Comdex Report: Gates Says Future of Photos Is Online
By Stephen Beale
LAS VEGAS–We’re headed for a future in which people will view,
share, and even edit art and photographic images through a Web
browser. That was the message of ImageScape 99, a Comdex trade show
press event that featured a keynote speech by Microsoft chairman Bill
Gates. Gates also heads Corbis, which claims to be the world’s
largest collection of downloadable digital photos and fine art.
At present, Gates said, the Web is still too slow to be a mass medium
for image exchange. But as pipelines get faster over the next few
years, he said, “we won’t have to discuss technical limitations at
all.” Today’s huge hard disk capacities, he said, make it feasible to
store thousands of photos for quick access, and improvements in color
ink-jet technology are making it possible to produce digital prints
that rival the quality of traditional prints from photo labs.
Gates discussed the digital imaging system he uses in his own
mansion, where flat-panel displays hang on the wall much like
paintings. Gates can program the system to display any image from the
Corbis collection–which includes the renowned Bettman Archive of
fine art–on any of the displays. At present, the high cost of
flat-panel displays makes such a system prohibitively expensive, but
Gates predicted that we’ll soon be able to buy monitors with higher
resolution than current models for just a few hundred dollars. “My
house is a glimpse of the future,” he said.
One issue that online photo sites will have to deal with, Gates said,
is copyright protection. Digital watermarking technology makes it
possible to identify the originator of an image, but does not prevent
unauthorized use of photos. He said that online image providers
should take a lesson from the music industry, which failed to address
the issues surrounding digital distribution until it was forced to do
so by the emergence of MP3.
Following Gates’ presentation, a panel of representatives from
digital imaging companies held a freewheeling discussion of issues
surrounding online photo distribution. All agreed that online photo
sites–in which consumers can post digital images for viewing by
others–are becoming increasingly popular. However, they disagreed on
which kinds of sites are best positioned to draw users who want to
Several said that dedicated photo sites will be the most popular, but
Don Strickland, CEO of PictureWorks, said that AOL, Yahoo, and other
big portals have an advantage because they’re in the best position to
deliver the sense of community that consumers want. Intel’s Lorie
Wigle said that she expects image galleries to appear on
topic-specific Web sites. For example, a cake-decorating Web site
might have a section devoted to cake photos submitted by users.
Panelists agreed that online photo sites will not eliminate print.
“People like to see pictures online, but they want prints too,” said
Bruce Foss of Kodak. Kodak, he added, is making it easier for
consumers to order photo prints from the Web.
Consumers can not only post photos on the Web; in some cases, they
can also use tools on a Web site to modify images. For example, Adobe
offers a Web-based utility for optimizing Web graphics and plans to
provide other image-editing aids in the future. However, Adobe Bruce
Chizen asserted that online image-editing tools will not replace
boxed software, at least for professional users. He noted that
editing a 100MB image, even with a fast T1 line, would be “a painful
During the event, 40 companies, including Adobe, Kodak, Olympus,
Epson, and Hewlett-Packard, showed imaging-related products. One
Digital Intelligence, demonstrated image-editing
technology called Picture IQ that can be integrated into Web servers,
game consoles, and set-top boxes.
Sega has licensed Picture IQ for use in its Dreamcast console, and
Corbis has licensed the technology for use on its Web site. Picture
IQ, which is based on the core imaging features in Adobe Photoshop,
includes such functions as red-eye removal, color/brightness
adjustment, and filter effects.
Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read ouraffiliate link policyfor more details.