Microsoft launched a preview version of an illustration and graphic design tool codenamed Acrylic, and is offering it as a free download. Microsoft intends to offer Acrylic as an alternative to Adobe Photoshop, likely at a lower cost. Or does Microsoft plan to offer Acrylic for free as they did with Microsoft Photostory.

According to Publish, Acrylic Has Its Strengths, But It Won't Threaten Photoshop.

As it turns out, Acrylic isn't likely to endanger Adobe Photoshop (or more to the point, Adobe Illustrator) any time soon - nor does that seem to be its aim. But the program does have some unique and appealing strengths that make it worth a look.

Acrylic is actually an updated version of Expression, the vector drawing program that acquired when it bought the Hong Kong-based company Creature House in 2003. Expression's core strength lies in its "skeletal strokes" technology, which applies the look and texture of real-world painted strokes to editable vector paths.

Screenshot of Microsoft Acrylic Interface

Read the full story Microsoft's Acrylic Beta

Update August 2005: Microsoft is ramping up efforts to take on rival Adobe by relesing on Monday a second beta of Acrylic, a program intended to ease the process of creating graphics for Web pages. Microsoft initially released a preview of Acrylic in June, and since that time the application has been downloaded close to 200,000 times. The updated pre-release of Acrylic will also have the capability to export designs into Extensible Application Markup Language, or XAML, the new format that will enable developers to take advantage of Windows Vista's new graphics engine known as Avalon.

Pricing for Acrylic has not yet been announced, but Microsoft representatives have said it would be competitive with other graphics design programs of its type. No date has been set for a final release.

Download Microsoft Acrylic Community Technology Preview (CTP).