Microsoft Digital Image Suite

November 21st, 2006 Mobile Computing, Tech, The West Australian

$158 RRP

With sales of digital cameras still outstripping film cameras at the decades-long peak of their popularity, digital picture software is as common on most computers as a word processor or email client.

Always keen to join the fray of any market, Microsoft brings us the Digital Image Suite Plus. It hasn’t nearly the market profile of the Xbox or the unshakeable sector ownership like the Office suite of programs, but the price tag probably keeps the executive meeting room at the Redmond headquarters in chocolate biscuits.

Perhaps Microsoft are only too aware of how the Internet is awash with similar tools — many of them free and well put together, such as Google Picasa — to make too much of a splash with this product. In order to give you a little buyer incentive, they’ve bundled their software with Pinnacle Studio 10.5 video editor.

As such, the whole suite comes in three parts. Microsoft’s components are the Microsoft Digital Image Suite Library and the Microsoft Digital Image Suite Editor.

You can bring photos into the library directly from your digital camera or from around the nooks and crannies of your system manually or by performing a system scan. The software only recognises the .jpg and .tif formats, but if you’re using it for digital photos straight from a camera they’re the only kind you’ll need.

The interface presents a comprehensive breakdown of the locations and properties of your files in a similar way to Windows Explorer, but there’s one major factor to be aware of, and it depends on how organised you are with your files before you even fire the program up.

Where some applications like Apple’s iPhoto create a brand new database and copy your picture files to it, the Microsoft Digital Image Suite applications work on your original files, wherever they are on your system. In other words, it doesn’t refile them or collect them for you. If you move photos outside the program, you’ll get an error. Make edits to the photo and there’s no original, untouched copy. It’s an instance where a warning by the program that you were overwriting data would be handy — even if the first few times.

You can either open the Editor separately or select files in the Library and open them in the editor for action. It collects together an impressive array of touchup and editing tools for the price, and while they won’t have Adobe Photoshop running for the hills, they’re cleverly constructed for the amateur retoucher. Along with the usual access through menu items, there’s a drop down window of common tasks that describes them in plain English and holds your hand while you apply them, letting you preview your work before you commit.

The last component is Pinnacle Studio, a semi-professional video editor that feels a little out of the league of the other parts. Working with digital picture files might lull you into a false sense of security, so beware — working with digital video will fill your hard drive up very quickly, so have a system to handle it before you take the first step.

Nowhere near the top of the list of video editors, Pinnacle Studio is reported to have a lot of bugs and the interface isn’t nearly as comfortable as that of the Microsoft applications, the features not nearly as easy to access.

While the Image Editor and Library are easy to use and great for beginners, the whole package feels somewhat rushed to compete with better, more seamless video and photo editing packages. As mentioned however, Microsoft might have realised the most important point of all. Most of what you can accomplish in the Digital Image Suite Plus you can find in a thousand free downloads. Parting with your money for Microsoft’s Suite means you’re paying for the convenience of software from a credible source — whether it’s worth it is up to you.

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