Fellow photographers, rejoice! After a quick codec pack download, those of you running Windows 7 or Vista should be able to preview RAW files straight from Windows Explorer, without having to use third-party tools like Adobe Bridge. Micrsoft announced the release of the pack on its blog earlier today. You can download it here in 32-bit and 64-bit variants.
As the video below demonstrates, the codec pack doesn't just let you view RAW thumbnails in Explorer; it also imbues Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011 with RAW support:
For the uninitiated, RAW files can be generated by DSLR cameras instead of (or in addition to) JPEG files. While JPEGs are inherently compressed, RAWs retain uncompressed image data from the camera's sensor, usually with more than 8 bits of color fidelity per channel. That means you can tweak settings like exposure and white balance without having to resort to post-processing filters.
I've gotten in the habit of snapping all my TR photos in RAW format, so I'm pretty happy to see Microsoft finally catch up here. It's just too bad it took so long—Mac OS X has had built-in RAW thumbnail support for years, something that's always unnerved me when switching from my MacBook to my Win7 desktop.