Microsoft Takes On Adobe-Macromedia With New Web-Design Software

Microsoft faces a formidable partnership in Adobe-Macromedia, which boasts a large installed base, support for multiple operating systems, and current availability.

Microsoft on Tuesday said it would bring to market a suite of three Web-development products that could compete directly with software from Adobe Systems Inc. and Macromedia Inc., which are preparing to close a merger this fall.

Software from Microsoft code-named Acrylic Graphic Designer, Sparkle Interactive Designer, and Quartz Web Designer will make up a suite of design and development products for Web sites called Microsoft Expression, said Eric Rudder, a group VP, in a keynote address at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Acrylic, out in test form now, lets programmers and graphics designers collaborate on two- and three-dimensional vector graphics and bit-mapped images for Web sites. Sparkle, due in test form within a few weeks, lets developers create 2-D and 3-D animations. Quartz, also due in an early test version in several weeks, is Web-design software that includes support for cascading style sheets technology.

Microsoft acquired the software behind Acrylic last December when it bought Creature House Ltd., a one-man Hong Kong software company. On Wednesday, Microsoft demonstrated image-editing technology from its research labs that it has applied to Acrylic. The three Expression tools are intended to give Microsoft a stronger foothold in the market for Web-development software by making it easier for programmers and Web designers to share code between graphics tools and Microsoft's widely used Visual Studio app-dev tools for Windows.

It's likely Microsoft expects to take market share from Adobe and Macromedia, which are combining in a $3.4 billion acquisition by Adobe scheduled to close within weeks. Shareholders of the companies approved the deal Aug. 24. But Microsoft faces a formidable partnership: 98% of Internet users have the Flash Player on their PCs, according to market researcher NPD Group. Macromedia this month is delivering new versions of its Flash Player and development tools for multimedia Web apps. Adobe's After Effects software also contains functions used in Microsoft's upcoming Expression software.

Macromedia's chief software architect, Kevin Lynch, expected to hold the same job at the combined companies, has said Flash's advantages over Microsoft Web-development technology in the works include a large installed base, the ability to run across a range of operating systems and hardware platforms, and current availability. Microsoft's Avalon graphics system, the run-time environment for code created with the Expression suite, won't arrive until late next year when Microsoft ships Windows Vista. Avalon, recently renamed the Windows Presentation Foundation, also will run on powerful enough PCs running Windows XP.

But Microsoft said Tuesday at the conference it has begun a project called Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere, aimed at getting Avalon to run on other computing platforms, including mobile phones and Apple Computer's Mac OS X.

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