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Microsoft focuses on camera connections

Software giant announces new tools for plugging digital cameras into PCs.

Microsoft announced several new efforts this week to make it easier to connect digital cameras to PCs.

The software giant announced at the Photokina trade show in Germany that it will extend Media Transfer Protocol (MTP), technology it introduced earlier this year for connecting portable media devices with Windows PCs, to include cameras and other digital imaging devices.

MTP is a standard that Microsoft will publish freely for makers of cameras, media devices and other gadgets to incorporate into the "firmware" that runs their devices, said Dave McLauchlan, Microsoft's program manager for Windows Portable Devices. It is based on Photo Transfer Protocol, a standard developed by firmware specialist FotoNation and already supported by many camera makers.

MTP support will be added to Windows XP through planned updates and incorporated into future versions of the operating system, McLauchlan said. The upshot is that cameras will be able to connect to PCs without the installation of special drivers, PC software created by the device manufacturer to govern the device's connection with the PC operating system.

With MTP, cameras would connect to PCs in much the same way that USB flash drives do now, allowing photographers to share images on the fly, McLauchlan said.

"The scenario I like to think of is, if I go to my mother's house and want to upload some images after a day of traveling," he said. "The way it works now, I'm stuck if I don't have the installation discs that came with the camera."

Such ad-hoc connections are becoming increasingly common, as digital imaging proliferates and spreads to other devices, such as mobile phones, McLauchlan said. "Once you start incorporating more than one function into a device, you need a number of protocols, and that get unwieldy pretty fast," he said.

Canon is the first camera maker to announce plans to support MTP, and Microsoft said it expected other manufacturers to follow suit quickly. "There's really very little overhead for companies to implement this--and a lot of benefit for consumers," McLauchlan said.

Digital photo standards have been one of the hallmarks of this week's Photokina event. Besides Microsoft's MTP, Adobe Systems revealed plans to standardize the "raw" image formats that camera manufacturers use to store uncompressed files.

A trio of industry giants--Konica Minolta Photo Imaging, Fuji Photo Film and Eastman Kodak--also announced plans to create a new archival standard to ensure that today's images can be read by future devices. The Picture Archiving and Sharing Standard (PASS) is intended to bridge current formats and ensure compatibility in the future, the companies said in a statement. "We're looking at this from a consumer's perspective," said Hisatoyo Kato, a senior vice president at Fuji. "People need to be confident that their pictures and videos will be readily available to enjoy and share in future decades. With all the different devices and systems that touch those digital files, and with the speed of technological change, creating a standard focused on such future interoperability is critical."

Microsoft also announced several new efforts to simplify the creation of wireless connections between PCs and cameras, an increasingly common option, as digital imaging has expanded to phones. Windows Connect Now, technology introduced in Service Pack 2 for Windows XP to automate the creation of secure wireless networks, will be expanded to include support for future wireless-enabled cameras and printers, McLauchlan said

For existing wireless devices, Microsoft is developing a new PowerToy utility, expected to be available for free download in a few weeks, to streamline the creation of wireless connections.