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Microsoft offers free photo-sharing tool

Company releases software to show off graphics and communications advances coming with Vista.

LOS ANGELES--Microsoft on Tuesday released a photo-sharing program aimed at showing off the graphics abilities being built into the next version of Windows.

Designed as a sample application to show off Microsoft's next-generation presentation and communications engine, Microsoft's "Max" allows users to create a display of their digital photos that can be e-mailed to friends and family.

The program is available as a free download, but it has some pretty hefty hardware requirements. It requires XP Home or Pro with Service Pack 2, along with a 1GHz processor, 256MB of memory and 200MB of hard-drive space. For a better experience, Microsoft recommends a 2.4GHz chip and 512MB of memory.

Max is based on already-released beta versions of the Windows Presentation Framework and Windows Communications Framework, better known as Avalon and Indigo. Microsoft plans to make Avalon and Indigo part of Vista but also available as downloads for Windows XP.

Microsoft showed off the program as part of Jim Allchin's speech at the Professional Developers Conference here. Microsoft also showed an example of an application designed for clothing retailer The North Face.

"You just saw the future of Vista applications," said Allchin, the company's group vice president in charge of Windows.

Allchin began his talk by demonstrating a machine running the game "Reversi" running in Windows 1.0. He then showed off some Windows Vista-based graphics from game company Crytek. Crytek is planning a new game to debut simultaneously with Vista, Allchin said, although the images he showed were not of the game itself, but rather of sample graphics that included floating clouds and realistic face images.

"That's quite a change from 'Reversi,'" he said, following the brief demo.