it.
Exploiting hardware is a bit of theme of Vista, you can plug in USB
memory and use it to improve performance, and the operating system
supports the new hybrid hard disks which contain flash memory to avoid
spinning the disk up for a lot of operations. With 64-bit chips
becoming more common, there isn’t a separate 64-bit product
Vista – all its editions (or SKUs – stock keeping
– as we tend to call them) are licensed for either 64 or
processors. If you have a 64-bit chip but can only get 32-bit drivers
for some of your hardware you can start on 32-bit and switch to 64-bit
later without needing a new license. XP had a separate 64-bit version
– and a 32-bit Pro version, Pro version, a Home Version, a
version and a media centre version. Vista still has five SKUs - two
home, two business versions and has an Ultimate edition which contains
all the features of both, but it allows for things like a tablet PC
which is used at home with media functions.
We’ve also provided an online upgrade process, so if your
computer comes with Home-Basic edition installed you can upgrade to
Ultimate if you want. Behind all this is a new installation process
which makes it much easier for major customers to control
on their PC. Security has a higher profile with these customers, and
they wanted more control over the USB devices that can be used and how
machines behave with different wireless networks – another
where the hardware landscape has changed over recent years.
When we started work on Windows XP, DVD burners were pretty unusual,
and digital cameras were still for the early adopters. Now both are
mainstream, so we have DVD burning support and some new photo tools.
The Windows Media center can stream video and pictures
to your TV.
Windows explorer has had a revamp, so you can filter your view of files
or view virtual folders based on file properties. Explorer has new
preview and property panes so you can pictures and documents without
loading them into another program and set their properties on files
more easily. Live icons are a tiny preview of the file rather than just
an indication of its type, and we have a comprehensive search facility.
These features are great for looking after libraries of pictures and
I’ve posted a Video to show them in action on my blog
And now, it's time for the questions.
Right clicking on a JPEG picture file brings up
options to rotate it. Will this be extended to TIFFs and other formats?
A. Yes, this is in the release
version of Vista.
JPEGs can be set, from the right-click menu, as
Will there be an option to do this with TIFFs and other large-file
formats, retaining the original file and creating a screen-size JPEG
version to use as the background.
A. Not as far as I know. It’s
not a difficult thing for someone to write.
When is the Windows Vista Ultimate Edition going
to get animated desktop wallpapers?
A. I don’t have an exact date,
but hopefully before this is published!
Can the GUI such as the Start menu and the
Taskbar be given customised colours?
A. Yes. However some of the predefined
themes fix the colours, so if
you’re using the Aero theme for example, there’s no
route to change these things via the GUI
Has Windows Paint been changed, upgraded or
A. The changes are very small. The toolbar
Icons have been changed, and
there are 3 new menu options, Save as Background (stretched), Invert
Selection, and Crop.
What's the situation with anti-virus software?
We understand that
the system kernel has been locked from access, so that anti-virus
software writers can't access it to protect the system.
A. First of all the changes only affect
the 64-bit version, not the
32-bit. Even then it doesn’t affect all AV software.
happened is we have protected the system from a class of malware known
as a root kit, which hides itself by patching the kernel. Unfortunately
some AV software is implemented as a benign root kit, and will need
more of a change than is usual for a new OS.
Picture folders can be made into slideshows or burnt to
CD from the browser.
Will there be any additional photo-editing
software or features
added that XP doesn't possess. For example, when XP came out, Movie
Maker was added to the accessories.
A. Yes there is a basic photo-editor,
which has brightness and
contrast, Colour Temperature, Saturation & Tint, Red-eye
and cropping. This tool keeps the original file and you can revert to
Will the system recognise and be able to deal
with RAW file formats from digital cameras?
A. Yes... but for such a short question
the answer is quite
complicated. Vista introduces a new technology called Windows Imaging
Codecs. WIC and the bits to make WIC work can also be installed on
Windows XP. We’ve had COmpressor/DECompressor (CoDecs) for
and video for about 15 years but this is the first time we’ve
them for stills. The codec can return a variable size image and the
EXIF meta-data (tags) embedded in the file, so you can see date taken,
author, title, shutter speed, aperture, focal length and so on.
It’s up to the codec whether it lets you write back to the
or the data, and how it produces the image (for example, does it
convert a RAW or does it use the JPG preview embedded in it?)
Microsoft only provides a few codecs (for BMP, JPEG, TIFF, and PNG) and
RAW codecs are left to camera makers. Nikon are first to ship a
finished one. We’ve
released Photoinfo v1.0
with an early version of this Codec and Canon’s as well. I
don’t have any information on what the plans of Olympus,
or Sony are for their formats. Adobe put forward the DNG format for RAW
files which Hasselblad, Leica, Pentax, Ricoh and Samsung now support.
