Adobe Creative Suite 4, Reviewed

 

It may be time to begin considering Halloween costumes everywhere else, but for designers, it’s Christmas! The elves at Adobe have been sweating over their workstations and skipping lunches the past year, and have finally produced, for our delight, Creative Suite 4.

That’s certainly how Adobe would like us to see things. But there’s a contingent of designers that believes Adobe’s product releases are planned to increase revenue, not improve tools. Indeed, according to Fortune, since CS1’s release, Adobe’s revenue from the CS packages has increased by 30 percent for each release. User complaints have increased at a comparable clip.

It’s a relief to report, then, that CS4 represents the first time Adobe is clearly responding to frustration on the part of users. The company has paid real attention to the details designers complain about, and improved upon processes which improve workflows between media and teams. There are some unexplained inconsistencies, but the programs nearly achieve the true integration designers have been promised for so long. With CS4, Adobe is showing that it understands designers are no longer working in a single medium, but in multiple disciplines with shared assets, which must retain flexibility without a destruction of resolution. That Adobe acknowledges this convergence of disciplines on a single desktop will help designers work more easily than I, for one, ever thought possible. This release is an enormous step forward in flexibility from CS3.

New Interfaces

The improvements start with installation. CS4 is not nearly as slow to install as CS3 was, and CS4’s installer is much more detailed and forgiving.

The installer is also the first place we see Adobe’s new interface, which is pleasant to look at and easily customizable. One of the new concepts introduced in CS4 is the application frame, a frame meant to allow switching between workspaces and applications in a common interface, while hiding the desktop. This is no big deal for Windows users—the desktop is usually hidden while you’re working in an app—but it’s unheard of on Macs.

One misstep is that the app frames for Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Flash, and Fireworks have some custom window control widgets that almost replace Apple’s Aqua buttons, but they’ve been redrawn for no apparent reason—and Dreamweaver’s workspace button is in a position shared by none of the other applications. Conversely, in Photoshop, Bridge, and InDesign, the app frame window controls are stock Aqua. The discrepancies prevent a truly seamless experience, and it’s unpolished details like these that force a designer to focus on applications instead of work. Adobe still has work to do on this front.

New collaborative methods

Several of the Adobe apps are now—wait for it—social. Adobe’s Kuler website, where one can create color palettes as well as comment and rank with little gold stars, can be accessed from within Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, and Flash. The advantage in the apps is that items can be saved locally—which means designers who actually have work to do won’t feel an enormous pressure to interact.

Social networking for Dreamweaver and Flash, where it’s lived for some time, doesn’t feel as bolted on. In those apps, Kuler is also included, but designers and developers can (and have long been able to) update libraries from Adobe Exchange, pull down widgets from the venerable Yahoo User Interface library, share code snippets, and discuss techniques.

All these changes in CS4 are significant, but, of course, what most of us are wondering is how the suite’s tent pole graphics programs—Photoshop, Illustrator, and In Design—as well as some of its major motion and web apps, function in CS4. Here’s a look at how these programs have fared:

* Bridge
       “In Bridge, a designer can manage a campaign and its assets across print, video, web, and mobile media.” Click to read more about Bridge.

* Photoshop
        “Some of the greatest differences between CS3 and CS4 can be seen in Photoshop.” Click to read more about Photoshop.

* Illustrator
       “Illustrator’s biggest improvements are found in the program’s smaller details.” Click to read more about Illustrator.

* InDesign
       “It’s now easier to design prototypes of Flash sites in InDesign to hand off to a full development team.” Click here to read more about InDesign.

* Flash, Fireworks, and Dreamweaver
       “Dreamweaver is now basically reborn with several new, useful concepts powering it.” Click to read more about Flash, Fireworks, and Dreamweaver.

Overall, CS4 looks to be a solid upgrade to all of the applications, and a good investment for a more productive workflow. There will be inconsistencies, but considering the effort put towards a common workflow in this release, Adobe knows how to correct its outstanding issues. Looks like we’ll actually see that happen sooner rather than later.

Available as CS4 Master Collection (Photoshop Extended, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash Pro, Dreamweaver, Contribute, Fireworks, After Effects, Premeire Pro, Soundbooth, OnLocation, Encore, Acrobat Pro, Bridge, Device Central, Version Cue and Dynamic Link), Design Premium (Photoshop Extended, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash Pro, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Acrobat Pro, Bridge, Device Central and Version Cue), Web Premium, (Photoshop Extended, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash Pro, Dreamweaver, Contribute, Fireworks, Acrobat Pro, Bridge, Device Central and Version Cue), and Production Premium (Photoshop Extended, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash Pro, After Effects, Premeire Pro, Soundbooth, OnLocation, Encore, Acrobat Pro, Bridge, Device Central, and Dynamic Link).

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