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.
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.
Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended
Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended
If theres one thing that Adobe knows how to do really well its how to release new versions of its core image editing platform that maintain the basic usability and interface of Photoshop while adding enough new features to make it a must upgrade for graphics professionals. And Photoshop CS3 Extended is a perfect example of this type of upgrade.
On the surface, it is classic Photoshop, and anyone who has ever used Photoshop should be very comfortable jumping right in and editing images.
And although a lot of the features in this release dont offer anything new that couldnt be done in Photoshop before, they make a lot of things much easier to do and should offer lots of time savings for graphics professionals.
A good example of this is the new smart filters feature. Using this capability, we could easily apply effects and changes to an image and go back and forth without having to start all over again from the beginning. We also were surprised at how good the automatic layers alignment feature was at letting us combine multiple versions of a photo to get one good one.
The new Quick Selection tool was good at outlining complex areas of an image to make it quicker to pull areas from an image for masking and other alterations. In general, we found that, for most shapes, it did a good job at outlining on the first try.
Another cool feature in Photoshop CS3 Extended made it much easier to combine multiple images to create a panorama. In this new version, we were able to build a panorama that looked surprisingly good in probably half the time it would have taken us in previous versions.
Adobe Illustrator CS3
Illustrator also has seen enough new improvements to make it worth upgrading to for graphics professionals. One of the biggest new features is in its ability to manage and edit color options.
The new Live Color feature makes it much easier to find, create and save new color combinations for use in Illustrator. It also made it possible to quickly apply and edit these colors while working on images.
There have been a lot of small but welcome improvements to the wide assortment of drawing and editing tools within Illustrator. One of our favorites is how the eraser tool has become much more of a drawing tool within Illustrator. We could use the eraser tool in much the same was as we would a brush to essentially add, rather then remove, from an image.
Adobe Bridge CS3
While all the applications in CS3 use the Bridge digital asset management tool, none benefit from it more than Photoshop and Illustrator. When combined with Version Cue collaboration server, the Bridge, which was introduced in CS2, provides some very capable enterprise-class features for managing digital media assets.
For the most part, the Bridge has seen only small cosmetic improvements in this release. We liked the ability to group multiple images together into a single stack. Also, new filters made it easier to parse through large image collections to find only those that meet specific criteria.
Adobe InDesign CS3
Adobe InDesign CS3
The InDesign publishing application also has seen several new features and improvements that should streamline previously tedious tasks and reduce the time it takes to get up and running with new documents and publications.
One of our favorite features is that it is now much easier to import multiple documents into an InDesign package, even through straight drag and drop. We could apply and change styles easily throughout a document. We also create table styles for tables within our document and quickly apply them whenever we needed them, rather than having to redo the steps each time.
Just as the new versions of Photoshop and Illustrator now make it easier to test out changes quickly, InDesign CS3 let us apply Photoshop effects and enhancements to our publications from directly within our editing environments.
The two applications that come as part of the CS3 Web package are Fireworks CS3 and Contribute CS3.
To a large degree, Fireworks has turned over much of its standard image editing capabilities to Photoshop, which makes good sense, as it could never compete in that area. Fireworks has now become a Web optimization tool for images created in Photoshop and used in content created in Dreamweaver and Flash. It does a good job at that, and developers from the Macromedia side will be glad its there, though many other graphics professionals may never touch the application.
Contribute has seen almost no changes or new features in this release other than the basic suite integration. Of course, the tools main mission is to serve as a WYSIWIG Web editor for novice users who are adding content to Web pages created by Dreamweaver developers, a task it still performs well.
Acrobat 8 Professionals role in Creative Suite is to make PDF integration seamless throughout all the suite applications, which it does well as nearly anything can be imported or exported as a PDF. For more details on the new features of this release, look to our full review of Acrobat 8 from earlier this year. (See “Acrobat has new moves” at eweek.com.)