A False Sense of Security

A while back, I was a frequent visitor to the Microsoft support forum for Windows Live Photo Gallery. There was a particularly bad bug in WLPG that I was bitten by, back in November 2010. Since that was fixed, I’ve been only an occasional visitor to the support forum. I go there mainly to see what sort of issues are being reported, and also to see what the quality of support from Microsoft is like.

The last couple of visits have made me think that there’s yet another bad bug in WLPG that Microsoft have not yet realised is present.

It started with this statement being posted by a user back in December 2011: Windows Live Photo Galley doesn’t write metadata to the file, only to the database.

The response from the Windows Live Support person was misleading and wrong:

Currently, Live Photo Gallery’s slideshow doesn’t support embedding captions or other metadata in the photo. If you feel that such a feature can improve the product, I suggest you submit this as request to our product team. You may post it in our feedback page at https://feedback.live.com/.

Misleading, because the original statement had nothing to do with the Slideshow feature in WLPG, and wrong, because as I posted on the forum thread: with one exception, WLPG does write metadata into JPEG files. WLPG will save Descriptive Tags, Captions, Geotags, People Tags (if you’ve identified faces in the image) and Ratings as metadata into JPEG files, as well as holding this information in its local database. However, WLPG does not save Flags as metadata in the image files, but only in its local database.

There was, alas, no further follow-up from Windows Live Support to the issue.

Then I noticed another thread in the forum that concerned an issue with metadata: Lost metadata from Photo Gallery. This time, it concerned someone who had bought a new PC and transferred the photo files from his/her old PC, only to find that all the “Date taken” metadata of the photos was wrong.

Once again, the Windows Live Support person jumped to the wrong conclusions, and gave irrelevant advice. There then followed much to-ing and fro-ing between the original poster and a succession of Windows Live Support people. Not one of them cottoned on to the salient fact that the cause of the issue was that the WLPG running on the old PC had not been writing out metadata into the photo files as it should have been doing. So when the photos got transferred to the new PC, all the metadata changes that the user had done got left behind in the local database of WLPG on the old PC.

I pointed this out in the thread, and someone else chimed in saying that he was seeing it on one of his PCs – WLPG was not writing out metadata into the photo files as it should do. Together, we came up with a simple test for this issue. In WLPG, select a photo, right-click and select “Properties”. This brings up the Properties window of the file itself. Many of the fields in this window are directly editable, e.g. the “Date taken” field. If everything is working correctly, you should be able to edit these fields, and the changes are being written into the file’s metadata directly. If, however, WLPG is not working correctly, then these fields cannot be changed. It’s as though WLPG thinks the files are Read-only, and hence all metadata is being held only in the local database and not written out to the files themselves.

We then asked for a response from Windows Live Support, and, once again, the response was misleading and irrelevant to the issue at hand. Sigh.

So, to summarise, it looks as though, under some circumstances, WLPG is not writing out metadata into photo (JPEG) files, but merely recording the metadata in its local database. It’s difficult to say how widespread this is, because most people will not be aware that things aren’t working properly. Not until, for example, they transfer their photos across to a new PC and discover that all of the metadata is missing or wrong.

WLPG users are being lulled into a false sense of security.

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.
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15 Responses to A False Sense of Security

  1. Mike says:

    Scary, this. I chose WLPG a few years back over Photoshop Elements precisely because of its ability to write metadata back to the files themselves.

    I have, by the way, also noticed that all my files appeared to have incorrect metadata, but this problem was just a result of the fact that WLPG was not nearly yet done with parsing all the metadata that was actually and thankfully in the files.

  2. JL says:

    Geoff, thank-you for your vigilance. But in my experience it runs deeper than that. I never used WLPG on another computer, or any Windows Files Properties. Still, I have incorrect ‘date taken’ on all my digital photos from 2004-2010.

    As you already know from the 2010 GPS debacle (http://www.jgen.ws/jlog/photos/windows-7-live-photo-gallery-gps-nightmare/) I never actually used WLPG; I simply opened it once when my computer was new. A year and a half later I’ve now found all my digital photos with incorrect dates and times taken. This can only be attributed to Windows as my 2011 and 2012 photos are fine.

    In other words, this is part of Windows’ present and ongoing and never-ending irresponsible use of photo metadata. I think it deserves way stronger language than ‘lulled’.

    You’re suggesting this can be fixed through Properties. Well, that’s not actually true. Although a date and time is shown, only the date can be changed, if at all. I wouldn’t even consider using WLPG to try to fix WLPG problems. I’d rather eat nails.

    I’m slowly wading through my photos one at a time using GeoSetter to reset the dates and times from a set I was able to restore from Carbonite in 2010. Lacking a backup that pre-dates the damage I’d say you’re f*&cked.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      JL – yes, you’re right that the Properties date/time field will only allow setting of the date. Another example of badly-thought through design, I’m afraid. And like you, I don’t use WLPG to fix any of the problems caused by WLPG.

      I think we are about to receive the successor to WLPG in a few days time in the Consumer Preview of Windows 8. Doubtless with a whole raft of new issues alongside old friends that still won’t have been fixed. Being the masochist that I am, I won’t be able to resist taking a look…

      • JL says:

        Since the direction seems to be, so far, from dumb to dumber I don’t hold out any hope for future renditions.

        I look forward to your ongoing masochism as it gives me something worthwhile to tweet.

  3. Horst says:

    Until today I was a big fan of Windows Live Photo Gallery – but get in doubt when reading your blog posts about its meta data handling – and got finally shocked when my tests showed that the meta data were not updated from WLPG into the file.

