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New Windows XP Color Control Panel from Microsoft

Mac OS users can skip this week's tip since they already have the ColorSync Control Panel but Windows XP users are likely to find this of interest. It's not that Windows XP is lacking in color management support or anything. It's just that Microsoft didn't make it as easy as Apple did to find information about the ICC profiles on your system. To address this annoyance Microsoft just released the Color Control Panel for Windows XP.

Available by download from Microsoft, the Color Control Panel is easy to install, but does require the .Net Framework version 1.1 that some users may not yet have. If not, the download will automatically include it, but the size will go up from a little more than one megabyte to ten or more (depending on system components). Once installed, you'll find it living in your Control Panel as expected. No reboot is needed unless you are unfortunate enough to need the .Net Framework.

Running it presents you with a dialog with three panes: Color, Profiles, and Devices.

The Color tab presents you with some basic information such as the Color Management Module (CMM) currently being used and default color space. For most users, this will of course be the standard Microsoft CMM and sRGB color space. Of more use, the bottom of this pane allows you to set a reminder so you know it's time to calibrate your monitor again. Users of some monitor profiling packages may already have this functionality, but not all. Users that don't have a monitor profiling package should stop reading this article long enough to run out and get one. Profiling your monitor is an important key to getting good color.

The Profiles tab is for my money (wait, this thing was free, wasn't it?) the most useful as it adds functionality not previously in Windows without third-party tools such as Chromix's excellent ColorThink program. Here you will find a list of all color profiles on your system along with what type they are (printer, scanner or monitor), what company produced it, the file name and directory it lives in, the version and other information. You can use the "Install" and "Uninstall" buttons to add and remove profiles from your system. Windows will automatically put new profiles in the correct place. Also included is a graphical representation of the gamut for the item selected in the profiles list. You can rotate the gamut display by clicking and dragging your mouse cursor over it.

If you click on the small magnifying glass icon in the lower right corner, you will get a pop-up window with an expanded view of the selected profile's gamut. Dragging the standard sizing icon on the frame of this window will let you make it as big as you want. The gamut plot gets bigger along with the window. Down the right-hand side of the dialog are a number of controls you can use to customize the plot. As with the small version on the Profiles tab, you can use your mouse to rotate the gamut display to see it from different angles. A checkbox at the bottom of the window allows you to select a second profile from a dropdown list to compare against the displayed profile.

Windows XP Color Control Panel - Color tab
Color tab
Windows XP Color Control Panel - Profiles tab
Profiles tab
Windows XP Color Control Panel - Color Plot window
Color Plot window
Windows XP Color Control Panel - Devices tab
Devices tab

The third tab is called Devices and shows you all ICC compliant devices installed on your system and what profile or profiles are associated with each. Devices are grouped by type: Displays, Printers or Scanners. You can modify the list of associated profiles for a device using the "Add" and "Remove" buttons, or select the profile to use by default with the "Set Default" button. This is basically the same functionality hidden on all those double-super-secret Advanced Properties tabs scattered throughout Windows today. Unlike the exiting Advanced Properties tabs for each device though, this new version will only show you profiles for the correct type when you click on "Add." What you set for printer profile here really has no bearing on your results if you print using Photoshop or another image editing program that supports color management since it will use its own method of selecting profiles. Likewise in many cases for scanner profile. The monitor profile here is the real thing though, but for some reason not all systems seem to show it. My Dell Inspiron 8600 laptop is one that doesn't. Although no monitor profile is listed for it in the Color Control Panel, one is listed in the Display Control Panel applet. I know the profile loads when the laptop starts up as I can see the difference when it kicks in, but the Color Control Panel seems confused and doesn't list it. Something for Microsoft to fix in the next release I guess.

The upcoming Windows Vista (the operating system formerly code-named "Longhorn") release is likely still at least a year away so it's nice to see some of the new features being back ported to XP. Vista is slated to include the entirely new Windows Color System (WCS) that may prove quite interesting. In addition to the centralized Color Control Panel, it should include an integrated monitor calibration wizard (somewhat like Adobe Gamma I'd guess), support for multiple color channels, greater bit depth and alternate color spaces. Microsoft actually plans for WCS to replace but "work seamlessly with" ICC based color management systems. A bold venture, to say the least.

Update 11/03/2005 - The Color Control Panel also requires Service Pack 2 for Windows XP. If you haven't installed it yet, get ready for another large download. The cost of keeping current I suppose.

Date posted: October 30, 2005 (updated November 3, 2005)


Copyright © 2005 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Thinking in Color with CHROMIX ColorThink

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