I’m not sure if any of the camera companies will provide a
codec and I’m not optimistic about Adobe doing so. They
don’t preview PDFs or expose their properties in Explorer,
although they have the required I-filter to enable search of PDFs in
Vista, they don’t install it as part of the reader.
I would hope that people who produce RAW conversion software (Capture
One, Bibble etc) would implement their preview and property functions
as Codecs so that when you installed their software you got extra
functions in Explorer.
Showing EXIF picture data from within a standard browsing window.
Is there going to be a Power Toy for Vista that
is similar to the
one used for XP, so we can fine tune the system to our requirements? If
yes when might this be available?
A. We haven’t made any
commitment to do one. Typically a little
time goes by before the requirements for a Power Toy become clear, and
they’re often done as after hours projects by
people from the product team. I expect there to be one, but
hard to give a time scale.
Are Microsoft in a position to say when hardware
have full Vista drivers released, including working software?
. No. It’s probably worth
expanding this a little. When Vista
sees a new device ID it checks to see if it has a driver for it. If it
doesn’t then it can go to Windows Update to request a driver.
it doesn’t find one, it logs this as a problem, and
checks for a solution. It will also periodically check with Windows
Update to see if there is a newer version of any of the installed
drivers. Obviously somewhere there is a log of all the devices which
have generated driver requests which we could not satisfy.
Now, you can imagine the problems it would cause if we said
“Company X will have support in March” and it
slips, or if
we said “Company Y won’t support the Banana 2000
2010 series or 2020 series”. We could list of drivers and IDs
which are served via Windows Update – but that changes day to
day. If we published a list people could draw all sorts of inferences,
so we end up sending people back to the hardware vendor to get a
The problem checking feature knows things like this bit of software has
crashed three times and will learn from Windows update that publisher
has an update and will tell you to go to their website and download it.
It would be great if in the future we could act as a clearing house for
that information about drivers in a similar way
Photographic interest now, will there be a RAW
viewer update for thumbnails as per XP?
A. Yes. See above for the details of the
Codecs, it’s built into
Explorer and there is the new photo info tool as well.
I've read somewhere that Vista has a colour
functionality. Is this right and if so,what will it do how will it
A. Windows XP supports
ICC colour profiles, and this support is carried
forward into Vista. A profile maps numbers used in an image to exact
colours so that the colours you see on paper match the colours your
camera recorded and your monitor displays a view which matches both.
The Image Color Management (ICM) in XP hasn’t been as easy to
work with as it could have been, so Vista introduces the Windows Color
System (WCS). This still uses the ICC profile format for compatibility.
If you want to know the details of what it does differently and why
there is a white paper here.
A game running within its own window in Vista, with
gadgets down the right hand side.
For the .NET 2 enabled PCs, there is an add on to
enable Metadata to
be tagged to images; are we likely to see this expanded for movie
files, therefore making the basis for Digital Asset Management common
on Vista, and XP for that matter?
I’m not sure which add-in is being
referred to here. An add on
written for .NET Version 2 should run on Vista. There is already a way
to tag image and Windows Media files from explorer – and this
process is easier in Vista than it was in XP
Paul Morgan asks:
There are probably many of us on here that are in
no great hurry to
upgrade to Vista, How much longer will updates and support still be
available to Windows XP users.
A. First of all you should know
XP is only supported now if it is
running Service pack 2. According our published service pack roadmap
we’re planning a service pack for XP in 2008, and
stop supporting SP2 12 Months after SP3 comes out. The minimum support
life of any product is five years from release or two years after the
release of the next product. For business and developer products there
is an additional five year period during which we will provide security
updates free, and other support for paying customers. That means
we’ll be supporting Vista up to the end of 2011.
I have heard that Vista requires more system
resources to run. Will
that cause problems for users of older PCs? And if so can the embedded
functions - some of the graphics and photography related
- be turned off to free up resources to run Creative Studio and
A. Each version of Windows does more than
the previous one so the
minimum hardware requirements go up. Will it cause problems? Some older
machines do have a high enough spec to run Vista so it’s not
really down to age, but the older the machine the more likely it is to
fall short. Someone I work with has put Vista on a five year old laptop
with 512Mb of RAM and reports it runs better than Windows XP, without
the Glass features turned on.
Is it backward compatible? I have some games and
other software that
uses XP to run, could I run them on Vista or would I need to buy new
games and software?
A. In theory everything should run, and
Vista offers some compatibility
tricks to get some misbehaving programs to work. Recent games which are
written to use Direct-X should all run. Having said that, there are
always things which can’t be made to work, although they are
and far between.
