Microsoft Fleshes Out Acrylic, Vista Connection

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2005-08-15

Microsoft Fleshes Out Acrylic, Vista Connection

Microsoft on Monday announced the second early release of its new design tool known by the code name Acrylic.

Acrylic, a professional illustration, painting and graphic-design product, is targeted at de-signers working in print, Web, video, and interactive media. Up until now, Microsoft Corp. has not fielded a product in this space, which is dominated by Adobe Systems Inc. Acrylic is based on the Creature House Expression product that Microsoft acquired in 2003, when Microsoft bought the developer of Expression, a Hong Kong-based company, Creature House Ltd.

"Acrylic relates to Windows Vista, and it is a technology for the creation of rich applications and user interfaces," said Forest Key, group product manager for the technology. Acrylic also relates to the Windows Presentation Foundation, formerly code-named Avalon, and "gives developers capabilities to build compelling applications. There is a need for tools to target XAML [Microsofts Extensible Application Markup Language] for presentation of compelling applications. Acrylic is a design tool to target XAML."

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The new build, available for download from the Web site, is the second CTP (Community Technology Preview) release of the Acrylic technology. Although Microsoft originally labeled the bits it made available in June of this year as "Beta 1," that build was not of beta quality and was actually a CTP build, said Key.

The new build features improvements in performance and stability based on user feedback, he said. Key said new features include simplified insertion of elements into PowerPoint and other Microsoft Office applications, improved pixel painting performance and document specifications for new documents, Microsoft said.

CTPs are releases of code that Microsoft is making available in between full-fledged beta builds. CTPs are typically not supported by Microsoft, but are aimed at developers who want to be on the bleeding edge.

Key said there have been 200,000 downloads of the Acrylic CTP since it was released in June. Acrylic runs under Windows XP SP2, but will ultimately target Windows Vista when it is available. Applications built using the early build of the tool can be used to build commercial applications as it is covered under Microsofts "Go Live" license.

Microsoft officials pre-announced delivery plans for Acrylic at the companys annual FAM (Financial Analyst Meeting) in late July.

Eric Rudder, senior vice president of server and tools, told FAM attendees of Microsofts plans to create a tool suite for designers.

"Were doing a new suite for designers; were going to call that Microsoft Expressions Studio. Well have some very cool tools that combine the best of Vector, some very cool tools for animation, and I think when people see the types of Web applications that people are going to be able to create on Longhorn and with WinFX technologies on Windows XP, I think people are going to be super excited about that, and thats all upside for us today because we dont really play there," Rudder said.

Next Page: Rudders PowerPoint gets an edit.

Rudders PowerPoint Gets an


According to a slide that Rudder showed at the meeting, Microsoft was planning to ship Expressions Studio in calendar 2006. Some time since late July, Microsoft removed all references to Expressions Studio from Rudders slide deck.

Based on Rudders comments, it seems as if Acrylic will be one component, albeit the most important one, of the Expressions Studio suite.

Key declined to comment on the final name or delivery date for the product. All he would say is "the Acrylic CTP has not officially been named, and we havent announced final dates on the product."

According to a Microsoft FAQ on the technology, Acrylic can import the following for-mats: .tif, .psd, .jpg, .bmp, .png, .gif files and export .tif, .psd, .jpg, .bmp, .png, .gif, .ai, .eps, .pdf, and .xaml formats." Additionally there is support for copy-paste to Microsoft Office, ex-port to HTML for integration into Web site UI, and export to XAML for incorporation into Windows Vista using Windows Presentation Foundation," the FAQ said.

Moreover, Acrylic supports the creation of graphic designs for export to the XAML file format, the declarative markup language used to describe application user interface elements and rich content (such as 2-D, 3-D, text, animation, video, etc.) for the Windows Presentation Foundation, the FAQ said. In addition, the Acrylic team is collaborating with Microsoft Research (MSR) on future releases of the Acrylic technology, according to Soma Somasegar, corporate vice president of Micro-softs developer division.

Somasegar blogged in late June about the photo-stitching technology provided by the research team that made it into the first CTP build of the product.

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"Scanned images or photographs usually capture a limited amount of information, forcing us to take multiple scans/photos of a panoramic view or a large original image. Microsoft Acrylic provides one of the best image-stitching features by seamlessly combining multiple images. This feature was a direct result of our collaboration with MSR," Somasegar said. Going forward, there will be even more MSR-developed technologies integrated into Acrylic and its follow-ons, Somasegar said.

"In future versions of pro designer products, we hope to leverage and ship several other in-novations from the MSR Graphics team e.g. Lumigraphs, Surface Textures and Virtual View-point Videos. A Lumigraph will allow you to an object from multiple angles. Like a hologram, the MSR Graphics group has developed an algorithm that dynamically produces lumigraph structures from a set of unstructured images. In case of Surface Textures, they have developed the ability to create textures over arbitrary surface meshes. The method can identify interesting regions in a 2-D example and repeatedly paste it onto a surface until it is completely covered.

"Virtual Viewpoint Videos enable designers to easily recreate scenarios from the movie Matrix. Designers can freeze time and change the viewpoint providing a 3-D experience, while the video is playing."

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