Windows XP is the latest operating system from software giant Microsoft, and is probably the most hyped product since the release of Windows 95. There is a wealth of detailed information on the Internet about the changes in Windows XP, so rather than repeating all that we'd suggest you go to the links provided at the end of this article. What we will focus on are issues more relevant to digital cameras and digital imaging, as many other sites only give this a cursory mention.
Before we go into detail of the photography orientated features Windows XP provides, here's a brief overview of the general features:
- Uses a vastly improved graphical user interface
- It includes many security fixes and bug fixes from previous operating systems
- There is improved driver support (less drivers had to be installed on our test machines compared to previous Microsoft operating systems)
- It comes with Internet Explorer 6 which includes new features to simplify Web browsing, increase stability and help protect your privacy
- eTesting Labs Inc has found it to be 'overall the fastest version of the Windows operating system ever created for a wide range of desktop computing tasks'
There are of course some potential drawbacks you should be aware of too:
- It is quite expensive at around 175 (85 Upgrade) for Home edition and 255 (165 Upgrade) for the Professional
- It has quite high hardware requirements on your PC, Microsoft recommend a minimum of 128Mb of memory, though we'd recommend at least double that if you are going to be doing digital imaging. At least at today's memory prices upgrading won't cost much
- Many devices haven't got compatible drivers yet (on the two machines we tested on there were no problems)
- As with any new Operating System it is likely there will be some unexpected bugs
- Some people are put off by the Microsoft Activation procedure
Okay so there's a roundup of the advantages and drawbacks, Now let's look at the specific features Windows XP provides to those of us who use our PC's for digital imaging.
Firstly, the setup procedure is straightforward, and improved on the already easy to use routines of previous Microsoft operating systems. So anyone who's has installed one before should have no problems. We installed the Home version of XP, but for the purposes of this article they are identical.
The main difference between Home XP and Professional XP is the latters additional benefits listed below:
- Increased security, including functionality to encrypt your files and folders to protect your business data
- Built in mobile support to allow you to work off-line or access your computer remotely
- Can support two processors instead of only one in Home XP
- It is designed to work with Microsoft Windows Servers and management solutions
A good place to find more out about the differences between the editions is Microsoft's own site here. When the setup had finished we began investigating everyday use of XP's photographic features.
Digital Cameras and Digital Imaging
When you connect a camera to a PC these days, in the vast majority of cases you are using a USB cable. When XP detects the camera is attached it does the standard USB procedure of installing any drivers necessary. Some cameras didn't need drivers (E.g.. Olympus C-4040z) and others did (Canon G2). This procedure is straightforward and when finished the camera finds the pictures on the camera:
and then opens the following dialog of options:
These options are all self-explanatory and use similar user interfaces, but we feel they greatly improve the ease of use for those new to digital cameras and computers. An important factor in helping to increase the acceptance and widespread use of digital cameras.
Having selected an option, in this case 'Copy pictures to a folder on my computer' you are presented with a choice of where to store images and what to call them. Then the following window is displayed:
Here you can select the images you want to be copied, and rotate and view its properties. When you've done this you are presented with an informative display showing the current picture being transferred and progress indicators:
When the images have finished transferring, you have the three option,s indicted below, all of which are self-explanatory. Publish to the web and order prints on-line go live on 25th October (Windows XP Launch) and we will be testing these soon. Leading photographic retailer Jessops, are the only UK-based company to offer this direct printing service, something that will greatly aid ease of use for many of us.
One of the main improvements Microsoft have made is the ease in which you can view images throughout your computer. In the old days it was quite tiresome having to locate a particular image from a myriad of badly named folders, on my computer anyway! In XP however the user interface has several features to make storing and finding images easier.
For example, if you wonder what pictures are in a particularly bad named folder, you don't even need to go into it anymore, as images are shown in the folder icon:
Also shown is a selection of tasks, shortcuts and details, all of which help to make navigating and working with your pictures easier.
If you want to view an image in more detail, simply double click and it is loaded in Window XP's own viewer (shown below) or you can select an editing program to open it instead:
In this viewer you can jump to previous and next pictures, select best fit or actual size, start a slide show, zoom in and out, rotate the image clockwise and anti-clockwise, delete, print, save, open for editing and lastly obtain help. This interface really makes viewing and sorting images a lot easier, and the rotate function is great for looking at photos taken in portrait format.
Lastly, when in a standard windows explorer window you can change the way the pictures are shown. There are the standard types, of list, and details, and icons, and a faster thumbnail view, and all new filmstrip view. The last two are shown below in this animation:
- E-mail wizard gives you the option to resize images or send them untouched, great for quickly reducing the size of big files
- Printing wizard automates the process, allowing you to set a batch of photos printing quickly and easily
- Easily display your images via screensaver, desktop or side show
- With the built in CD recording feature, backing up images to CD has never been easier
Windows XP has a lot of other benefits besides the few we've mentioned here, the links below will help if you want to read more about it. From a digital imaging point of view, the changes are not massive but are still welcomed. Combine these changes with the rest of the advantages XP brings and many people will want to upgrade. Those of you still using Windows 95, 98 or Windows ME will benefit from the increased stability and speed, those using Windows 2000 will not see such a difference but will probably appreciate the added functionality and user interface. All users of any operating system other than XP should be impressed with the high level of usability that the graphical user interface provides.
Many people will argue that they could do all this with third party shareware or freeware applications, and they'd be right. However not all users want to be downloading extra applications, worrying about trials expiring and learning to use new software. Inevitably some third party applications will be needed as unfortunately Microsoft have still not provided any decent image editing application. Yet overall we loved it, and we're very confident most other people will too. If you'd like to ask us anything about our experiences with XP, or discuss it with other ePHOTOzine readers, you're welcome to do so in our software forum.
Microsoft's guide to which version of Windows XP you should use
More information about Windows XP from Microsoft's tours and demos
A list of independent Windows XP reviews from Microsoft's site
Detailed review of Windows XP from PC Magazine