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Windows embraces new space-squeezing photo format

Microsoft's PC software is joining Apple's iOS and Google's Android in embracing HEIF, which halves photo sizes compared with JPEG.

Microsoft's Windows software will support technology called HEIF to shrink photo sizes -- the third big operating system to embrace the JPEG alternative along with Apple's iOS last year and Google's Android P this year.

Windows 10's wallpaper

Windows 10's wallpaper

Stephen Shankland/CNET

A test version of Windows 10 -- a step on the road to a version due this fall -- has the ability to display HEIF images in its Photos app and any other software drawing on on Windows' built-in imaging foundations. HEIF, short for High Efficiency Image Format, uses technology drawn from the new HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) to compress images so they take up only about half as much space as the venerable and universally supported JPEG format.

HEIF is a big deal since it can free up storage space and help you avoid running into your monthly network data cap. But there's more, too: It's actually a flexible data container that can accommodate live photos, bursts of photos, 3D scene data useful for special effects, audio, and more. In other words, it helps photo formats keep pace with today's changing definition of digital photography.

Microsoft Windows team members Dona Sarkar and Brandon LeBlanc announced Windows' HEIF embrace Friday in a blog post about the new version, called build 17623.. But they added a significant caveat, too: "This release we are delivering essential viewing support," they said. "You cannot edit HEIF images in this release."

HEIF isn't a slam dunk, though. It's burdened by complex requirements for patent royalty payments. Web technology developers typically despise patented technology, which is one reason a possible rival photo format from Mozilla, Google, and others is interesting.

As a container, HEIF can actually accommodate multiple compression technologies. When used with HEVC video compression, the resulting files are called HEIC images.

Because HEIF and HEIC support is a rarity today, Apple has been careful to discourage developers from writing software that, for example, will try to post HEIC images on social network sites. Support in Windows and Android though, significantly reduces the risks of HEIC image sharing. That means it's more likely we'll actually benefit from the new technology.

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