But the verdict from analysts and early beta testers is still out on whether Microsoft Corp.s software, code-named "Acrylic," will attract defectors from Adobe Systems Inc. and Corel Corp. tools. They say Acrylic has compelling features but has yet to prove itself among the pros.
"When entering a new space, we like to get community feedback," Forest Key, a group product manager in Microsofts developer division, said about the companys recent release of a free beta of Acrylic.
Acrylic is derived from Expression, an illustration tool that combined painting with raster- and vector-graphic editing features. Expression had been published by Metacreations and Fractal Designs but most recently was owned by the Hong Kong-based Creature House before this company was acquired by Microsoft in 2003.
Since then, Microsoft has made Expression 3.3 available for a free download (to owners of a Microsoft Passport account) in both Windows and Macintosh versions.
Acrylic, on the other hand, is available only for Windows XP SP2 (Service Pack 2) users. "We havent announced plans for a Mac version," Key said. He added that Expression 3.3 will remain on Microsofts site for download, but will be unsupported.
Key characterized Acrylic as a professional artists tool. But some noted design mavens had mixed reactions to Acrylics prospects in the professional design market.
"Microsoft has done some pretty impressive work" to make Expression into Acrylic, said Seattle-based author David Blatner, who was also an alpha tester for Acrylic. He noted that Microsoft took a piece of software that had been maintained by one person and put "an actual team behind it."