SAN FRANCISCO (11/20/2003) - The wait is over for updated versions of Adobe Systems Inc.'s popular design and desktop publishing programs--Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and GoLive. And now you can get them individually or in one big integrated package dubbed Creative Suite (CS), along with Adobe's Acrobat Professional 6 and a new file manager called Version Cue.
CS comes in two flavors: We looked at a beta of the US$1229 Premium version, which includes all the applications and is for shops that handle both print and Web publishing. A Standard version for print publishing ($999) dispenses with GoLive and Acrobat 6.
Photoshop CS, a program for creating high-quality images, is the star update, with a much improved File Browser that shows thumbnails of images in a selected folder, as well as other productivity enhancements. Our enthusiasm wanes with Illustrator CS (for creating designs and illustrations); InDesign CS (for handling design and page layout); and GoLive CS (for creating professional Web sites).
However, the make-or-break member of the suite is the Version Cue file-management application, which is designed to allow all members of a team to work on a project simultaneously. For example, a designer can tweak an image in Photoshop while an editor works on the text in InDesign. Changes from both can then be saved as new versions of the file. Adobe says that it's possible for users to add searchable comments to each version and to view thumbnails of each version, making it easy to see which changes were made where and to roll back any of them if necessary.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to test Version Cue's file-reconciliation features in our beta software. Despite the best efforts of Adobe technical support, we never got this function to work properly. Even if Adobe's approach does ultimately make teams more efficient, our experience with the beta version suggests that it will take time to learn and will require that people change the way they do their jobs. And we all know how easy that is.
Photoshop CS Shines
While Adobe plays up its integration of the separate CS applications, we were most impressed with the new features in the company's flagship Photoshop image editor. Topping the list of useful additions are the File Browser's expanded metadata and keyword panes. These panes simplify the task of searching an image database for files related to specific projects, themes, or subjects. We only wish that it were easier to assign new keywords to a file (you have to click on a keyword icon at the bottom of the keyboard pane, type the keyword, select the items to which the keyword will apply, and check a box).
Working with multiple layers is now less laborious, too, thanks to a new ability to nest layer sets within other layer sets. This speeds your scrolling through long lists of layers, and it lets you create a minihierarchy of layer sets. All in all, the new version is a good upgrade for Photoshop users.
Better Design Tools
There's less to cheer about in the CS versions of Illustrator, InDesign, and GoLive, although all three programs do add important features. Illustrator's new 3D Effects function comes from Adobe Dimensions, which in the past was sold separately. The new 3D Effects option in the Effects menu permits you to apply 3D effects independently of the original shape. However, you can't set the preferences for the bevel (the slanted edge of a 3D object) without changing the front face of the 2D art, and the shading in the 3D dialog box is hard to control.
Illustrator CS's new Glyphs palette is a great way to view all of the characters in a font package. And the new Artwork Mapping feature in the 3D Effects Dialog menu enables you to easily wrap artwork around 3D shapes for package-design mock-ups.
InDesign CS's new Story Editor word processor is for simplifying copy fitting in layouts by letting you view and apply paragraph and character styles, XML tags, and text formatting to several pages at once. Unfortunately, it also takes up more screen space by adding a text-entry window that duplicates the text in the layout itself. More useful are the Separations Preview palette and the Flattener Preview palette, which help you avoid unpleasant surprises in your printed output.
It Needs Its Space
Note that Version Cue will work only if all team members have the CS versions of the individual apps installed on their PCs. And how are you set for hard drive space? CS Premium takes close to 2GB of disk space, and the individual applications use between 150MB and 550MB apiece. A last warning: The suite--and its individual apps--runs only on Windows XP and 2000.
Adobe Systems Creative Suite Premium
Beta software, not rated
Buy this if your production group is willing to learn new work methods and if you can afford to put CS on all PCs.
Price when reviewed: $1229, upgrade $749; Standard $999, upgrade $549 (Upgrades available to owners of Photoshop 7 and many older Adobe design packages.)