Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Microsoft Image Composite Editor

Microsoft Research are usually worth keeping an eye on as they're known for producing some very nifty bits of Windows software and this time their Interactive Visual Media Group has rolled out the Image Composite Editor or ICE to shorten the name a bit. ICE is an advanced panoramic image stitcher and, like most of the amazingly cool stuff that emerges from Microsoft Research, it's free.

Image Composite Editor
Okay, you can already create panoramic images for free in Windows Live Photo Gallery, and it's very good at it too, but if you're looking for that bit more functionality and control and don't really want to have to shell out for a commercial panorama tool or delve into the free but complex Hugin, then ICE is looking very nice indeed.

ICE has state-of-the-art stitching and exposure blending algorithms and allows advanced camera orientation adjustment. It can also output to more formats and with more control over compression levels than Windows Live Photo Gallery but it's still so easy to use.

All you need to do is drop in a set of overlapping photographs of a scene from a single location and ICE creates a high-resolution panorama, incorporating all of your images at full resolution. You can choose from several algorithms for camera motion or let it choose automatically. Once the images have been stitched, you can automatically crop off the uneven edges or do it manually to suit your own image preferences.

Once you're happy with the stitch and crop, then you can then save your panorama in a wide variety of formats, from common ones like JPEG, PNG, Windows BMP and TIFF to the new-ish HD Photo format and multi-resolution tiled formats like HD View and Silverlight Deep Zoom. You can even choose to scale the exported image if you want to.

Versions of ICE are available for both x86 and x64 Windows systems with .NET 2.0 or above.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Windows Live Lives

Windows Live

When Microsoft released their free Windows Live suite of applications and services, I was in there pretty quickly and started writing this blog post but it never got done as other stuff cropped up that kept my focus off of it.

Still, it's definitely worth a mention now that they've released a set of beta updates for new versions of most of the suite, which provides a single sign-in access to the following web services…
  • Hotmail: Stay connected anywhere with your web-based e-mail account.
  • Spaces: Share your world online on your own web space.
  • SkyDrive: 1Gb of free storage to host or share your files online.
  • Events: Plan your event. Send invitations. Share photos.
…and on top of that they give you the following suite of applications…
  • Mail: Access your multiple e-mail accounts in one place.
  • Messenger: Connect, share, and chat online.
  • Toolbar: Easy access to Windows Live services from any web page.
  • Photo Gallery: Get creative and share your photos and videos.
  • Writer: Easily publish pictures, videos, and other rich content to your blog.
One more thing on offer is Windows Live OneCare, an all-in-one PC security and support suite to provide protection against viruses, spyware, intrusions, hackers, etc., optimize your system and hard drive and provide scheduled backup facilities. However, it isn't free but you can try it for 90 days before they'll want some wonga. It costs £37.99 a year to support up to three PCs on OneCare.

A few of the services like Hotmail and Messenger are already well known but what drew my attention was the new stuff like Photo Gallery and Writer…

Windows Live Photo Gallery

Windows Live Photo Gallery is essentially Microsoft's answer to Google's Picasa and, having had a play with it, I'm pretty impressed so far. Like Picasa, you can use it to organize and store your photos as well as adjust settings like exposure, brightness, shadows, redeye, colour, detail and crop the image, etc. Not a lot different here but I actually found the shadow and highlight adjustments more flexible than in Picasa. You can also publish your images to your Spaces photos and Flickr or e-mail images in a choice of sizes or burn images to CD/DVD directly.

What really got my interest in this application was the fact that I'd read a while back that Microsoft would be including the capability of creating panoramic images. So, they have indeed and all you do is select the source images and choose a menu command. Nothing else is required as the application analyses the images and builds the panorama with no further input from you; no selecting matching anchor points or anything like that; it just works. The following panorama was made from three images taken hand held from our hotel balcony in Portugal last year…

Windows Live Photo Gallery Panorama
The only complaint I have about it is the fact that there's no option to adjust the default JPEG file save compression settings and those must be set at about 50% as any edited file seems to be much smaller than the original. The workaround here is to save the panorama as a TIFF and then use something else to convert it to JPEG if desired.

