Microsoft still working on an Adobe Lightroom competitor, but with a social twist

Microsoft still working on an Adobe Lightroom competitor, but with a social twist

Summary: It's been almost two years since I first got tips about Microsoft "SmartFlow," a product which allegedly was going to be a competitor with Adobe's Photoshop Lightroom post-production software for professional photographers. I had thought that incubation project may have been quietly eliminated somewhere along the way. But it's still alive and is in a new group with a new twist.

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It's been almost two years since I first got tips about Microsoft "SmartFlow," a product which allegedly was going to be a competitor with Adobe's Photoshop Lightroom post-production software for professional photographers. I had thought that incubation project may have been quietly eliminated somewhere along the way.

However, during an interview I had with Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie this week at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference, I discovered work is going foward on SmartFlow -- but in a new part of the company and with a new twist.

SmartFlow is now one of the projects under the recently-created Microsoft FUSE social-computing lab, Ozzie said. The 82-person Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Labs will be headed by General Manager Lili Cheng. FUSE is an amalgamation of Cheng’s Microsoft Research (MSR) Creative Systems group and two other labs that are already under Ozzie: Rich Media Labs, in Redmond, Wash., and Starup Labs, based in Cambridge, Mass.

"Cheng's got -- it wasn't really written about a lot, but there was a project under (former Chief Technical Officer) David Vaskevitch called SmartFlow," Ozzie told me. The FUSE Lab is bringing together people who are really great about the communications aspect of social (networking) and the media aspects. And so I'm really excited to see some of the ideas that they have in the realm of using photos, videos, and communications kind of brought together."

After spending quite a bit of time behind the scenes with the Windows Azure team, helping that group to coalesce, Ozzie is now dedicating more of his time to other projects at the company, especially FUSE, he said this week.

SmartFlow "was heading toward Lightroom, and then we realized from the perspective of the direction of where it was going ... that there's more excitement about what people are doing," Ozzie elaborated. "Photography has been transformed by what people are doing with camera phones a lot more than the high-end phones. I mean, I have my DSLR kinds of things, but I just think what every may is doing with photos and using it in the context of the communications is a lot more interesting and video is quite untapped, I think at this point."

Like other Microsoft Labs, such as Live Labs, Office Labs and Ad Labs, there's no promise that any of the incubations upon which Cheng and her team members are working will necessarily result in commercialized products. Ozzie didn't offer up more specifics or a timetable as to when SmartFlow may be available to the public in test or final form. But once the cover is raised on SmartFlow, it will be interesting to see what social networking will bring to photo editing.

(A related aside: Vaskevitch, the former Microsoft CTO with the company's Server and Tools group, quietly left Microsoft in September, I realized only today when searching for his title for this post. Vaskevitch had been with Microsoft since 1986 and had held a variety of marketing and strategy positions at the company.)

Topics: Microsoft, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Social Enterprise

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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6 comments
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  • Maybe MS needs myLife instead of focusing on cloud everything.

    I've been a Windows user since Windows 1.0 on MS-DOS. I used Multiplan and Word with a mouse before Windows even existed. Over the years I've purchased so many copies of MS Office, OS upgrades, mice, keyboards, joysticks, development environments (MASM, MS VC, Visual Basic, Visual Studio, QuickBasic, FrontPage, etc.) for all of my home computers, I've probably spent $100k+ on Microsoft products out of my own pocket. I have been a Microsoft customer for decades. But not anymore.

    After I found out at the beginning of this year that Microsoft was going to continue to do its "crippleware + upgrade" marketing strategy with Win 7, I went out and bought my first Mac. I have to say, the most impressive thing about the Mac was the out-of-box experience. The iLife software makes Vista's equivalents look very sad indeed. These aren't "throw-away" applications like the ones Microsoft includes. They are actually useful.

    For example, the facial recognition in iPhoto has made finding photos of specific people in my VAST collection so much more efficient that I have already saved countless hours when I needed to put together quick slide shows for people. An m-Audio USB music keyboard I had immediately worked with Garage Band the moment I plugged it in. Using the built-in software has been a pleasant and eye-opening experience which makes me recommend Macs now to friends and family.

    And unlike Microsoft's versions of these programs, the iLife programs keep getting BETTER not worse. When I saw the simple video editor from Vista disappear in Win 7 to be replaced by an online and far inferior product, my jaw hung open in disbelief. Even in Vista, the mail client was worse than XP's Outlook Express. They removed "email groups." Why would any software company downgrade a software product? If you can't improve it, just leave it alone.

    I guess my point is, that Microsoft needs to do something to win back people who have seen first-hand what is included by Apple on their machines. Microsoft's "Live" packages mostly stink and are literally downgrades from previous versions they once included for free. Unless this Lightroom-clone project is an upcoming free replacement for their "Live" photo browser, nobody will really care about it. After all, we already HAVE Lightroom, so why should we care about a clone? By the time this clone arrives, Lightroom will have surpassed it, anyway.
    BillDem
  • @BillDem: You're wrong, several times over.

    "For example, the facial recognition in iPhoto has made finding photos of specific people in my VAST collection so much more efficient that I have already saved countless hours when I needed to put together quick slide shows for people."

