Being an Apple Mac user, it isn’t always easy to give credit to Microsoft where credit is due. But there’s always been a big difference between the Microsoft which drizzles out poorly supported, badly implemented, over-bloated, over priced, sub-standard, memory hungry, standards ignoring, ugly, embarrassingly tacky shit, like Vista and the work which goes on in their research and development labs, Microsoft Research, which is essentially a different company in all but name.
So I was very excited to see that Microsoft Research was working on a genuinely innovative product called Photosynth, when some guy demoed it on a TED conference video, some months back. The idea of Photosynth being that by analysing the composition of millions of user-submitted photographs, to an image sharing platform like Flickr.com, it should be possible to move around the world, using snaps of various famous landmarks, taken by different people at different angles, by digitally stitching all the pictures together and presenting them in a unified interface, as easy to click and search as using Google Earth.
Photosynth started out well, for a beta. In fact I was secretly pretty impressed when I first had a try of it on a Vista machine in my local PC World. But, as with so many things from Microsoft which start out interesting, it hasn’t really come to anything you might call a killer application; a nomenclature given to an application which makes it so essential to use, it effectively sells the rest of the platform – as MacPaint and Word did for the original Mac, or Pac Man and Tank for the first Atari home video games consoles.
The biggest drawback to so many Microsoft initiatives like this, is the degree to which they just don’t get the idea of the platform being the internet, not the operating system the user choses to use to access the services. Photosynth, unsurprisingly, is Vista only.
As if to prove a point and demonstrate themselves to be among some of the smartest guys on the open web application block, http://openphotovr.org/#0Ka0J3BN have picked up where Photosynth left off and coded a very impressive clone, called OpenPhotoVR.
With only a limited selection of locations to browse and a less than pretty interface, it has at least been shown that despite having not even a tiny fraction of the near unlimited budget of the world’s largest software company, it is possible for driven and talented people around the world, to get together for the love of software and do something truly amazing.
This, in my opinion, is why in ten years and more time, we will look back on the days of closed source software and wonder how we ever managed to get anything done.
Ten out of ten guys!