Six surprising things about Microsoft's PhotoSynth

PhotoSynth, Microsoft's photo-stitching technology from the company's Live Labs division, is out of beta and is now a version 1.0 shipping product. If I had to choose the six things that most surprised/impressed me about PhotoSynth, this would be my list.

PhotoSynth, Microsoft's photo-stitching technology from the company's Live Labs division, is out of beta and is now a version 1.0 shipping product.

I'm no photographer. If I take 20 digital pictures a year, that is a lot for me. So I'm obviously not part of the target audience -- at least the user-generated content part -- for this technology. But I did discover a few things about PhotoSynth that I found noteworthy during my sit-down meeting recently with Blaise Aguera y Arcas, the co-creator of PhotoSynth (as well as creator of the SeaDragon seamless-browsing technology which helps power it).

If I had to choose the six things that most surprised/impressed me about PhotoSynth, this would be my list:

1. Microsoft is trying to create a whole new lexicon around PhotoSynth. Microsoft wants synth to become a commonly used verb. "Synths" are collections of photos stiched with PhotoSynth. When someone asks how "synthy" something is, what s/he really wants to know is how complete a collection of synths is. (In other words, are there large gaps missing in a series of user-generated photos of Notre Dame? Or are the transitions between photos smooth?)

2. For now, PhotoSynth is a completely consumer-focused technology. But Microsoft is expecting business users to create commercial PhotoSynth experiences, as well. Aguera y Arcas cited shopping for things that are "extremely visual" as one likely application. It's not hard to imagine medical-imaging applications of the technology. PhotoSynth tags can be embedded on any Web page (the way YouTube tags are today), which may result in other, new commercial uses of the technology.

3. PhotoSynth Version 1.0 already is optimized for multicore machines. "The Microsoft multicore guys want to try some of our technologies," Aguera y Arcas said.

4. So far, there is no touch support for PhotoSynth and no connection between PhotoSynth and Windows Live Photo Gallery. But future PhotoSynth releases will no doubt add support for these and other Microsoft-backed products and technologies. And yes, a software developer kit (SDK) is coming, but no date yet as to when.

5. PhotoSynth is yet another example of a Software + Service. The software components are the synther and the viewer, which reside on a user's machine. "Everything gets stored to PhotoSynth.Net," Aguera y Arcas explained.

6. What's next for the PhotoSynth team? From the PhotoSynth site: "Following this release, the Photosynth team will join MSN — an important step in continuing to improve Photosynth and share the experience with an even wider audience. In addition to letting users create and share synths at photosynth.com, over the next year Photosynth will begin to become a key part of the experience for MSN’s 550 million monthly visitors worldwide. Synths will be prominently featured on MSN.com. To create a more absorbing experience for its visitors, MSN will use synths of popular destinations and notable events in many of the places where static images are used on the site today."

Those interested in checking out PhotoSynth can download it for free, as of August 20.  The team is making sure the world knows that PhotoSynth may have gone 1.0, but it's still a work in progress. Currently, PhotoSynth works only on Windows machines and supports Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers only.  From the PhotoSynth site:

"What you see on this site is the first of many versions of Photosynth. Call it beta, call it 1.0, call it whatever you want… just know we are hard at work adding support for more browsers, more platforms, and more hardware, and just making the experience that much more amazing."

Any PhotoSynth testers out there discovered other unusual tidbits about this much-touted Microsoft technology?

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