    Windows Live Photo Gallery includes the same functionality. Plus it has online access to photo-sharing websites, including Picasa, Facebook, and Microsoft's own Windows Live Photos, and includes extensibility to allow developers to add their own site-upload add-ons. It supports automatic panoramic photo-stitching, and even allows uploading of photos to Photosynth. It includes integration of Microsoft's professional-level Image Composition Editor (ICE) too. Plus, they have free add-ons for pro-level photo workflow tools available here (most for free, as well as WL Photo Gallery):

    http://www.microsoft.com/prophoto

    "An m-Audio USB music keyboard I had immediately worked with Garage Band the moment I plugged it in."

    There's more choice on Windows. Here's one of my faves:

    http://www.cakewalk.com

    " the iLife programs keep getting BETTER not worse. When I saw the simple video editor from Vista disappear in Win 7 to be replaced by an online and far inferior product"

    You mean like iMovie 08 over iMovie 06? WL Movie Maker is far superior, and has a lot more extensibility. Of course, there are better applications than both of those programs. This is my favourite, and it totally kills anything on the Mac with a price tag even close to that:

    http://www.sonycreativesoftware.com/moviestudiopp

    "we already HAVE Lightroom, so why should we care about a clone?"

    Price. And there are other options available.

    Here's another favourite program of mine that offers about 90% of the functionality of Photoshop and Lightroom combined, for cheap (and it supports RAW image processing):

    http://www.corel.com/paintshoppro
    Joe_Raby
    • You obviously haven't used both and I have

      I've used both and Windows Live Photo Gallery is a pale imitation of iPhoto '09 out of the box. MS rests their hopes solely on third party developers making their crappy photo tool more useful. Sorry your bloomers got all bunched up over my observations, but after using both products, that's what I believe.

      Considering I was comparing INCLUDED free software between Windows and Apple, I'm not sure why you even mentioned Cakewalk, but I'll humor you. I've also used several versions of Cakewalk over the years and it is nowhere near as friendly for the average user as Garage Band. The mAudio software that came with my keyboard never worked on Vista 64 correctly, and it never recognized the mAudio USB keyboard. My observation was that Garage Band s really simple to use and it recognized the device immediately. These are facts. I'm not "wrong." Add in the upward compatibility with Logic Express and Logic Pro, and it's easy to see why the majority of professional musicians use Macs in the studio.

      Lastly, iMovie '09 is far superior to the joke that is Windows Live Movie Maker. Even Vista's free Movie Maker was far superior to the newer Windows Live Movie Maker. In fact, I can't think of ANY video editor I've EVER used which is less capable and less flexible than Windows Live Movie Maker. It just plain sucks. This includes products I've used from Pinnacle, Sony, Adobe, Ulead, Nero, and Photodex. Again, I'm not sure why we are even talking about third party software, since I was specifically comparing [i]included[/i] software.

      So, thanks for the links to third-party consumer grade equivalents of all the crappy Microsoft stuff, but they were unnecessary. I already own and use Lightroom 2.5, Adobe Photoshop CS4 64bit, and Adobe Premiere CS4, along with a lot of other far more professional software than what you linked - most of it running on Windows Vista Ultimate 64bit.

      None of this changes the fact that the FREE stuff included with a new Mac blows the free stuff from Microsoft out of the water. For MOST people, the Mac will do most of what they need out of the box thanks to the quality of the iLife software.

      It also doesn't change the fact that a Microsoft-coded imitation of Lightroom is highly unlikely to be superior to owning the real Lightroom. Tacking on "social features" to a tool professionals use for processing photos loses sight of the needs of the intended audience. Like I said in my first post, unless this is targeted as a replacement for the crappy, free, consumer-oriented, Windows Live stuff, nobody will care about it.
      BillDem
      • What you just witnessed is...

        A tactic known as, "Defending the hive".You made the statement; in your
        opinion, someone other than Microsoft makes a better product. What
        you then saw was a knee-jerk reaction to your claim. This is why the Red
        Herring was introduced. This is a typical reaction. Your claim that the
        software Apple included was better than the software Microsoft included,
        offended his judgement. So the $300+ in additional software was rought
        up.
        Rick_K
  • Think you'd learn a lesson

    "It?s been almost two years since I first got tips about
    Microsoft ?SmartFlow..."

    but then go on to report it again!

    2+ years to produce a copy of a competitors simple program,
    hilarious. Well done MS, you're still getting the column
    inches;-)
    Richard Flude
  • But they are slowly murdering the best contender!

    They've bought iView Media Pro (the best DAM - Digital
    Asset Management - at he time) a couple of years ago, shortly
    rebranding it on the "Expression" Suite as Expression Media
    (after inserting some bugs...).

    Sometime later, they've released an allegedly upgrade
    called Expression Media 2. All of a sudden, they've removed
    Media from the Expression Suite of software and, even on
    their blog the product seems to be completely abandoned.

    Several professional photographers depend on Media
    Expression/iView to organize a huge amount of pictures. And
    most claim that, despite de lack of development on the last
    years, it is still the best DAM around. When I've read the
    title of the post, I thought it was good news, not spread on
    the Expression Media forum. But... "social" pictures? C'mon!
    Give us a good DAM, Microsoft.

    Lightroom, although a reasonable RAW converter / photo
    editor is not a DAM at all (despite Adobe good intention). Put
    Expression Media together with some RAW converter is a good
    idea, but could just end killing its DAM features. And
    including "social" features on a photo editor might seem
    interesting to the crowd, for sure. But that is definitely not
    what DAM users are looking for.
    felipes