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Folks, does anyone really know if MS will discontinue Photosynth? Just read that the group will be transferred to Bing and the chief of the group resigned. I'll hate to create more work and never be able to see it again and I have tons of it but I am seriously looking for something else as I am not trusting MS technology strategy.
There are no plans that I have heard of to shut down Photosynth. I don't believe that the shutting down of Live Labs or the departure of Gary Flake from Microsoft has any bearing on the situation. Here is the reason.
Back in 2008 when Photosynth launched, the Photosynth team actually was divided away from the Seadragon team and other members of Live Labs to become its own team under the leadership of original Seadragon team member David Gedye. ( http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=ae0aa634-b515-4bb7-937e-428e3f1e1667 )
Additionally, when they launched publicly (2008 August 20: when we could all begin uploading our own photos to Photosynth) the Photosynth team was moved out of Live Labs and into the Bing Maps (then called Virtual Earth) group where they have been ever since. ( http://radar.oreilly.com/2008/08/photosynth-virtual-earth-microsoft.html )
Something else which happened that same summer was that their architect, Blaise Agüera y Arcas (who you may recognize from videos about Photosynth: see http://docs.com/XFO ) was moved out of Live Labs and given the job of being the architect of MSN, whose group included the Virtual Earth team.
Photosynth is very important to Blaise and he is the one who made the decisions for where Bing Maps is going for at least the next year or two. It was shortly after he became architect of Virtual Earth that we saw Worldwide Telescope, Bing Maps, and Photosynth all begin converting their viewers to Silverlight and at TED 2010, he showed those products coming together. You can go to http://bing.com/maps/explore/ right now, open the App Gallery, and turn on the Photosynth or the Worldwide Telescope apps and see a preview of what they are planning for geotagged Flickr photos with the Streetside Photos app.
Back in June of 2010 Blaise gave a talk at the first annual Augmented Reality Event ( http://bit.ly/are2010blaise ) and while there mentioned that he has graduated out of being architect of Bing Maps and has now moved on to being the architect of a new group in the Online Services Division at Microsoft which is focusing on the combination of Mapping and Mobile. This is not too much of a surprise, considering how much internet traffic (and computing in general) is moving from desktops to mobile devices.
One of the first places that the effects of this is showing up is the Bing app for iPhone, but as today is the launch of Windows Phone 7 in the United States (the European and Australian launches having happened a few weeks back), I expect that we'll be seeing some announcements from Bing Maps for both Windows Phone 7 and also Bing Maps for Windows and Mac in the next few months.
While I'm dispelling fears, I may as well tackle the issue of the old Direct3D "Virtual Earth" control being discontinued. http://bit.ly/ve3d-shutdown http://t.co/smHwvKs
Since 2006, Microsoft had a 3D control called Virtual Earth that had been developed in Microsoft Research which was made available through their mapping site (which was called in turn: MSN Local, Windows Live Search Local, Live Search Local, and finally Bing Maps). It worked much the same as Google Earth, used the same KML model language that the folks at Keyhole created before Google bought their globe and renamed it Google Earth, etc. One big difference was that instead of being a program that you could open on its own, the Virtual Earth control could only be used (by normal people anyway) inside of the web browser on the Microsoft mapping site. Looked at another way, you never had to open a separate program to get a 3D map. You could easily just go to the web site and have it there.
So, what's the big problem with that? The only real trouble was that the browser plugin that was required to run the 3D graphics inside of the browser was only ever created to work with Firefox and Internet Explorer. If you used Opera or Safari, you were out of luck. Chrome hadn't even been created yet, but no support was added for it either, when it came out.
To add to this, the graphics engine was running on Direct3D|DirectX. Now, don't misunderstand me, DirectX is great graphics technology. The only drawback is that Microsoft only makes it for Microsoft. (What I mean is that you can only use it on Windows, XBOX, Windows Phone etc.) Now, if you were only writing a game or something, the fact that it only runs on Windows isn't a problem, but if you're a great feature of a public service that people on Macs or Linux would like to use, then it becomes a big problem. (OpenGL is the graphics library that Macs, Linux, and game consoles like the Wii and PS3 use.)
So, to sum up: with the Virtual Earth control (or Bing Maps 3D control as it was more recently called), you could only use it if:
1) You were running Windows.
2) You had your graphics acceleration turned on and your DirectX drivers up to date.
3) You installed this plugin that only gave you graphics on one site (and any site that had a Bing Map embedded on it, I suppose, but that still comes from the one site).
4) You used Internet Explorer or Firefox.
Blaise, being someone who wants things to be useful to everyone, no doubt saw the problem above. When 2009's new features were announced the new Silverlight version of Bing Maps had Photosynths integrated on the map, Streetside panoramas, smooth zooming, and Worldwide Telescope integration was soon to follow in early 2010. Best of all, Silverlight was usable by anyone using a modern Mac and would run in Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari, Firefox, and Chrome on Windows or Macs.
One drawback to Silverlight 4 is that it doesn't have any real 3D graphics abilities (which would require it to talk to your computer's GPU in OpenGL on Macs and DirectX on Windows and get the exact same results on both). It's possible to do, but difficult as you may imagine. It is also difficult to pack a 3D graphics library into a tiny Silverlight installer.
For those of us who loved the power of the Direct3D control, we were sad that the Streetside panoramas, Photosynths, etc. were not available in the faster stronger Direct3D control, but by then I think that many of us saw the writing on the wall as far as work on that control having stopped and all work having shifted to the new Silverlight control. I'm sure that as someone in charge of a limited number of employees, it doesn't make sense to spend time and effort on making new features work on an old control that you know you'll be getting rid of in the coming year.
