Microsoft's lab cooks up photo collage program

Microsoft's AutoCollage 2008 uses facial recognition and blending technologies to create photo collages.

Microsoft has released a simple, stand-alone program from its U.K. research lab that assembles photos into a collage.

AutoCollage 2008 is the fruit of work done in facial recognition and blending technologies, said Alisson Sol, the development manager for the project. The program, released Thursday, picks representative images while avoiding repetitive features, matching images so they seamlessly flow into one another. The photo can be resized, then printed.

Microsoft has dabbled in photo software a bit before. Previous releases includes the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer with XP, which has only rudimentary tools, such as rotating and saving photos in a different file format. The Vista OS has the Windows Photo Gallery Viewer, which lets users crop and adjust the contrast of photos, among other basic features.

Many people are already manually doing their own collages with photo manipulation programs, Sol said. Microsoft's interest was to make that process simpler and faster. There's demand for an automated program, he said.

But perhaps what is most interesting is how Microsoft is choosing to distribute AutoCollage. Rather than wrapping the feature into one of its Web-based Windows Live services, the company has opted to sell an application that has to be installed on a PC.

A Web service is "technically possible," Sol said. But Microsoft thinks that users with a low-bandwidth capacity could run into problem when uploading high numbers of large photos, and that would deter some people from using the program.

AutoCollage costs US$19.95 or US$35.43. The program is available for download worldwide, but only in English. Sol said Microsoft will gauge whether it should be localized for other languages depending on interest.

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