I tried the Vista Beta and had many of my
programs run into
compatibility problems, most importantly Photoshop CS2, to the point I
had to format my drive and re-install my XP Professional. Has the new
official Vista addressed these problems with compatibility?
A. Yes. See above. One of the things about
beta testing is that’s
where we find a lot of the compatibility problems. I’m
Adobe Lightroom on 64-bit Vista and it works beautifully.
Mike Otley asks:
The task-switching is now highly graphical.
When are Microsoft planning to release SP1?
A. We haven’t set a date. Fixes
go out through Windows Update
now, so there is a lot less pressure to do service packs at all. I
think there are still people out there who belong to the
way of thinking - wait for SP1 – there’s a
useful page here with
a list of when products and service packs were released. We shipped NT4
on 29 July 1996, and SP4 on 25 October 1998 - 27 months later. We
released SP2 for XP more than 27 months ago, and it’s still
current. Since Vista started with XP code, the quality should be at
least as good. It would be a very foolish person who claimed any piece
of software was perfect, but the more testing and use a product gets
the more obscure the bugs that remain in it and Vista has already had a
huge amount of testing. I believe we had more beta testers for Vista
than customers for NT 3.1, 3.5 and 3.51 combined.
Why is Vista far more expensive in the UK than in
the US? And why
don't we get the same opportunity as the US to buy up to four further
copies if you have more than one machine at home at just £50
each, as in the US?
A. It depends how you purchase it. The US
Department of Justice said we
had to charge computer makers who bought the same number of licenses
the same amount for the same software – regardless of where
are. If you buy from one of the big global brands the cost to them is
the same regardless of the market. Licensing deals for large customers
are worked out from one worldwide price list. So why, when you purchase
a copy from a retail outlet is the cost higher? First off you have to
make sure you compare like with like, UK prices include VAT and US ones
exclude local sales tax. Even then we can’t force retailers
charge a specific price – that’s illegal
– but most
of the difference is because UK retailers work to higher margins than
their US counterparts. When you buy retail product there is some
support cost, which is higher in Europe, and UK prices tend to be
linked to European prices – cost of different languages
out over the whole of Europe . Also I’ve found people tend to
look at the cost of the full product rather than the upgrade, whereas
just about everyone should be buying the upgrade. If you are building
or upgrading a PC you may be eligible to buy the OEM (system builder)
pack, which is much cheaper.
Finally, if you are buying for home use and you have children, check to
see if you are eligible to buy software at Educational discount.
Why won't Vista work with USB modems? It means
we have to buy an
ethernet modem or router in order to connect to the internet when
running Vista - more expense!
A. I believe this information has been put
out by AOL and is incorrect.
There may be some USB cable and ADSL devices (possibly supplied by AOL)
which don’t have Vista drivers (and whose XP drivers
work), but as a general rule USB network adapters should be fine.
Little Jo asks:
I'm not into games or multimedia streaming, but I
want a solid workhorse. Would the business edition deliver this?
Yes. Most of the bits are the same on all the
editions. Have a look here
for a comparison.
Does the licence for Office 2007 still allow
installation on a
desktop and a laptop as the 2002 version did? If not, is there a way to
get a single installation disk with the additional licences that
doesn't cost a ridiculous sum?
I had to go and check this one. The answer is
yes, we still allow this.
I've recently heard that changes to Office 2007
are going to cause
backwards compatibility issues - can you comment any more on that?
A. Office 2007 has a new file format
called Open XML and all the file
extensions have added an x. For example Word documents are now DOCx.
You can tell 2007 to save in the old format – and opens it
happily. There is a tool to allow the older versions to load the new
format. But if you let 2007 save in the new format and you send
something to someone who has the older software without the update then
they won’t be able to open your files. Office 2007 warns you
it is going to have to drop some feature – like a clever
PowerPoint Build for example – to save in the old format.
Why is there no option to have the firewall ask
programs and whether they should have access to phone home? To have to
set up a rule for each program is ludicrous when you don't even know
which ones may be trying to phone home in the first place. To simply
have a popup each time a new app tries to phone home would be simple
(every other decent firewall does this)
A. This is exactly how the Vista firewall
works. Vista recognises
different networks as Work, Home and Public, and has
different rules for each. The firewall understands that there are
different rules for different networks for example, allow
incoming requests at
work but not on Public network in Starbucks.
By default a minimum set of programs are allowed to have access to the
network, anything else will pop-up a dialog box saying, this
program is trying to access the network, do you want it to have access
now, and do you want it always to have access?
Because users need administrative privileges to change the firewall
settings, network administrators can push out rules using Group Policy
to allow or forbid certain things in advance, and turn off the pop-up
Our thanks go to everyone who contributed questions and to James O'Neill for taking the time to answer them all.
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