In the HTML5 specification, the Canvas element allows for some interesting graphics, though mostly 2D, if I understand correctly.
Independent of the W3C (who is in charge of web standards), the Khronos Group (who oversees OpenGL) is working with the Firefox, Safari, Opera, + Chrome teams to support a subset of OpenGL graphics commands from the early 2000s to work inside of an HTML5 canvas, which would mean that anyone who knows how to program 3D OpenGL graphics can write simpler versions of those graphics and have them run inside the web browser without a plugin in future versions of browsers.
WebGL support is still at least a year away, I would say. You still need to download the very latest alpha versions of browsers if you want WebGL demos to work, so the time when web developers (such as Bing Maps or Photosynth) can start using WebGL (or a similar technology) to build 3D graphics that run in browsers without a plugin on multiple operating systems and across many browsers is still a ways off.
Looking forward, Silverlight will almost certainly get 3D graphics capabilities as Flash has announced their work on getting 3D up and running and WebGL is also going to introduce 3D capabilities to the web standards world.
On the flip side, when Silverlight was started, the major platforms were just Windows and Mac. Running good quality video and 3D graphics on phones wasn't really happening yet, and Apple's iOS devices and Android hadn't happened yet, much less become runaway successes. Apple has locked out all plugins except as authoring tools to create iPhone|iPad apps. (i.e. You can use Flash authoring tools to make an iPhone app, but Apple will never ever allow Adobe to create Flash for iPhone that allows Flash to run inside of Mobile Safari.)
So what is the future for Silverlight? Back when it was started, they only needed to get it up and running on Macs and Windows (and arguably Linux, though the Silverlight team has left Novell to reverse engineer Silverlight for Linux in their Moonlight project [ http://go-mono.com/moonlight/ ] which can't help but be about a year behind the current version of Silverlight). Now with mobile devices looking like the future of computing, it's impossible to get Silverlight installed on all platforms in a way that will allow Silverlight developers to write a program once, put it on a web page, and let anyone who loads the page on any device run the app.
This is more the fault of companies like Apple creating closed systems more than the fault of the Silverlight team, but Apple has the right to run their own products as they see fit.
With basic 3D abilities coming to the HTML|AJAX world via WebGL in the next couple of years, some see no need for something like Silverlight (which has great 2D graphics support).
That outlook ignores one of the main things that Silverlight was trying to accomplish, though, which was the ability for real programmers to write real programs that would run on the internet on multiple operating systems. It is a great idea, but unfortunately people are determined to not let it succeed because it comes from Microsoft. It will happen sooner or later, though, possibly via something like Google NaCl and when it does, no doubt Photosynth and Bing Maps will make use of it.
For the next few years, though, while WebGL remains unfinished, Silverlight will power the better version of Bing Maps while Bing Maps AJAX is made to do everything which it is capable of doing so that those who cannot install Silverlight will still get good value from Bing Maps.
The announcements which I linked to above about Bing Maps 3D being shut down are not about discontinuing Silverlight support anytime soon, as so many confused journalists wrote in their articles. Neither is it about Bing Maps no longer caring about 3D, as plans have been laid all around Photosynth for years to come. Rather, Microsoft is unwilling to continue investing effort in building their mapping software in technology that will only work for people with Microsoft operating systems and for 2010 and probably much of 2011, that means reduced 3D graphics power for those who were accustomed to the Direct3D control.
That's probably more web politics than you wanted to know. ツ
Just remember that Bing Maps still sees great value in 3D, still believes in 3D, and continues to use 3D data. It's only that the visualizations of that data are going to have to be subdued a little while the technology that is being used to make this accessible to more people catches up to the graphical capabilities of what was being used before. I have no doubt that we'll see a Photosynth viewer that works without a plugin when it's possible to do, whether that comes from the Photosynth team or not. Whether it matches the quality that Silverlight will be able to provide at that point is another question.
The people who are deciding the future of this technology are still very much dedicated to the future of Computer Vision, etc. which Photosynth is a part of.
Cheers, mate. Ask away if you've got any questions.
Reading back over this, I feel like I replied to your original question with facts that you could make the answer from yourself, but I never explicitly said what I concluded from it all, so here it is.
Since Photosynth was already part of the Bing Maps team and has been for over two years now (completely independent of Live Labs) the closing of Live Labs as an independent group and the transfer of all remaining Live Labs personnel to the Bing team has no bearing on the future of Photosynth.
You may also be interested in similar conversations about the future of Photosynth that I had:
in 2009: http://bit.ly/photosynthsfuture-20091206
in 2010: http://bit.ly/photosynthsfuture-201008
If you listen to David Gedye and Blaise talk in the videos I listed in the spreadsheet on docs.com, you won't hear a single word out of their mouths that suggests that Photosynth is going away. Everything said about it suggests that it is the future direction of all mapping.
However, the very low volume of recent activity in this forum, coupled with the lack of new versions or new announcements, is discouraging.
@Ariel, agreed. I've taken to watching Twitter for people talking about Photosynth and that does provide some conversation around the topic.
One or more of us in the Photosynth community really needs to start a podcast about Photosynth or a series of video tutorials - some way to really get the word out about how easy it is to get your own photos and models up on Bing Maps.
Part of the lack of activity from more advanced users on this forum is, I believe, due to things like the new forum at http://pgrammetry.com and Henri Astre's blog. There's also not much that hasn't been discussed here already.
As far as the lack of announcements on the part of the Photosynth team, I believe that it has everything to do with waiting for Bing Maps to make their big November|December announcement. Last year it was the introduction of Overhead View in November and then the integration of Photosynths on Bing Maps in December, so I'm expecting a similar timing this year.