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Microsoft shoots for 3D multi-photo viewer

Combining a browser plug-in with hosted Web services, Photosynth creates a 3D navigation through stitched-together photos.

SAN FRANCISCO--Microsoft on Thursday released a technical preview of Photosynth, a browser plug-in and service that creates a composite, three-dimensional view of multiple photos.

Gary Flake, a technical fellow at Microsoft and founder of Microsoft Live Labs, displayed the offering at the Web 2.0 Summit here. He said Photosynth is still a technical preview and not yet a commercial product.


Photosynth is a combination of an ActiveX browser plug-in and a server-based service that presents several different photos in an aggregated view. People can navigate through the stitched-together photos presented as a three-dimensional picture.

The demonstrations showed how a user can get a wide view of a scene, get various angles on it, and zoom in to see very fine details.

In one example, Microsoft showed how a person could navigate through a three-dimensional photo representation of Piazza San Marco in Venice and pan around the square. In another scene, a person could view mountain climbers' progress and zoom out to see the bigger landscape.

The montages were created by Microsoft from hundreds of photos, representing gigabytes of data. The examples Microsoft showed were taken by a single photographer.

However, Microsoft sees potential in allowing end users, rather than professional photographers, to submit photos and have Photosynth stitch them together.

"This is not a product, but we see much potential in what it could mean, with what a community of photos could be," Flake said. "We're trying to figure out the use cases ourselves."

He said Photosynth could complement Microsoft's Virtual Earth 3D service by allowing end users to post their personal photos on top of Microsoft's mapping service.

Photosynth was created in conjunction with the University of Washington.

Flake last year founded Live Labs, a collaboration between Microsoft Research and MSN, the division in charge of Microsoft's Web properties.

Photosynth represents the type of work Live Labs is creating in that it seeks to combine technology from Microsoft Research with Microsoft's product groups.

The service itself is composed of both Web-based software and server software, he noted. For example, the software hosted on Microsoft servers can automatically render the links between disparate photos.