Windows XP takes the best from Microsoft’s previous operating systems and combines them to provide a platform that is stable, versatile and customisable to allow one PC to be used by a number of people without disrupting other users’ set-ups.

The launch of Microsoft”s latest operating system, Windows XP (for eXPert) on 25 October heralds a new era for digital imagers because of the support the new OS provides for all kinds of digital photography and video. Windows XP takes the best from Microsoft”s previous operating systems and combines them to provide a platform that is stable, versatile and customisable to allow one PC to be used by a number of people without disrupting other users” set-ups.

Most readers will opt for the Home Edition, which is cheaper (full product for $462, with upgrades priced at $238) and offers greater equipment compatibility than the Professional edition, which is priced at $675 with upgrades for $462. However, regardless of which you select, the new OS is sure to impress.

The imaging capabilities of XP are particularly gratifying because they offer a combination of user-friendliness and functionality that hasn”t been seen before on the Windows platform. For the first time, accessing anything with digital content on it – from a camera, CD or DVD – will bring up a dialog that allows the user to view or play the content. Connecting a digital camera or scanner to a PC running Windows XP launches the operating system’s Scanner and Camera Wizard, which gives users a choice of a number of related applications.

The wizard asks the user what they want to do with the input and then provides immediate access to the appropriate driver or viewing software so they can view their images quickly. As with earlier Windows operating systems, users can install software that replaces the bundled software included by Microsoft – but the supplied application works so well that few are likely to take this option.

Features of Windows XP include an improved image preview function with larger thumbnail images that can be used to retrieve photos from the camera without the need to open a separate application. An enhanced My Pictures folder simplifies the process of transferring, browsing through and manipulating images and users can attach selected images to an email, post them on the Internet or use them on their PCs directly from this image preview window or even choose how they will be printed.

The Windows XP Photo Printing Wizard allows users to select the images they want to print directly from their My Pictures folder. They can also decide how large they want each print to be (ranging from A4 size to wallet-sized prints) and have Windows XP automatically format the order to optimise paper use and reduce wastage. Microsoft plans to offer several additional options, including ordering prints from a photofinishing Web site and is currently negotiating with potential local partners to support this service.

Digital video users who connect their camcorders to a Windows XP PC will be asked if they want to use Windows Movie Maker, an easy-to-use program that lets them create personalised movies that include soundtracks and a range of transition effects. Windows XP can even allow easy transfer of footage recorded on VHS tapes to the PC so it can be included in new movies.

Advanced video processing activates the automatic shot detection function, which senses abrupt changes in the video and camera stop/start points. The software then catalogues these clips to make editing a movie easy and allow users to remove unwanted segments. A drag-and-drop interface allows a voiceover to be added, along with background music and transitions between clips.

Movies created with Windows Movie Maker are compressed, making them suitable for emailing or storing on CD-ROM. This compression is so powerful users can store up to 23 hours of video in only 1GB of hard disk space. Microsoft will also offer online Web hosting of video movies for Windows XP users without their own Web site by teaming up with several Web hosting partners that can offer users up to 30 MB of online storage. Details of this service are yet to be announced.

Windows XP also supports downloading images to CDs via a CD Recording function that makes saving data to a CD as easy as saving to a floppy disk or hard drive. And you don”t need additional software for this application! There also is an option to set one program as the default for all digital input, regardless of the format it is presented in.

Although business users whose PCs are already running Windows 2000 will probably see little reason to upgrade their operating systems immediately, anybody involved in imaging – both still and video – will have a powerful reason to move to the new system, thanks to the improved features and functionality it provides. You can find out more before making the change by visiting