Microsoft releases pro graphics tool beta

A new professional graphics tool dubbed 'Acrylic' is the latest technology preview to come off Redmond's production line.Microsoft confirmed on the Acrylic download Web site the tool was based on the Expression graphics application, which the software heavyweight acquired with its 2003 purchase of Hong Kong company Creature House.

A new professional graphics tool dubbed 'Acrylic' is the latest technology preview to come off Redmond's production line.

Microsoft confirmed on the Acrylic download Web site the tool was based on the Expression graphics application, which the software heavyweight acquired with its 2003 purchase of Hong Kong company Creature House.

The beta of the software -- currently available as a 77 Mb free download -- is described by Microsoft as being able to bring together pixel-based painting and vector graphics features. These capabilities will put the product squarely in the market space currently dominated by competing software maker Adobe with its pixel-focused Photoshop and vector-driven Illustrator products.

Acrylic appears to support opening and exporting to Photoshop and Illustrator file formats as well as other standard graphics formats. In addition the application appears to be able to export to Adobe's portable document format (PDF).

However Microsoft noted Acrylic would not currently save pixel-type data to formats other than its native XPR file type.

Although a Macintosh version of Expression was available before the Microsoft purchase, the company said the beta was currently not available for the Apple platform. The beta also has a limited life and will expire on 1 October this year.

Microsoft has listed relatively high recommended system specifications for Acrylic, saying consumers should preferably run the software on an Intel Pentium 4 machine, using Windows XP Service Pack 2 with 512Mb of memory, 500Mb of hard disk space and a pressure sensitive graphics tablet supporting the WinTab interface.

The company listed some known issues with the beta software, saying performance was slow. "Optimisation work is currently in progress and drastically improved performance will be delivered in the final release," release notes associated with the software said.

Although the software has only been available for a short time, some beta-testers have already complained on Acrylic's public forums about what they see as the poor quality of the release.

"This preview just shows me an unpolished, poorly laid out graphics editor that acts more like a glorified [Microsoft] Paint, rather than any type of competition to Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro," wrote one user.

Acrylic beta coordinator Annie Ford has also made a series of free online expressions for using Acrylic available on her Web site.

A Microsoft spokesperson was not available to comment on Acrylic's final release date or recommended retail price.

The news comes as Microsoft has recently announced a portable document format -- Metro -- which will compete with Adobe's PDF format.

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