Kodak Developer Conference '99

A couple of weeks ago Kodak held it's Kodak Developer Conference '99 in Boston and San Francisco. I managed to spend some time at the Boston session and saw a few interesting things. This report covers the Digita operating environment, DPOF, Meta data and Obsolescence of data. In a second report I'll look at Picture CD.

Digita is an operating environment developed for digital cameras and printers. Digita is a product developed by FlashPoint, and is included in two of Kodak's current offerings, the DC260 and DC220. It is also used in the Minolta Dimâge EX 1500 camera, and Epson has shown a printer that includes Digita. Digita is accessed through the LCD panel on the back of the camera and uses a simple interface made up of icons and menus.

Digita makes it possible to program the camera using Digita Script, a scripting language supported by the environment. Digita Script can be used to control most features of the camera, including adjusting focus, exposure, flash and lens position and even taking the picture and processing it afterwards. Both Kodak and FlashPoint claim that Digita Script is an easy language to use, and if you are a computer programmer then you'll probably agree. However I'm not sure that the average person would want to learn programming to write scripts for their cameras. Either Digita or another company needs to develop some kind of iconic system that can be used to write these scripts.

FlashPoint will soon be selling Digita Desktop, an application for use in controlling Digita cameras. This will provide an alternative interface for working with the camera and downloading images, but I don't believe it will help in programming the camera.

Kodak demonstrated a script that communicated with a GPS unit attached to the serial port of a DC260 and which added the position information to the image. Kodak will probably offer this as a package along with a GPS (they are finalizing which one.) As another example of scripting, they also demonstrated a script that zoomed the lens while capturing a sequence of images.

Scripts are actually text files (though with a .csm extension.) To add a script to a camera, you first connect the camera to the computer. The CompactFlash card of the camera contains a folder labeled System. To add a script you drag the .csm file to the system folder. One person asked if there was a compiled version of scripts -- a way to protect your scripts -- but that is not available at the moment.

For more information checks Kodak's developer page, and FlashPoints web page.

And in an unrelated note about Digital Cameras, a person from SanDisk said that Compact Flash memory would be $1 a megabyte in Q1 2000, and 50 cents by the end of the year.


DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) is an ASCII file that contains user print decisions for use by a printing device. A user can create a DPOF file that says "print this picture 4 times" and then send both the image and DPOF file to a print bureau or to a DPOF printer. The DPOF file is read to see what the user wants done with the image file.

DPOF is currently still new and untried; interestingly, there is no agreed way to handle the DPOF file after printing; it might be deleted, or it might be marked in some way. Kodak plans to support DPOF in future cameras and printers. Interestingly, since DPOF is a text file, you can use Digita to write a DPOF file.

Some information about DPOF can be found at this web page: Digital Print Order Format Summary.


The lunch session (the lunch wasn't too bad!) was a pitch for Meta data. Meta tags are used to attach information (Meta Data) to a digital image. This could be anything from Copyright data to a description of the photograph, the location it was taken, and the date, time and exposure information. This idea is not really new, and APS (Advanced Photo System) includes a magnetic track that already records date and time of pictures, and can be used for other information too.

Ideally this information should be saved at the time the picture is taken. Some of this; date and time, the camera can provide, but other information requires user input. In the earlier demo of the DC260 and Digita, they showed how text could be entered and saved in a file along with the photograph. Since the camera lacks any keyboard the interface for entering text involved navigating through a scrolling list of letters to select the letter(s) you want to enter. While this method works, it's not fast or convenient. Maybe cameras will need detachable keyboards, or stylus input to make it easier for users to do this.

The speaker did say that Meta data was a horrible term, and they were trying to find another term before the word was used too much and entered the mainstream vocabulary.

Kodak obviously thinks that one of the selling points of digital images is the ability to find, index and search these images. The demo disc for Picture CD distributed at the event sells this point showing a video clip of someone trying to find images in a shoebox of photographs.

It was acknowledged how difficult it can be to get people to enter this information, and wondered aloud what would make people add this Meta Data. He then went on to partly answer the question by suggesting that this information could be gathered when the user is performing other tasks. For example, when you email the picture to a friend you probably enter some description of the picture. Similarly, if you went online using chat software and were describing the image to a friend, saving that idescription could be useful at a later time.

Kodak is using XIF for storing Meta data on Picture CD. They have adopted the same standard for Picture CD and Compact Flash cards. XIF (XML Interchange Format) was developed by Microsoft and others as an interchange format for meta data described by the Open Information Model (OIM.) OIM itself is a set of meta data specifications to facilitate sharing and reuse in the application development and data warehousing domains. OIM 1.0 consists of over 200 types organized in "easy-to-use" and "easy-to-extend" subject areas (this is all quoted from press releases!)

Besides supporting the interchange of meta data across multiple repository tools, XIF is said to provide third-party vendors with an easy way to populate repository databases with data.
Microsoft press release on XIF:

But, it was observed, people aren't going to put data in unless there is software that makes use of that information. Kodak has made a recommendation to the JPEG 2000 standards committee (a wavelet based scheme) to store Meta data. They said they don't want to develop their own formats.

Kodak wants to use standards. As an example, Picture CD uses JPEG, and even though it can contain FIX information JPEG readers can still read the images even if they doesn't understand the Meta data. Kodak is trying to standardize at the file level so that it is irrelevant what the storage medium is.

The Meta Data Coalition also has an effort for implementation and ongoing evolution of a meta data interchange format and its support mechanisms.


One person asked about the obsolescence of media. How long would CDs be readable by computers? How long to CDs last? This is a problem, but the speaker observed that you could copy to new media. It was also suggested that if users stored images on PhotoNet (Kodak and AOL's digital picture network) then it became a problem for AOL and Kodak, not for the user. I guess the question there is; Will people want to save their images on a network?



Michael D. Murie has been a multimedia consultant and developer since he first saw HyperCard in 1987. He has written for New Media magazine and worked on the CD-ROM The Jack Kerouac ROMnibus. He wrote the books "Macintosh Multimedia Workshop" and "Macintosh Multimedia Starter Kit" and was co-author of "The QuickTime HandBook." He can be reached at mmurie@m2w.net.

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