Microsoft Unveils JPEG Alternative

Fresh off taking on PDF with its Metro specification at last year's WinHEC, Microsoft now has plans to take on JPEG with Windows Media Photo. Microsoft Watch reported from Seattle Thursday that the company is advertising the new format as a higher-quality alternative to the aging JPEG standard.

In half the size, a WMP file would produce higher quality images when printed and even when sent through e-mail, the company said in a Wednesday session at the WinHEC conference in Seattle. As a result, images saved in the format would require significantly less space to store.

On Wednesday, version 0.9 of the specification was shipped with the second beta of the Windows Vista and WinFX component. The Microsoft Web site listing the specification says that the format provides a multitude of benefits, including multiple color formats for display or print; lossless or high quality compression; efficient decoding, and minimal overhead when converting from other formats.

As of Thursday afternoon Microsoft had updated page, slapping a version number of 1.0 on it, possibly indicating the company was satisfied with the reliability of the code, as it was no longer referred to as a "draft specification."

Nathan Weinberg of the Inside Microsoft Web log had high praise for Microsoft's foray into digital imaging. "I'm delighted to see Microsoft do this," he wrote on Thursday. "Microsoft pushing a new format invites development and improvement, and hopefully everyone will win in the end."

Weinberg further recommended that Microsoft not attempt to make money off the format, and rather freely license it to its competitors. He also suggested such a plan could help adoption of other Windows Media-based multimedia formats in the end.

Early analysis from those in attendance indicated that the format could pose a threat to the dominance of JPEG. However, since WinHEC is a technical conference, the format was looked at from that standpoint, rather than looking at practical applications of the technology.

WMP will be integrated into Microsoft's XPS ("Metro") document standard, the company said. While the technology will be supported natively by WIndows Vista, Microsoft plans to release an add-on for Windows XP as well.

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