The Suite Goes On

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A review of Adobe's Creative Suite 3
A review of Adobe's Creative Suite 3.

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 thebroad 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 throughoutthe 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 andIllustrator 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.