Microsoft to Ship Photo Story 3 for Free 

Today, Microsoft will ship Photo Story 3 for Windows, the latest version of its amazing digital photo slide show utility. However, this version of Photo Story differs from earlier versions in many ways and adds a wide range of new functionality. Best of all, the product will be free for all Windows XP users.

Originally scheduled to be integrated with XP Media Center Edition (XP MCE) 2005 Photo Story 3 builds on the successes of Plus Photo Story and Plus Photo Story 2 which were included in successive versions of Plus Digital Media Edition a digital media oriented add on pack for XP that sold millions of copies over 2 years. Like earlier versions, Photo Story 3 uses a simple wizard-like interface to help consumers turn still photos into immersive animated videos called photo stories which feature professional panning and zooming animations similar to those documentary filmmaker Ken Burns popularized. You can also add narration background music and titles to your photo stories.

Photo Story 3 builds on this functionality in several ways. From within the Photo Story interface you can now edit and rotate photos add various visual effects remove black borders from vertically oriented photos and add captions to individual photos. You can also automatically generate a soundtrack based on a selection of genre types styles bands moods tempo and intensity Photo Story 3 then customizes that music to match the length of the photo story to which you're applying it. Finally, Photo Story 3 also makes it easier to share your creations with friends and family offering a variety of templates that are compatible with PCs, Portable Media Centers, Pocket PCs and smart phones, or that can be transmitted easily via email or the Web dd Photo Story 3 is an amazing tool and one that all XP users will want to check out. For more information, visit my exhaustive review on the SuperSite for Windows dd http www winsupersite com reviews photostory3 asp dd p Apple Releases Uninspiring iPod Photo iPod U2 Special Edition p dd In a bid to fend off advances from the Microsoft camp Apple Computer yesterday introduced two new iPod portable audio devices one of which can display digital photos on its tiny color screen. The other new iPod dubbed the iPod U2 Special Edition provides lucky buyers with a black body and red scroll wheel all for just an additional 50 over an otherwise identical white iPod.

Yes, these releases aren't that inspiring. The reality of the long expected iPod Photo is far less impressive than the mock ups fan sites created in the days leading up to the launch. The iPod Photo features the standard but tiny 2 screen that adorns other iPods. By comparison the Creative Labs Zen Portable Media Center which also displays photos and music but adds support for videos and recorded TV shows features a much larger 3.8 screen and higher resolution 320 x 240 compared with 220 x 176 for the iPod Photo. The Zen also gets dramatically better battery life. However, Apple says it kept the screen small to keep the iPod small sacrificing both the display and battery life presumably for style.

"We think music plus photos is the next big thing," said Apple CEO Steve Jobs. "Everyone has the content already and there are no copyright issues." Microsoft apparently agrees. The company first launched photo slide show and music software in Windows XP Media Center Edition (XP MCE) 3 years ago and added on the go support in Portable Media Center last summer. Somehow I suspect I'm still going to read about how Apple innovated in this area.

Apple also introduced the curiously crippled iPod U2 Special Edition which is essentially a black version of the 20GB white iPod. In addition to its black fascia and red scroll wheel the iPod U2 Special Edition differs from its white brethren in three ways. It costs $50 more, it includes engravings of the band's signatures on the back and it must be used with a wide range of white, not black, iPod accessories. For some reason, Apple chose not to supply black ear bud headphones or other accessories; indeed the iPod U2 Special Edition doesn't even come with a dock black or white. Actually, a few other amenities are included with this most painful of iPods. It comes with a U2 poster and a $50 coupon off the purchase of The Complete U2, a collection of more than 400 U2 songs you must download in Protected Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) format the retail price for the collection is 150.

Am I unimpressed by these new iPods? Yeah, pretty much. Don't get me wrong. For many reasons, the iPod is still the portable digital audio player to get, but the iPod Photo and iPod U2 Special Edition are underwhelming additions to the line up.