Microsoft revealed this week that it will be adding support for "Raw" digital camera images to both Windows XP and Longhorn. XP support will become available in the next few weeks via a free new PowerToy add-on. But Longhorn, due in late 2006, will have much more powerful and integrated Raw support, Microsoft says.

Raw digital camera images, sometimes referred to as "digital negatives," are essentially uncompressed and unprocessed pictures that are taken at a camera's native resolution. For professional photographers, of course, these types of images are much more desirable than those formatted in the more common but compressed JPEG formats.

The problem with Raw support is that virtually every single digital camera uses a slightly different version. So Microsoft is working with major camera makers, including Canon and Nikon, as well as Fuji Photo Film and Adobe, to develop Raw support for Longhorn. In Longhorn, users will be able to view, print, and edit Raw images. XP users, using an upcoming PowerToy, will only be able to view and print Raw images. Today, most photographers use high-end tools like Adobe PhotoShop to edit and manipulate Raw images.

Microsoft is also working with these companies to standardize the Raw format so that there won't be any more issues going forward. And the software giant is working on a new set of application programming interfaces (APIs) that will help third party developers create Longhorn-compatible imaging applications that support the Raw format. Finally, Microsoft will also add Raw support to its popular Digital Image Suite product line.