Windows Live Writer

Windows Live Writer is a desktop application that makes it easy to publish rich content to your blog. It can publish to most major blog services including Windows Live Spaces, SharePoint, Wordpress, Blogger and many others. Even if you don't yet have a blog (where have you been?), Writer can help you set one up.

With Writer, you can easily create a compelling blog post and insert photos and videos, maps, tags and lots of other cool content. I comes with powerful editing features including tables, spell checker, and quick hyperlinks. You can even compose your posts offline and publish them later once you get connected again.

Windows Live Writer
Some of the above services and applications are still in development so I expect that the feature set may grow a bit and some of the inconsistencies will be ironed out. One other thing to mention is the fact that you don't need to sign up for a Hotmail account to get access to the rest of the stuff. I quite easily got signed up using my own, non-Microsoft mail account.

The latest set of betas has updates for Messenger, Mail, Photo Gallery, Writer, Toolbar and Family Safety and now includes Movie Maker, which lets you create and share movies with just a few clicks of your mouse. You can arrange photos and video clips by dragging and dropping, add a soundtrack and preview your changes instantly before publishing to any of several popular video sharing sites.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Can You Run It?

Can You Run It?Can You Run It? is a that site provides a simple solution for PC video game fans that looks at your computer hardware and software to determine whether or not your current system can run a particular Windows PC game. So, if you fancy playing newly released games like Mercenaries 2 or Spore, then it might be very useful to try this before shelling out for the games.

Each of your computer's components is evaluated to see how well it meets the minimum and recommended requirements against a database of specific games. If you can run it, then whoop-dee-doo, Instant happiness If not, then recommendations are made on how to update or upgrade each component that doesn't meet the listed requirements. Sometimes all you need is a simple, free software download to sort things out.

The service
works with Windows 98, 98SE, ME, 2000, XP, 2003, Media Center and Vista and either Internet Explorer 4.xx and higher or a Mozilla based browser (Firefox, Netscape, etc.) with Java 1.3.1 and higher. At the moment the database contains only games but there's no reason why they couldn't expand that to include other software packages. Might need a bit of redesign on the site to accommodate that though as all you get to select from is one, very long menu.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Oosah - Too Good to Be True?

Online storage provider Oosah has just blown the free storage goalposts away by offering one terabyte, a whole terabyte, free to registered individual users and they have an iPhone compatible site. Now that just blows the competition away and you can either believe that the offer is real or you can be a wee bit sceptical (like me) and dig a bit deeper.

Okay, they're banking on no-one actually filling up their terabyte allocation anytime soon so time may be on their side and, as long as storage advancements continue and they upgrade often enough, then they could very well keep on top of it. However, my concerns weren't really about them being able to provide the technology…

Where things get decidedly dodgy is in their Terms and Conditions. Firstly, they make it perfectly clear that you, as the owner of the contents, are responsible for it and not them so that's them off the hook for hosting anything that you upload that could be considered illegal or prohibited. Secondly, and this is the killer, by posting content to Oosah, you automatically grant to Oosah (and its successors) an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, assignable, royalty free, worldwide license to use, copy, perform, display, distribute and to prepare derivative works of such content in connection with the Site and any current and future services offered by Oosah, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

That's a serious mouthful to digest but what it means is that, while they've limited their liability for anything dodgy you might upload, they can do whatever they want with your files, data, videos, pictures, etc. forever! Nothing you upload to Oosah can be considered private so be very wary of that.

It's a pity as the service looks really useful; you can upload and stream your music collection, create photo galleries and slideshows, embed content for blog and web site postings, etc. All useful stuff but think about this scenario. You've uploaded your music collection, mostly ripped from legally purchased CDs, and can happily stream this to anywhere you are on the web. However, you've also granted Oosah the same privileges and they can stream your music to anyone they deem fit. Trouble is neither Oosah nor you have a license to do that and you're the one that would cop the blame should the authorities get wind of it.

Okay, a terabyte is a terabye and if you think it could be useful, then go ahead but be very, very careful about what you're uploading.

Related Posts: - Useful Temporary Online Space, ADrive - 50Gbs Of Online Storage For Free, Windows Live SkyDrive, Unlimited Online File Storage, Free Online File Storage.