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Microsoft offers beta of Adobe rival

The pixel-based painting and vector graphics features in "Acrylic" put it squarely in market dominated by Photoshop and Illustrator.

Microsoft has released a test version of a new professional graphics tool code-named Acrylic.

The software is based on Expression, the graphics application Microsoft acquired with its 2003 purchase of Hong Kong company Creature House, the software giant said on its Web site.

Microsoft describes the software--currently available as a 77MB free download--as bringing together pixel-based painting and vector graphics features. These capabilities will put the product squarely in the market currently dominated by software maker Adobe Systems 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, or 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 software giant said the test version of Acryclic cannot be used with the Apple Computer platform.

The test software, or beta, also has a limited life; it will expire Oct. 1.

Microsoft has recommended relatively high system specifications for Acrylic, saying consumers should preferably run the software on an Intel Pentium 4 machine, with Windows XP Service Pack 2, 512MB of memory, 500MB of 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. "Optimization work is currently in progress, and drastically improved performance will be delivered in the final release," according to Microsoft.

Although the software has only been available for a short time, some testers have already complained via 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.

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

The Acrylic beta comes shortly after Microsoft announced Metro, a format meant to compete with Adobe's PDF.

Renai LeMay of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.