Microsoft previews Avalon graphics engine

Microsoft on Friday offered a public preview of Avalon, its all-new graphics and presentation engine for Windows.

Avalon was originally a key pillar of Longhorn--the next version of Windows--but the company decided last year to also make it available as an add-on to Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Although Avalon is a key part of Windows' future, it is something the average computer user will never touch directly. Instead, it's an improved method of dealing with graphics, designed to let developers write snazzier-looking applications.

In November, Microsoft released a "community technology preview" version of Avalon to developers; now that same code is being made available to the public.

"It is our pleasure to release the same build to the general public in response to numerous requests," Microsoft said on its Web site.

The preview version works on both Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. However, Microsoft warned developers that the code in the current version is pretty rough. The company recommended not to use it even on a primary development computer, with bugs likely and a good chance that users would eventually have to reinstall their operating system once they were done with the Avalon preview.

Microsoft said in November that a beta version of Avalon would come this summer, with the final version set to ship in 2006. A company representative declined further comment on Friday regarding the timetable.