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Microsoft woos digital-photography enthusiasts

New software, photography summits and contests are all part of company's bid to attract the creative crowd.

Microsoft has recently been attempting to appeal to a crowd it traditionally hasn't focused on: digital photographers.

The software behemoth has never been known as a leader in the creative side of software manufacturing; that title arguably goes to Apple Computer or Adobe Systems. But Microsoft is trying to change that image in anticipation of the eventual release of its Vista operating system, particularly in the field of digital photography.

Thursday marked its first Pro Photo Summit, featuring the launch of a program called Icons of Imaging, designed to showcase the work of leaders and innovators in photography; and the announcement of the winners of a Future Pro Photographer Contest.

The inaugural summit introduced the first six "icons," an array of photographers whose specialties range from nature to celebrities to weddings. A panel of judges selected an overall winner and three runners-up in the Future Pro contest, which Microsoft says had 13,000 entries from 92 countries. The grand prize went to a Romanian entrant, while all the runners-up were American. (To see the winning photos, .)

Hosting a high-profile photographers' event isn't the only thing Microsoft has been doing to boost its stance among digital-photography enthusiasts. Earlier this week, the software company purchased iView Multimedia, a British start-up that specializes in digital photo organization, as a potential rival to Adobe's Lightroom and .

Microsoft is also working on Windows Media Photo, a format designed to rival the popular JPEG digital-photo format. Handling digital media, including photos, is one of the key features Microsoft plans to tout with Windows Vista, the successor to Windows XP that is set for mainstream launch in January.

But whether Microsoft will actually be able to lure photo aficionados, largely grounded in Adobe Photoshop and Aperture on a Mac, is unclear.

CNET's Ina Fried contributed to this report.