Microsoft’s Windows Vista; How Does It Affect Digital Photographers? Should You Upgrade? Page 2

Color Management In Windows Vista
Back in 2005, when Vista was still Longhorn, a very striking look into what color management might be for graphics and photography was the subject of a Microsoft White Paper on Windows Color System (WCS) color management. This was an ambitious proposal to develop a color management system entirely independent of the ICC-based standard the digital graphic industry adopted, and which has been in use for the last 10 years. In Vista, the Windows Color System is evident only in a few .WCS profiles in the new Control Panel Color Management dialog. I cannot imagine any practical use for them at this time. To date, there have been no major companies like Epson, Adobe, ColorVision, LaserSoft, or Corel that have announced products that specifically support Microsoft WCS, including Microsoft's one big partner in its WCS development, Canon.

So, until the makers of the primary applications we use, like Photoshop, as well as the products photographers employ, like printers and scanners, include support for .WCS profiles, Windows Vista users should expect to use ICC (ICM being the Windows version) to affect color management in the same basic fashion they have in the past.

Setting up Microsoft's Windows Vista to support devices that are color managed is essentially the same, even though there now is a new Control Panel icon and dialog for Color Management. The individual icons and dialogs for displays, printers and scanners, and cameras have the same tabs and functions as Windows XP, but when you get to the Color Management tab in these dialogs there is a click button that flips you over to the Color Management dialog to select, associate, and set device profiles as default.

The one positive note is that Microsoft continues to support ICC with their ICM engine, which has had a facelift and is now Version ICM 3.0. But that does not mean that all is well for photographers using Microsoft's Windows Vista as there is at least one bug that, although not deadly, will be a daily annoyance. This was brought to light in a newsletter published in mid-February by Steve Upton, president of CHROMiX. The article is entitled "Vista's new Color Management System: WCS." This article is quite thorough and detailed, although it demands some technical savvy. It may be accessed on the web at: New_Color_Management_System_-_WCS.

The bug I referred to that Upton identified is due to Vista's more robust security system, which frequently pops up a dialog requiring the user (with administrative privileges) to "authorize" an action. This pop-up is accompanied by a dimming of the display screen that also deactivates the calibration curves, used to adjust the display to calibrated performance on boot-up. The effect of this is that it will interfere with editing or printing by making normal screen matching predictably impossible. And the work-around solution is to re-boot the computer after each incidence of the pop-up for security authorization, which I am sure everyone will agree is a pain in the posterior and no solution at all.

The .ICM/.ICC device profile files are actually stored in the operating system in the same place as Windows XP: the Windows/System32/Spool/Drivers/Color folder.

The article from the CHROMiX newsletter does indicate that once supported by the industry Vista's Windows Color System has some theoretically positive advantages, but the current bug and drawbacks will remain until a Service Pack is issued by Microsoft to fix the problems. As it stands, with this "bug," Vista as an operating system can't be recommended, at least for those serious about doing color managed work.

Some photographers will, of course, get new PCs with Microsoft's Windows Vista installed. They will find that set up for applications like Photoshop or high-end printers like an Epson R2400 is guided in the Control Panel, where there are icons that pop up dialogs, as well as a new icon and dialog addressing Color Management. In fact, the Color Management dialog is now linked to the display, printer and scanner, and camera dialogs' Color Management tab. You have to open the Color Management dialog to associate a profile with a particular device and make it the default. One crucial part of managing color on a Windows PC is where the profile files are stored within the operating system, and fortunately that has not changed in Vista.

Evaluation And Recommendation
Some of my regular readers might assume I am biased and prejudiced against PCs, Microsoft, and Windows Vista because I work mainly with Apple's Macs. I do not deny that I work mostly with Apple's Macs, but I continue to have Microsoft's Windows installed and use it regularly. In fact, I have worked on PCs since the mid-1980s and Windows exclusively until just a few years ago. Two of my latest Macs have Intel processors and will run Windows as an alternate boot operating system. That said, most of the scores of articles I've read about Vista in the last few weeks, half of which are dubious about if not outright hostile to Vista, come from the PC Windows advocates--they do, in fact, make up 90 percent of computer users.

My entire focus in this assessment is from a digital photography perspective, and from that limited view and experience Microsoft's Windows Vista has a largely positive potential for serious photographers. However, any new benefits accrued to digital photographers rests on fixing some bugs and an even longer-term development of software and hardware graphics/photo industry support to make the advantage real.

On a more general computing level, Vista touts such advantages as better security, a new and more intuitive and efficient interface, as well as support for new devices like cameras with wireless connectivity. On the other hand, the techno-pundits have made it clear Vista is resource demanding and that likely all its performance advantages are at the cost of a high level of hardware support, so it is not likely to be installable on PCs that are much over a year old. So adding everything up, it may not be wise to upgrade your current computer to Vista and to just wait until you are ready for a new PC.

For more information, contact Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052; (800) 642-7676;