The Suite Goes On

In Print’s previous issue, I explored the pros, cons, and
marketplace viability of Microsoft Expression Studio—Gates and
Co.’s attempt to woo visual designers away from Adobe. With
Creative Suite 3 just released in April, the time has come to see what
Adobe has prepared in the way of a counterpunch.

Let’s get the
broad strokes out of the way first: CS3 includes 17 of Adobe’s
programs, most of which have become the standard-issue toolbox for web,
print, and mobile design. As with previous iterations, Adobe is offering
the suite in a variety of bundles, targeted at print design, web design,
and film and video houses, respectively. (For a tidy $2,499 you can pick
up all 17 programs in the Adobe “Master Collection.”)

The
suite comes in both Mac and PC versions, but the big news for Mac users
is that the majority of the CS3 programs boast native capability with
Intel-based Apple computers. This means designers can finally go out and
spring for the speedy, dual-core Macs. (The programs will also work on
machines running the G4 processor.) Another point worth noting: This is
the first full release of the suite since Adobe acquired Macromedia, the
maker of Flash, a program so dominant that it is to rich media what
Windows is to operating systems.

The common theme running throughout
the package is streamlining the workflow, particularly in the
relationship between designer and developer. As content continues to
migrate from print to the web—and, increasingly, to mobile
devices—it’s becoming more and more necessary that a design
be automatically rendered in code. Microsoft realized this and tackled
the problem admirably in its Expression suite. Now Adobe is doing
likewise. “We sent teams out into the wild to see how people
actually use our programs,” says Mike Downey, a product manager
for Flash. “We watched customers working in Illustrator, Flash,
and Photoshop, and were amazed. They had elaborate work-arounds for
problems we didn’t even know were there.”

First, Adobe
lubricated the flow between programs. Flash CS3 imports Photoshop and
Illustrator files, and InDesign files can be exported as XHTML for
automatic formatting in Dreamweaver. This alone should reduce friction
in the studio. Adobe’s most ambitious move focuses on Flash:
“We rewrote the engine from scratch,” says Downey. Adobe did
this rewrite to support Action Script 3, a programming language based on
XML acquired from Macromedia. A designer can render an animation in
Flash, then copy the motion in Action Script 3 and pass it on to the
developer for tweaking. (Another plus: Designers can now embed
functions—such as buttons and progress bars—that once
required coding.)

Adobe donated the AS3 source code to Mozilla, the
open-source programming company behind the web browser Firefox. Mozilla,
Adobe says, will incorporate the language into the next release of
Firefox—a major vote of confidence in the viability of open-source
software. “This is the biggest thing we’ve done in Flash
since including video,” says Downey.

Generally, Adobe has
strived to better integrate its programs into one intuitive ensemble.
InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Flash now all use the same
interface with similar tools and options. The Flash CS3 Pen tool, for
instance, now looks and behaves like the one in Illustrator. Toward the
same end, Adobe now supports scripting among InDesign, Flash, and
Dreamweaver, as well as Illustrator and Photoshop. Adobe has redesigned
their panels and palettes and made them consistent among many of the
major component programs in CS3. In an aesthetic nod to Apple’s
OSX, the palettes open, close, and dock with an elegant sweep of the
mouse.

InDesign has received a few welcome updates, such as the
ability to apply Photoshop effects like transparency, glow, and
shadowing from within the program, but it otherwise remains largely the
same. Photoshop and Illustrator got more of a makeover; both work better
with Dreamweaver, and Photoshop has a host of features intended to win
over users working in such fields as film, video, architecture,
engineering, and science.

The premium editions of CS3 include a new
component, called Device Central, which allows the designer to preview
the behavior of web and Flash Lite content on the reduced screen size
without having to see it on an actual mobile device. There are a few
more new features that, while not exactly splashy, will be welcome in
any design studio: Acrobat has been overhauled to ease the delivery of
press-ready files. It now employs a nifty task-based interface and
support for PDF/X (a PDF printing standards format) and JDF (Job
Definition Format). Acrobat also boasts a more robust pre-flight error
tracking system. In addition to these improvements, other shared
features include updated versions of Bridge and Version Cue, the
company’s asset management programs. A royalty-free stock photo
package and web conferencing ability round out the package.

At first
blush, Adobe seems to have painstakingly integrated Flash and added some
useful updates to their basic programs, all while defying the
time-honored, yet exceedingly annoying, tech-industry tradition of
fixing what isn’t broken. Veteran Adobe users have ample reasons
to embrace the new suite—and, unfortunately for Microsoft, the
native operability with the Mac Intel chip could very well lure many PC
users to the other side.

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