Microsoft reveals Photosynth

First, I'd like to thank those of you who wrote the e-mails supporting my decision not to write the two millionth nuke-Microsoft's12-step-Windows-dev-program. I basked in that glow all weekend. Well, that and the glow of the unbelievably hot sun that beat down on the golf course I was on.

This past week at Microsoft hasn't yielded an 800-pound gorilla story; but the company made several smaller announcements that bear mention. First, if you haven't yet, check out Microsoft Live Labs' latest announcement, Photosynth. This upcoming app will take a series of still photographs, analyze them for similarities, and then render a 3D virtual environment based on them. You can zoom in, zoom out, and generally move around this 3D environment.

At first blush, this reminded me very much of the 3D virtual tours that many real estate brokers' Web sites use -- right down to the initial use of still photos to create the tour. Photosynth not only can do this on a grander scale; it also adds intelligent annotation. Microsoft is still a little fuzzy on how that's going to work, but the concept is that it will allow photographers to link all kinds of photos in new ways. The Live Labs people definitely have an eye on using the Web both as a distribution and display model for this.

Less glitzy, but of more immediate relevance, was Microsoft's announcement that it would be distributing IE 7 as part of an automatic update. This one gave me some shakes until I got the real skinny. Initially, rumor had it that the update would install unless folks downloaded some IE-install-blocking software. That started the red misting process across my field of vision, but the berserker frenzy was abated when Redmond gave me the straight scoop.

IE 7 will be distributed as part of an automatic update for Windows XP, but no additional software downloads will be required, whether you wish to receive the update or not. Users who activate their automatic updates service will get three balloon options to Install IE 7, Don't Install IE 7, or Ask Me Later. Selecting the second one means you won't be prompted again and the automatic update will pass you by. Registered Windows administrators, however, will still get IE 7 as part of TechNet, and the production version will also be available as part of the Windows Update Web site for those users who change their minds later.

Overall, I like the move. Microsoft has kept things pretty simple for users, which is its saving grace. Any more complexity than this and Redmond would have caused problems for users rather than adding convenience, which I believe is the point. In larger enterprises, this deal really isn't an issue, as users in those environments generally don't have direct control over their Windows update process. Here, Windows admins will be using SMS or some other desktop management package to receive the update, test it and decide at that point whether to roll out IE 7.

There were a bunch of nasty blog posts on this, but after digging into the issue a bit, I'm not sure what the hullabaloo was about. The only difference between this distribution and a standard Windows update is that IE 7 is a full application upgrade as well as being a big-name product. You've got the option to delay or even decline the upgrade, so where's the harm?

Possibly in the future, I suppose. I'm taking it easy because IE 7 is just one application. If Microsoft decides to distribute more software this way, it could wind up adding unnecessary complexity to the automatic upgrade process -- a long balloon menu just popped up in my mind's eye.

But if Redmond sticks only to core Windows application, such as IE 7 or Windows Media Player, the options are pretty limited. This only gets to be a real hassle if the company starts upgrading everything in the Accessories menu and adding new apps as well. Frankly, that's more free development than I'm expecting from the world's most profitable software company.

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Oliver Rist

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