Microsoft has quietly launched the beta program for its new illustration, paint and image-editing tool codenamed Acrylic. It is aimed at graphics pros working in print, web, video and interactive media.

Acrylic is Microsoft's second warning shot over Adobe’s bows, following last month's announcement of Microsoft Metro, a tool that will directly compete with Adobe Acrobat.

According to Microsoft, Acrylic is based on Expression 3 (formerly from Creature House). It combines both pixel-based painting with raster- and vector-graphic editing. It also features panoramic photo-stitching.

To run the beta, you need Windows XP Service Pack 2 installed on your computer. Microsoft also recommends using a PC equipped with a Pentium 4 processor and 512MB of RAM. The 77MB Acrylic beta is available as a free download from Microsoft's site, and expires October 2005.

More details, including a shipping date and support for Mac OS X, were not available. Stay tuned for more news and our preview of this program.