Jun 3, 2005

Response to RAW support in next version of Microsoft Windows

Source: OpenRAW

The OpenRAW Working Group welcomes the advanced RAW support in the upcoming version of Microsoft Longhorn, however this is not a solution to the problem of preservation of RAW files, past, present, and future.

With their announcement, Microsoft is acknowledging some of the problems with the current state of digital camera RAW files. By including support for each version of RAW file inside its next version of Windows, Microsoft will simplify the use of RAW files for those who adopt the new OS. By publishing an API to access the built-in functionality Longhorn users could see even more choices in alternative software for working with RAW files.

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s announcement does not directly address the future accessibility of any proprietary RAW files. Microsoft’s solution is, in essence, to put the confusion of multiple RAW formats inside the operating system out of the users sight. The RAW files themselves will be no better documented than they are now. Microsoft has recognized the value of open file formats to their customers of its office software suite, announcing that XML will be the default file format for the next major version of Office.

If Microsoft can move the digital photography industry’s use of RAW files in the same direction it is taking with its office file formats then all the goals of OpenRAW will be closer to being realized and all users of RAW files will benefit.

Digital media has existed for less than a few decades, yet support for many file formats has vanished, making the content stored in those formats unusable. Microsoft’s announcement comes to us the very same week that Kodak announced the discontinuation of 2 more of their digital cameras, just one year after their introduction and less than 2 months after Kyocera’s announcement that they are abandoning the whole Contax brand. Content creators must not only protect their digital files safe from the risks of media failure but also the unpredictable risks of software and hardware obsolescence. There is no guarantee that companies creating and supporting current RAW or other media files will exist in the future.

For professional photographers, images have a useful economic life span of decades. For all photographers, amateur and professional, images should have a life span of at least several decades, so it is an absolute must that long-term access to digital photographic RAW image files be ensured. Photographs, no matter the source, are an important record of families, culture and the environment at the time they were taken. If RAW files are inaccessible many of those records will have vanished.

The OpenRAW working group still believes that open documentation of RAW files is the only viable solution to ensure the survival of RAW files into the distant future. This needs to be independent of the equipment manufacturer, operating systems, and software, the longevity of which cannot be guaranteed. This documentation should enable anyone in the future to write software that can read all the details of the RAW image as it was captured or edited by the photographer.

Most importantly, open documentation for RAW file formats does not require proprietary design information from camera makers or other participants in the digital imaging industry be revealed to ensure access to RAW images.

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