March 11, 2007

Does Microsoft's new format spell the end of JPEG?

Has it ever occurred to you that JPEG could disappear?

Seems impossible, I know. But digital preservation isn't only about the recording media. Let's suspend reality for a moment and pretend that DVDs really will last forever. You still need to have software that can convert 1's and 0's into a photo of a chubby smiling baby. And a compatible machine to run the software.

Here's a quote from a recent Computerworld article.

Microsoft Corp. will soon submit to an international standards organization a new photo format...

The format, HD Photo -- recently renamed from Windows Media Photo -- is taking aim at the JPEG format, a 15-year-old technology widely used in digital cameras and image applications.

Listen, I don't have any special psychic abilities. I can't predict the future. But I know what has happened in the past when Microsoft sets it's eye on something.

You do the math.

And then order prints of your favorite digital photos. The ones your future grand kids should have a chance to see.

[link via Slashdot]


Apple said...

I have uploaded tons of my photos to various hosting sites such as flickr, snapfish, and imageshack as a secondary backup system. Hopefully they'll be able to convert them for me if/when the time comes. With MS picture-it! I can convert jpg to gif or png but only one pic at a time and I don't think I'll live long enough to convert them all that way!

Sally J. said...

You make a great point about conversions, Apple. Automatic migration would be a GREAT added service for the photo sharing sites. Wonder if it's occurred to any of them?

The Legacy Lady said...

I have often wondered what would be the best way to preserve my digital files. I shoot in RAW format and save a backup of those files as digital negatives. From there I process in photoshop and save JPEG - your post has me thinking I should possible look at tiff format - which is supposedly the best way to save without the compression of a JPEG.

I am wondering if my backup plan of 2 dvd's each and external hard drive is enough. Wish they would come out with the DVD/CD that lasts 200 years - and the file format with it!

eckenheimer said...

Legacy Lady, here are a few comments on your post:
1. Highest quality jpeg is a lot smaller in size and very nearly as good as tiff, except for large format, high resolution color photographs. It's easy to do a side by side comparison to decide whether it's satisfactory for you.
2. The raw "negatives" are a great idea, but be aware that older raw formats can disappear and programs to process them years from now may be difficult to find. I'm being a bit paranoid here, but it's happened before.
3. Please be certain to store one copy of the DVD/CD in a remote location in case of fire, tornado, theft, etc. at your home
4. There's no "do it and forget it" kind of easy answer with digital. Periodic updating or upgrading is a fact of our digital life.

jralls said...

I'm not terribly concerned about jpeg going away in the near term, but long term one never knows. That's unfortunately just as true about tiff files. This fellow has some interesting commentary on digital photo archiving file formats.

When it comes time to convert your photos to a new format, there are programs which will do the job as a batch (meaning that you need invoke the program only once, or at most once per directory). Mac users have the awesome which will convert formats and do much more (it's even AppleScript-able). Microsoft users can get a basic converter for free or upgrade to the same company's more capable pay software. For the ultimate in geekiness, there's ImageMagick available for Unix/Linux, Mac OS-X, and Microsoft. Not for the faint of heart, but freely available and open-source.

Sally J. said...

jralls, I cried a little when I learned that converting RAW to TIFF involves some loss of information.

No doubt batch conversion is the way to go. Fortunately I have a copy of Photoshop, and it makes this process easy. Nice to know that there are converters available for folks who don't have that software.

wirehead arts said...

I dono. Given the lack of JPEG2000 support in most popular pieces of software, I can't see the new Microsoft format being especially standard either for your "average person". Too many installed pieces of software don't support it and not many developers are going to bother

I also tend to think that JPEG has, like GIF and BMP and PCX, achieved a sort of immortality. It's kind of like EBCDIC vs. ASCII. I suspect that you are more likely to have problems with JPEG2000 in the long-term future than JPEG.

Sally J. said...

Wirehead, there is lot of support for JPEG2000 in Hollywood. The film industry is already using it to compress films that are shot and/or projected digitally. As long as that use is supported, we will be able to read JPEG2000 files.

Unfortunately, no format can claim immortality. If camera manufacturers adopt a new standard, the old one will disappear eventually. 'Tis the way of the biz.

Obsolescence and replacement doesn't mean we lose everything -- just the images that no one bothers to update. Or the ones that no one printed out.