Adobe Offers Creative Options

Review: Creative Suite 3 sports four versions, but apps lack new features.

When the announcement came down a few years ago that Adobe Systems was acquiring Macromedia, many questions centered on the competing and complementary products in each companys portfolio. How would the two major suites be combined? Would some products be merged into single products? And would other products be discontinued completely?

Finally, with the release of Adobe Creative Suite 3, we have our answers (at least most of them, anyway). And while the Macromedia Studio name is gone, former Macromedia products such as Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks and Contribute figure prominently in the many versions of the new Adobe suite.

And we mean many. There are six different versions. Creative Suite 3 Design Standard includes the new CS3 versions of Photoshop, InDesign, Acrobat Professional and Illustrator for $1,199. The $1,799 Creative Suite 3 Design Premium version boosts Photoshop to an extended version, called Photoshop CS3 Extended, and adds Dreamweaver and Flash Professional. Creative Suite 3 Web Standard includes Dreamweaver, Flash Professional, Fireworks and Contribute for $999 with Creative Suite 3 Web Premium adding in Photoshop CS3 Extended, Acrobat Professional and Illustrator for $1,599. Theres the Production Premium version of Creative Suite that has Adobe Premiere Pro CS3, After Effects CS3 Professional, Soundbooth, Encore CS3 as well as Flash CS3 Professional, Illustrator and Photoshop CS3 Extended for $1,699. And theres a $2,499 Master Collection that has everything.

For the purposes of this review, eWEEK Labs focused on the Design and Web versions of CS3, which are the ones that will show up in the majority of businesses. In general, the suites are well-designed and well-integrated, especially when it comes to former Adobe products integrating with former Macromedia products.

But for such a major release, we were a little bit surprised by how few the new features and improvements were when it came down to the individual applications. For the most part, on an individual app-to-app basis, most of the upgrades are minor, though, in Adobes defense, these are all very mature products that really dont need massive overhauls.

All in all, eWEEK Labs found these to be worthwhile upgrades, if only for the excellent integration between apps such as Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Flash. We recommend that businesses test-drive these new suites to evaluate the need for an upgrade.

And what were the applications that have now found themselves on the outside looking in? Much as we predicted after the acquisition was announced, they are Adobes GoLive and Macromedias FreeHand.

Adobe Dreamweaver CS3

When we first fired up Dreamweaver CS3, our first impression was that it looked exactly like Dreamweaver 8. But there are some fairly significant changes in this release, especially when it comes to development of complex Web applications and sites.

Probably the biggest new feature in Dreamweaver CS3 is the addition of Adobes Spry Framework for AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML). The main goal of this new feature is to make it easier for more design-oriented Web developers to add AJAX applications and GUIs to their Web sites, and, for the most part, mission accomplished.

A new Spry tab is added to Dreamweaver when editing pages, and using this tab, we had access to several Spry AJAX widgets for integrating data and adding interactive GUI menus and features to our Web applications. We especially like the ability to link to local XML files for the data sources, which made it very easy to build fully functional prototype applications.

And, for the most part, thats where we think the main value of these Spry features lies, in prototyping. Thats because in several areas, the Spry Framework is less than fully standards-compliant, and, in general, we arent all that much in favor of using precoded widgets for production environments. While the Spry integration in Dreamweaver is great for testing AJAX implementations, we would probably recommend going to more dedicated and experienced AJAX developers for a production environment.

Another major area of improvement in Dreamweaver is in its ability to create, edit and manage CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). All in all, it was much easier in Dreamweaver CS3 to make changes to CSS, test them out and slowly deploy them across a site.

Probably the most valuable area of integration with other CS3 components came with Photoshop. The ease of editing images in Web pages directly in Photoshop cant be underestimated, and its a big step up from the Fireworks integration in older versions of Dreamweaver. We especially liked that we could cut and paste directly from images into Dreamweaver.

Flash CS3 Professional

While the new version of Dreamweaver did see a few significant feature additions, nearly all of whats different in this new release of Flash revolves around integration with other components of CS3.

When it comes to essentially stand-alone new features in Flash CS3 Professional, the main things we could find were some improvements in ActionScript debugging and interfaces and better video conversion and exporting. For the most part, the core new features in Flash CS3 Professional are in its integration with tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator.

And thats not such as bad thing. The new Illustrator integration especially provides massive improvement when it comes to the quality of the drawing tools within Flash CS3 Professional. And the depth of options when it came to importing Illustrator and Photoshop images into our Flash applications made it possible to create very attractive applications.

Another application designed to integrate with Flash is Adobe Device Central CS3. While Flash has always had some form of mobile device emulation, this version of Device Central supposedly provides lots of additional options when it comes to testing how your Flash application will perform on a mobile device, even allowing options such as simulating poor battery life. However, in our tests of this late beta, the product was still lacking in many of the features we needed to test this functionality, including a selection of standard device profiles.

Next Page: Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended.