One Step Forward, Two Steps Back…

This is a bit of a rant. This is a bit of a rant about Microsoft software. This is a bit of a rant about Windows Live Essentials 2011.

Windows Live Essentials (WLE) is a suite of utilities from Microsoft that began life back in 2006. WLE 2011 is the fourth major iteration of the suite, and was released in its final version on 30th September 2010. It now contains a number of utilities:

Of these eight utilities, I really only made extensive use of four of them (Mail, Messenger, Photo Gallery and Writer). With the release of WLE 2011, and the acquisition of a camera that can shoot HD video in addition to photos, I had expected to start making use of Movie Maker.

Instead, I’ve found that the 2011 versions of both Movie Maker and Photo Gallery have surprising limitations that represent a step backwards from earlier versions. Worse still, Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011 has a showstopper of an issue that means that I cannot use it until it is resolved in a satisfactory manner by Microsoft.

Windows Live Movie Maker

Windows Live Movie Maker (WLMM) is a complete re-write of an earlier effort by Microsoft: Windows Movie Maker (WMM). Unfortunately, in the rewrite, Microsoft’s desire to make easy-to-use software has resulted in the dumbing-down of the software to the point where functionality has been removed.

Windows Movie Maker had both a “storyboard” view and a “timeline” view for editing and assembling videos. Windows Live Movie Maker 2011, on the other hand, has dropped the timeline view and only offers a storyboard view for editing. That’s a great pity, because having the timeline view makes some operations very easy to do, and they can only be done with difficulty, if at all, in the storyboard view. For example, in WMM’s timeline view, you could edit the audio of a video clip. You simply can’t do this in WLMM’s storyboard.

Limitation number two is that, as far as Microsoft is concerned, we all live in either North America or a few other places. That’s because when you produce your finished video, WLMM will produce it in the NSTC standard. Much of the world (over 120 countries and territories) uses the PAL standard, but Microsoft does not support this in WLMM by default. You can cook up your own custom settings, but this is not always straightforward. Take a look at this discussion on the WLMM Help Forum to get an idea of some of the issues involved.

One would think that since Microsoft is apparently trying to make easy-to-use software that they would offer a simple “NTSC or PAL” switch in WLMM, just as practically every other video editing software does, but no; for some reason they have concluded not to do it, leaving us to hunt for information as to how to set it up for ourselves. Two steps back…

Windows Live Photo Gallery

Windows Live Photo Gallery (WLPG) has had more functionality added to it in each of the major releases. WLPG 2011, for example, now has automatic face recognition, geotagging, and a “photo fuse” feature added to it over the features that were in WLPG 2010.

However, there is at least one limitation that I’ve found in comparison with WLPG 2010, so it’s not just a simple move forward. WLPG 2010 had a slideshow function – select your photos, click on the Slideshow button, and you got an instant slideshow of your selected photos. WLPG 2011 seems to offer the same functionality, but when you click on its Slideshow button, what is actually happening is that it passes the job over to Windows Live Movie Maker 2011 to do the work of producing and running the slideshow. And here’s the limitation: the quality of the slideshow produced by WLMM 2011 is noticeably poorer than that which was produced by WLPG 2010.

When I raised this issue in the WLPG Help Forum, the first response back from Microsoft was to deny that anything had changed between WLPG 2010 and WLPG 2011. They then conceded that things had in fact been changed and that “photo quality in slide shows in Windows Live Photo Gallery Beta is indeed a bit degraded when compared to the original file source”. The reason given was that “since videos have been incorporated to the feature, high definition photos in the slide show are forced to level with the resolution capacity of a video format”.

While Microsoft may think that slideshow quality has been “a bit degraded”, I see it as noticeably degraded – to the point where I consider it unacceptable in quality, and a step backwards from what was available in WLPG 2010.

And then we come to the showstopper in WLPG 2011: geotagging.

Unlike every other application I’ve seen (IDimager, Picasa, PhotoShop Elements, Lightroom, Microsoft Pro Photo Tools, Geosetter) that offers geotagging either directly or via a plug-in, WLPG 2011 does not offer a map-based interface to position geotags. Instead, it uses a text-driven database to assign geotags. The problem with this, as I’ve pointed out here and here, is that this is very prone to errors of interpretation.  If Microsoft had left it at simply a textual description of a geotag, I could have lived with it. But no, they go a step further: they also write out GPS coordinates into the Exif metadata of the image. In effect, WLPG 2011 is guessing the GPS coordinates based on text contained in the contents of the IPTC metadata fields that deal with information about location. Microsoft are really doing geocoding, rather than geotagging. The problem is that very often, these guesses turn out to be wildly wrong. Even that I could live with, if WLPG 2011 had given me an option to stop it writing out these GPS coordinates into my images; but it doesn’t, and that is an unforgivable showstopper in my book. WLPG 2011 has entered false GPS data into thousands of my images.

It’s really odd, the automatic face recognition feature of WLPG 2011 asks the user to confirm its guesses as to who the person in a photo is each and every time. Yet the geotagging feature is making guesses about GPS coordinates and writing these out to image metadata without even notifying the user that it is doing this.

I, and others, have raised the issue in the WLPG Help Forum here and here. The worrying thing is that so far, while the issue has been acknowledged by Microsoft, the manner of their replies are, to my eyes at least, rather along the lines of “it’s not a bug, but a feature…” Sorry, Microsoft, it’s not a feature, it’s a disaster. One that could have easily been avoided if they had given us the option to turn off the writing of GPS coordinates into image metadata. And if they had given us a map-based interface, like any decent geotagging application, then users could have checked WLPG’s guesses, confirmed those that were correct, and rejected the false ones.

WLPG 2011, despite the fact that it uses the term “geotag” in the application, is actually doing geocoding, rather than geotagging if you follow the strict definition of the terms. There’s probably a reason that everyone else does geotagging in their applications, and that is probably because it isn’t so prone to horrible errors as Microsoft’s geocoding approach has turned out to be.

This issue makes WLPG 2011 not so much two steps back in comparison to WLPG 2010, but more of a step off the cliff…

Update 2 December 2010

There’s an update to WLPG 2011 that addresses the geotagging issue. See here for more information.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
This entry was posted in Computers and Internet, Photography. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to One Step Forward, Two Steps Back…

  1. Pingback: Am I a Microsoft Fanboi? | Geoff Coupe's Blog

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