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.)