Adobe Creative Suite 4 Marks a Big Upgrade for Web, Rich Media Developers

With its Adobe Creative Suite 4, Adobe Systems offers significant enhancements over Creative Suite 3. The improvements to the graphics suite of tools include a redone interface, better component integration and upgraded 3-D tools. Adobe Creative Suite 4 completes the integration of the former Macromedia products with the Adobe Creative Suite. Adobe Creative Suite 4 also gives developers six versions to choose from.

Adobe Creative Suite 4 adds a revamped interface, improved component integration and advanced 3-D tools to the dominant graphics suite. And while some users will probably be able to get by just fine with the older versions, serious Web and rich media developers will find Creative Suite 4 to be a very worthwhile upgrade.

If the main thrust of Creative Suite 3 was the integration of the former Macromedia products into the Adobe suite, Creative Suite achieves their complete assimilation. Flash, Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Contribute are now completely Adobe applications, and this is a good thing as they now integrate very well throughout almost all of the products in the Adobe suite.

And just what products make up the Adobe Creative Suite? Well, that depends on which of the six versions of the suite one chooses, ranging from the comparatively minimalist Design Standard version (which includes InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat) to the all-encompassing Master Collection. Any of the versions would be a good value. Even the $2,499 Master Collection costs less than half of what it would cost to buy all of the components individually. Most of the other suite versions represent the cost of just two components bought separately.

Check out eWEEK Labs' walk-through of Adobe Creative Suite 4.

I won't list all of the different permutations of Creative Suite 4 in this review, but readers can go here to see a grid of all the different versions and their prices. Users of previous versions will find that there are new components in several of the suite packages.

For purposes of this review, I went for the whole enchilada and installed Adobe Creative Suite Master Collection, which includes InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, Flash, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Contribute, After Effects, Premiere, Soundbooth, OnLocation, Encore and several suite integration components, such as the Adobe Bridge.

Often with updates of this type, there are few compelling reasons for users to upgrade. However, I was impressed after long use how many of the new features and capabilities in Creative Suite 4 proved to be very useful. Probably the biggest negative is the massive installation hassle and bloat of even the smaller suite packages. Plus, the hardware requirements have gone up and systems that ran Creative Suite 3 with no problem may have a tougher time with Version 4.

I've been a regular user of Creative Suite 3 for the last couple of years, and when I fired up Creative Suite 4, I was surprised by the major changes in the interface. For the first few days, I relied heavily on menus as many of the panels and tools I used had changed and new ones had been introduced. However, once I became familiar with the new interface, I found it to be intuitive and improved.

Integration across the many applications proved to be very good. In general, wherever it made sense for applications to integrate, they did. Whether it was saving components for use in Flash, exporting stylesheets for use in Dreamweaver or saving content in PDF form, Creative Suite 4 made it easy to move content around the different applications of the suite.

Rather than look at every application in the entire Adobe Creative Suite 4 Master Collection, I've decided to focus on the key features in applications that are of most use within the enterprise, specifically Flash, Dreamweaver and Photoshop. I reviewed Acrobat 9 in 2008.