Windows Live Photo Gallery GPS Nightmare

Windows LiveIgnore this post at your peril.

Basically, I like Windows Live Photo Gallery. Or, at least I did until about two hours ago. It’s impressive after the single viewer window in XP with zero options. It’s a major endeavour. If IPTC is your thing they’re still in kindergarten but it has its good points.

But, listen close. This really is as bad as it looks.

I got an unintentional upgrade to Windows Live Essentials 2011 a couple days ago, including an upgrade to Windows Live Photo Gallery. This is a disaster. And it’s been going on for months and I don’t know how. Are people not noticing?

While sorting out some IPTC issues I saw GPS co-ordinates on gravestones. I didn’t know my distant cousins were so organized! I hadn’t noticed gravestone co-ordinates before.

And then while touring through Windows Live Photo Gallery I suddenly noticed what they’re doing with their ‘Geotag’ option.

This is not geotagging as we’re used to seeing it in Picasa where you can optionally search an address and find the co-ordinates.

Nope, this is Microsoft’s worst execution of an idea ever. And we know that takes some doing. Windows Live Photo Gallery is automatically adding GPS co-ordinates to anything with an address of any kind.

You can use Windows Live Photo Gallery’s ‘geotag’ to add a city and state, or city or province, whatever it’s called in your country. But this does not write to the address fields in proper IPTC software. (GeoSetter, Photo Mechanic …)

On the other hand, if you use the address fields in IPTC software the city/state will show up in Windows Live Photo Gallery. If you hover your cursor over it will give you the complete address as you entered it.

Windows Live Photo Gallery GPS

If you right-click on any old photo with an embedded address (detailed or partial, it doesn’t matter) and select Properties, you’ll see there are GPS co-ordinates there! Just like magic, Instant GPS. Astounding!

I’ve done quite a bit of searching and adding co-ordinates manually. I go to Bing Maps and zoom in on roof tops until I find the exact spot and then place markers exactly where I want them and then copy the co-ordinates into my software.

Fortunately, Windows Live Photo Gallery didn’t change those.

But, for all the other thousandsWindows Live Photo Gallery embedded (embedded! not editable by Windows Live Photo Gallery) co-ordinates for whatever it thought sort of matched. It didn’t matter if it was a street with no number, a cemetery name/city/state (I have hundreds of those) …

According to Microsoft, my great-great granduncle’s shoe store in Kalamazoo is in the middle of a highway on the outskirts of town. Actually it’s in the center of downtown. I don’t know where exactly and I don’t care right this minute. I don’t need co-ordinates for it and I certainly don’t need incorrect ones.

All photos addressed “Canada” are shown as being near the north end of Hudson Bay in Nunavut. Perhaps Microsoft thinks it has a sense of humour.

Since I use Photo Mechanic for most of my IPTC and GPS work I have the option of finding all photos without GPS, so I can filter out the ones that I still have to work on. Now that option is gone. GONE.

In my ANCESTORS folder I have 5,524 images. In DESCENDANTS there are 6,553. About 10,000 of those have non-GPS-able addresses. It’s amazing. They’re my pictures and I don’t know what the exact co-ordinates are but Microsoft, who’s never even met me, thinks they can get it by taking a good guess.

Everywhere I look now I have GPS co-ordinates based on states, provinces, cities or street names with no numbers, mixed in with the ones I meticulously geotagged manually. I have no way of knowing which is which without picking through them one at a time. And neither will anyone else who inherits my pictures. In fact, they could look at the pictures til the cows come home and they’ll never have the faintest clue unless a house is in a lake and then they might wonder.

Nowhere in the Windows Live Photo Gallery Options is there a way to turn GPS off. Because it’s not optional. If you open the latest version of Live Photo Gallery, it will write GPS co-ordinates of some kind to anything with any kind of an IPTC address. And all those GPS co-ordinates are now showing up in Photo Mechanic and XnView.

(Also, read Windows Live Photo Gallery & EXIF Damage.)

December 1 update: Microsoft says the GPS problem has now been resolved although they haven’t offered to repair my photos.

7 thoughts on “Windows Live Photo Gallery GPS Nightmare

    1. JL Post author

      Yep, that’s the nail on the head.

      And you call it ‘annoying’. Oh god, that’s hilarious.

      I will now add ‘manually delete GPS from 10,000 photos’ to my to-do list.

      Update after a night’s sleep: The shortest process I can think of would be to use Photo Mechanic to delete all GPS. Then use my co-ordinates’ list to search addresses one by one and add co-ordinates back in. After uninstalling Live Photo Gallery! Otherwise I’m picking through 75 photo folders one at a time trying to remember what has legitimate co-ordinates so I can delete the others.

      Or, I could wait and see if Microsoft feels like fixing this. They’ve known about this problem since Windows Live Essentials 2011 was in beta and they’ve done nothing about it.

      For your further illumination, read

  1. Carmen

    First of all let me say how sorry we are for causing you to get into this state. Your post has got a bunch of us here on the Windows Live Photo Gallery team talking about how to ensure that this doesn’t happen to more people. We are heading into the weekend feeling very bad about the data corruption that has been caused to your photo collection.

    Can you please shoot me a mail (xxxxxxxx) as I would like to run our latest thinking on how to fix this by you to get your feedback.

    Lead PM, Windows Live Photo Gallery

  2. Geoff Coupe

    JL – glad to see that you’ve had a personal response from the lead PM on this issue. It’s more than I’ve got, despite the fact that I (and others) identified the issue back in August…

    1. JL Post author

      The power of Twitter.

      I read your posts on the MS forums going back as far as June! And it was if you were being seen as ‘the boys talking tech’. No-one from MS, although they were acknowledging you, saw any immediate practical relevance in what you were saying, just ideas for a future version. I could swear I read you say, I paraphrase, you had [4,000 photos with garbage GPS].

      At first I was surprised there aren’t more people talking about it. Then I realized unless you’re cruising through your photo metadata you wouldn’t necessarily see it.

      1. Geoff Coupe

        Yup, over 4,600 photos with garbage GPS. I think that they are now all repaired. But if I were to run WLPG again, it would start writing out garbage GPS to these photos all over again… That’s why I don’t want to touch WLPG with a bargepole until this behaviour is fixed by Microsoft.

        1. JL Post author

          I think they get it now. Why they didn’t before, who knows. They’ve been openly apologetic, at least here, so I’m trying to hold back on further cynicism.

          I don’t understand why they don’t respond on your blog. You’ve had more to say on this issue (and very intelligently too!) than anyone and even brought up points about other WLPG problems along the way.

          As I understand from Carmen’s email, the design was based on an extremely over-simplified premise; people with GPS in their cameras and people without. Considering that this decision was made by a team of people, not just one, it amazes me that was allowed to stand. Last I heard, on Friday, they are ‘testing and validating’ a solution. I look forward to hearing from them again this week.


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