    But after hours of search a final idea came up: I remembered that you mentioned in one of your posts, that you are using the FastPictureViewerCodecPack what I am using too.
    So in a desperate move I deinstalled the FastPictureViewerCodePack and the MicrosoftCodecPack and rebooted the machine.
    After reboot the vanilla WLPG did sync the meta data to the file. Then I installed the MicrosoftCodecPack and WLPG did sync the meta data, and then I installed the FastPictureViewerCodecPack and WLPG did sync the meta data too.

    So I am not sure if my observations are from any value, but I wanted to share them with you.

    Thanks for your excellent posts about the subject.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Horst,

      Thanks for your comments. I wonder if there was some conflict between the Codec packs, which was resolved when you deinstalled/reinstalled them. I don’t use the Microsoft codec pack – just the FastPictureViewer codec. I also have turned off the JPG auto-rotation feature of the codec off. I did this because I found that WLPG was compressing my JPGs too much if it was used to edit them. See https://gcoupe.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/windows-live-photo-gallery-2011-a-status-report/

      WLPG will still corrupt Makernotes if it is used to edit or add metadata to files, so I try not use it. This issue has been acknowledged as a problem by Microsoft, but they still haven’t found a fix for it… http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windowslive/forum/gallery-files/wlpg-creates-bad-exif-metadata-the-saga-continues/0c65bb55-39f0-4f76-ba1a-f4528167abd4

      • Horst says:

        Geoff,
        what a mess with the MS support. But they may can not resolve the issue, because it looks fundamental.

        I did a test with comparing the Exif data extracted with ExifToolGui before and after the WLPG attribute changes. What alerted me, was that WLPG changes the Exif Byte Order from little indian (II) to bid indian (MM). So all binary Exif data that are not known to MS would be potentially be corrupted. Reviewing the the changed Exif attributes showed a resonable evidence for my assumption.

        Searching in the ExifTool forum made me aware that the same problem is happening when changing the image title or comment with the regular Windows explorer.
        http://u88.n24.queensu.ca/exiftool/forum/index.php?topic=2638.0
        I verified this too, with the same effect from losing MakerNote information and having the Exif Byte Order changed.

        So this whole issue might be only resolvable, when little indian Exif data will be updated as little indian data.

        • Horst says:

          Sorry I should take more care for my typing: I am referencing on little-endian and bid-endian byte order and not on ‘indians’.

        • Geoff Coupe says:

          Horst, yes, you’re quite right about the Endianness being reversed. I’d forgotten about that – I first noted it in this post: https://gcoupe.wordpress.com/2010/11/03/more-problems-with-windows-live-photo-gallery-2011/

          As I said then, the Metadata Working Group’s guidelines (of which Microsoft is a founding member) recommend that endianness be preserved – so Microsoft are disregarding their own advice.

          I suspect that all these operations are being done in the Windows Imaging Component (WIC), which is a fundamental component of Windows. That’s why these errors are being seen in both WLPG and the Windows Explorer. Both of them will use WIC for image handling.

  4. Horst says:

    Geoff, maybe the solution to fix the Makernotes is simplier:
    – ExifToolGui showed me the warning ‘[minor] Possibly incorrect maker notes offsets (fix by 3788?)’
    – EXIFTOOL -F -tagsfromfile @ -makernotes P1000002.JPG
    fixed it

    At least for my data it did the job

  5. Although I don’t use WLPG, I still get photo info just from browsing thumbnails in Windows 7. The bar across the bottom we’re all familiar with; tags, author, comments, size, etc. Or seen under Properties/Details.

    I’ve seen that ‘Title’ in Windows can be either the IPTC ‘caption’ or IPTC ‘object name’. Once again, no standards.

    All my photos have been run through either GeoSetter or Photo Mechanic for the past couple of years which fixed most of the problems put there by other software such as MediaDex. This included some budget version of IPTC called AFCP. GeoSetter seemed to take it out automatically so I didn’t have to use ExifTool to pick through them one by one.

    Occassionally, I still see info included under ‘Comments’ in Windows. This is old info that’s stuck there somehow. Another hangover from MediaDex possibly. It doesn’t show in either Photo Mechanic or GeoSetter. If I delete it from Windows directly, it will reverse the Endian from little to big. To confirm what Horst has said above.

  6. Joe Wasik says:

    I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the metadata problem with WLPG (where it updates its own database, but not the photo). Per a post above, I uninstalled FastPictureViewerCodec. And astonishingly, WLPG is now very busy updating all my photos’ metadata from its database. Problem solved. So someone saved me many many many many hours of work, had I been forced to fix this by some other means.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      As noted above, I use the FastPictureViewer Codec pack, but I’ve never had the problem of metadata not being kept in sync with the WLPG database.

      I’ll pass this on to Axel Rietschin (the developer of the Codec pack) for his reaction. Thanks.

  7. Geoff Coupe says:

    I’ve had a reply back from Axel Rietschin to say that he has uploaded an update to his Codec Pack. According to his web site:

    “Version 3.3.0.64 discontinues support for JPEG auto-rotation inside Microsoft Windows Live Photo Gallery, due to a number of issues encountered when enabling this feature inside this specific application. Raw and raster formats support provided to Windows Photo Gallery by the FastPictureViewer Codec Pack is unaffected by this change and, as a reminder, the JPEG Auto-Rotation feature of the FPV Codec Pack is entirely optional and can be opted-out during setup without affecting any of the remaining functionality.”

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