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Photoshop: How can I convert my color images to transparent?

I would like to see Photoshop develop an even better way of transfering images with white backgrounds into transparent images. Right now, the only options are to bring down the opacity or cut out the white pixels. Given that you can place such an image on a higher layer and change the blending mode to achieve such an effect, it seems odd that it isn't possible to simply make all white values transparent and all grey values increasingly transparent through to an opaque black. What's up with that? My greys all seem too white when I try to make them fully transparent in the way that a drop shadow is!
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