Microsoft announced today that its free (and excellent) photo editing and management solution, Windows Live Photo Gallery, can be updated with a free codec pack to support many popular RAW file formats. These formats are used by high-end (and even consumer-grade) cameras to provide superior, uncompressed files when compared to the more widely used (but compressed) JPEG formatted files.

The Inside Windows Live Blog has the details:

Raw is the uncompressed output from each of the original pixels on the camera’s image sensors. Raw files have several advantages over JPEG files including higher image quality, finer control, and more image information. Think of them as big, digital negatives waiting to be processed.

Today we’re happy to announce that Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011 now supports raw format images. Just download the Microsoft Camera Codec Pack for Windows 7 and Windows Vista to be able to view raw photo files from more than 120 DSLR cameras in Photo Gallery, as well as in Windows Explorer.

Viewing is only part of the story. Photo Gallery will also support editing copies of your raw images. Because raw files are like digital negatives, they’re protected originals, not to be altered or harmed. We know your originals are precious, so if you want to alter a raw image, Photo Gallery makes a copy of the raw original and converts it to either JPEG or the far superior JPEG-XR (or HD Photo) format. With JPEG-XR, all of the quality of the raw original is there so you can fine-tune different editing effects. You can fix red-eye, remove blemishes, or make detailed image adjustments with confidence knowing your original raw file is safe. When you use your raw files to construct an amazing panoramic stitch or Photo Fuse, a new file is generated and you get an even higher quality result than before.

With the new codec pack, Windows will now support viewing and editing a wide range of photo file formats including raw, JPEG, PNG, TIFF and more. This new update unlocks the power of every photo on your computer so that your PC is capable of organizing, viewing and editing your digital memories, whether they were shot with a camera phone, point-and-shoot camera, or a higher end DSLR. So keep shooting all those great photos! And if you’re lucky enough to own a camera that supports raw, give it a try. If you’re already shooting in raw, we hope we’ve just made your life a little easier.

You can find the free download, and more information, on the Windows Live web site:

Windows Live Photo Gallery supports many popular RAW file formats so you can import, view, and edit your photos in one convenient place. Download and install the free codec pack to get started.

Import and view RAW photos

Photo Gallery now supports many popular RAW file formats so you can import, view, and edit your photos in one convenient place.

Edit RAW files

When you install the free camera codec pack you’ll be able to upload uncompressed RAW files directly from your camera—and then view them in Photo Gallery along with your other photos.

View RAW files in Windows

Installing the camera codec pack also makes it possible to view RAW files in Windows Explorer.