Good news for budding photographers - Microsoft has made available an official "Microsoft Camera Codec Pack" that allows Windows 7 to handle RAW photo formats right from the shell. The pack offers a substitute to manufacturer-provided or third party RAW filters, and it also allows Windows Live Photo Gallery to handle RAW photos as it would for traditional JPEG images.
The codec pack may be downloaded from the above link, or it can be done automatically if the Windows Live Essentials 2011 QFE2 update is installed. If users do not have any RAW filters installed on their system, they will see this dialog when Windows Live Photo Gallery encounters RAW photos:
Users may then proceed to import and organize their RAW photos, however, they cannot edit any RAW photo using Photo Gallery's photo retouching features unless they make a JPEG or JPEG-XR copy.
If you don't have a DSLR, then fret not! Be sure to grab a friend's DSLR and shoot a few photos, as Microsoft has unveiled a Photo Contest on the Windows blog.
Ten Nikon D5000 camera bundles are up for grabs, each worth approximately $1000 USD. All that is required of participants is to shoot a RAW photo describing "feathers, fins, and fur," touch it up in Photo Gallery, and send it off with a short paragraph explaining how Windows improves their photography workflow.
The contest will run until August 8 at 11:59 PM PDT and is only open to residents of the United States. Contest details can be found here.