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 user 2005-09-21 at 10:38:00 am Views: 59
  • #12871

    Microsoft: The Bull in the Color Shop

    September , 2005

    Microsoft is becoming
    more color-aware. In fact Microsoft, with input from Canon, plans a
    complete rewrite of the color game plan in its Windows Color System
    integrated in the upcoming operating system Vista.

    Redmond details the motivation behind its shakeup of Color Management
    in a recent white paper. In that paper, Microsoft bemoans the growing
    user frustration with bad color, the failings of the present ICC
    profile approach, and the difficulties for developers in creating
    color-managed applications when they are not themselves color experts.

    I e-mailed in some questions to the Microsoft press office.
    Unfortunately, in lieu of a promised phone response they e-mailed back
    replies so technical that I am not quite able to make out whether my
    questions were addressed.

    To avoid misrepresenting one of the world’s most powerful companies, I
    am posting the Q&A text, which was supplied for attribution,
    verbatim, to my own geeky color management blog. So please take what
    follows below to be my own opinions and interpretations.

    # Microsoft believes that good color is now a mainstream user request
    in office and home use, i.e., on screens, color copiers, printers and
    digital cameras. Users demand a seamless workflow, where good color is
    “automagically” maintained by the computer system. To extract a few
    words from the white paper, “Color that just works.”

    # Microsoft believes that the shortcomings of the current ICC profile
    world are severe and wants to move to a Windows-centric
    measurement-based system, where the user would input raw measurements
    into Windows.

    # All other color tuning and computation relevant to color would be
    done as far as possible directly within the Windows OS software, by
    means of tools integrated into the Windows interface, albeit with the
    help of plug-in modules when necessary.

    # Microsoft will strive to ensure backward compatibility with existing ICC workflows.

    I commend Microsoft’s decision to address the miserable user experience
    of the ICC world. At present, as I detailed in an earlier column, it is
    incumbent upon the user to profile his or her own devices.

    What’s more, the current color situation requires users to purchase
    expensive hardware and even more expensive software for profiling
    tasks. The tools for profiling a consumer ink-jet printer now cost much
    more than the printer itself, and the price of a monitor calibration
    puck is a significant fraction of the price of a monitor!

    In addition to the dollar cost, using ICC Color Management requires
    intense care in setting up the parameters of the computer system one is
    using. Indeed, every step in the color managed workflow is a pain. Yes,
    Microsoft has got that diagnosis right.

    Clearly, simpler and cheaper solutions would be welcome. I believe this is called “Increasing User Value” over in Redmond.

    Unfortunately, however, there is the issue of interoperability. The
    print industry as a whole may distrust a Microsoft proprietary solution.

    In an unfortunate portent of things to come, I was not able to view all
    of Microsoft’s white paper because my Mac failed to decode the images
    in the DOC file perfectly.

    Remember plain ASCII text? That was a standard too, and it was
    superseded by “better” files containing text with formatting. That
    formatting is now protected by patent and copyright law to the point
    where the original text has since become invisible for many of us who
    live outside the Microsoft hive.

    If a columnist be allowed a joke, those who forget history may be condemned to pay Microsoft to print it.