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.
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.
Reviewing Flash, Dreamweaver, Photoshop in Adobe CS4
Adobe Flash CS4 Professional
The product with the most changes in Creative Suite 4 is easily Flash CS4 Professional. In recent years, both Macromedia and Adobe Systems had been emphasizing the application development aspects of Flash.
However, with this release, Flash goes back to its roots with some very good tools for those who use Flash for animation and graphics.
By far the coolest new feature is object animation through motion tweens. Using this tool, I could create an animation by applying a motion tween to an object and then defining an animation path on the stage.
Also useful was the 2-D to 3-D transformation tool, which made it possible to take two-dimensional objects and rotate them along the x, y and z axes. All of these features were tied together with the new motion editor, which provided a richer, more capable animation edition tool than a traditional timeline.
With Flash CS4 Professional, it is now also possible to publish Flash projects as Adobe AIR applications, extending the point of entry for developers interested in the AIR Rich Internet Application platform.
The product that is most affected by the new interface changes is Dreamweaver. The new Dreamweaver has more of a Photoshop-style interface with a lot of panels, and will probably represent the biggest learning curve for upgrading users.
But Dreamweaver CS4 also has a lot of new capabilities that make it a worthwhile upgrade for Web developers, especially those concerned about standards-based code and data integration.
The most interesting new feature in Dreamweaver CS4 is the Live View capability. While Dreamweaver has long had a WYSIWYG design view, it hasn’t really looked like what a browser would show.
The Live View mode is much more accurate way of creating pages and seeing just how they would look in a browser, complete with scripts and other dynamic components. The Live View is based on the WebKit browser engine, one of the most standards-compliant out there, and the engine used in the Apple Safari and Google Chrome browsers.
Another nice new feature in Dreamweaver CS4 is HTML datasets. Using this feature, users can build data-aware applications without using full databases. Based on the Adobe Spry framework, this makes it possible to use table-based data for interactive Web applications.
Dreamweaver CS4 also has good integration with Photoshop and can output content in the Adobe AIR format.
Photoshop CS4 Extended
If you’re someone who uses Photoshop for standard images and photos and doesn’t do anything too tricky, then you can probably get by without upgrading to Photoshop CS4. However, if you have any interest in working with 3-D images, you’ll want to upgrade to Photoshop CS4.
Nearly all of the most significant new features in Photoshop CS4 are in the area of creating, editing and enhancing 3-D images. There are some nice features outside this area, but none of them are in the “must have” category.
All of these features work well for direct editing and control of images, whether rotating and controlling 3-D images or directly painting textures on images.
However, this does come at a price in hardware. The new features make use of OpenGL and the hardware support appears to be limited. On one test system with a relatively hefty graphics card, I still couldn’t get many of the 3-D features to work.
Adobe Creative Suite 4 includes several smaller components that aid in the integration of the applications and group management of content. By far the most useful of these components is the Adobe Bridge, which works as a kind of digital asset management system for all rich media and content usable in the Creative Suite. The Bridge in Creative Suite 4 has seen some small enhancements, including a nice carousel-style review mode for browsing through media.
Also useful is Device Central, which lets developers working with any of the suite applications test their content and applications for use on mobile devices. The new version includes improved support for testing out mobile video and rich media.
Chief Technology Analyst Jim Rapoza can be reached at [email protected]