On Monday, Microsoft made available a new beta version of its Acrylic graphical tool, which has been recast as a Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF, formerly codenamed Avalon) user experience (UE) design tool. While Acrylic can still be used as a competitor of sorts to applications like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, Microsoft now says its unique ability to combine raster and vector graphics was specifically designed for WPF, which will be included in Windows Vista. A version of WPF will also ship in 2006 for Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2), Windows XP x64 Edition, and Windows Server 2003 with SP1.
"Acrylic (code name) is the professional design program that brings together the richness of pixel-based painting and the performance of editable vector graphics for a more fluid and flexible creative workflow," Microsoft documentation reads. "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 WPF."
Microsoft expects that full-featured Windows Vista applications will be more organic-looking than their XP counterparts, with smoothly-edged application windows, integrated full-motion video where appropriate, and interactive effects. Acrylic gives designers the tools they need to create the UE for such applications, Microsoft says, freeing developers to code the underlying logic.
Acrylic is based on technology from Creature House Expression, which the software giant purchased in 2003. It works with a wide variety of digital image formats and sports sophisticated control over transparencies, brushes, textures, and other features. The August 2005 Community Technology Preview (CTP) of Acrylic is available for download from the Microsoft Web site (note that you must have an MSN Passport account to download this prerelease version, however).