Even if you're familiar with the basic concept of Adobe's huge application bundle catering to artists, graphic designers, photographers, Web designers and developers, videographers, and a host of related professions, CS6 can be a swiftly shifting landscape, especially if you factor in the new Creative Cloud offering. Here's a brief summary of recent Creative Suite events and a guide to where to find further details about Adobe's launch of the new Creative Suite 6 and Creative Cloud.

Creative Suite 6—or CS6 as it’s generally known—consists of 14 separate applications grouped into four major software bundles: Design Standard, Design and Web Premium, Production Premium, and Master Collection.

Creative Suite's most famous—and not coincidentally its oldest—application is Photoshop CS6. Photoshop, and its companion photo management app, Bridge is Adobe's flagship image editing package. It's huge, complex, and powerful, and spans the range of photography, graphic design, painting, 3D, video, and other artistic disciplines and pursuits. Photoshop CS6, like its predecessors, comes in two versions—Photoshop CS6 and Photoshop CS6 Extended, which includes 3D and other advanced imaging capabilities.

Normally fairly tight-lipped about upgrades to its flagship image editor, with CS6, Adobe released a public beta to solicit community comment and feedback. That move accomplished its goal, as Adobe reports there were more downloads of the Photoshop CS6 beta than any previous public beta release in the company's history. Macworld took a look at Photoshop CS6 public beta and explored the details of many of its new features.

On the video side, Adobe re-entered the Mac platform with a splash several years ago with a brand new version of Premiere Pro, its high-end video editing package. As with other parts of the suite, Adobe generally lets few details drop before release date. However, with CS6, Adobe decided to reveal details about its Production Premium CS6 to a select, though extremely large group: The National Association of Broadcasters annual convention. There, Adobe demoed Premiere Pro CS6 and After Effects CS6 and introduced for the first time, two brand new additions to the Production Premium and to the Creative Suite—Prelude ($399) and SpeedGrade ($999).

The Design Standard package and the Master Collection contain all of the elements of the Design and Web Premium and the Production Premium. The Design Standard caters mostly to print designers while the Master Collection gathers all the programs together in one box or download.

Adobe typically releases milestone updates to the Creative Suite as a unit every 12 to 18 months, more or less. But the release of CS6 is special because, concurrently with it, Adobe is also launching a brand new product called Creative Cloud. Adobe has hitched CS6 to its Creative Cloud strategy, thus the software and the cloud service will advance as a unit.

What is Creative Cloud?

Creative Cloud is a new cloud-based subscription service that Adobe has designed as a hub for creative pros. The cloud service involves not only purchasing software, but also offers immediate access to new software versions, new technologies, and eventually community activities such as support, and training. Adobe sees the Creative Cloud as the future of software distribution and has instituted it throughout its creative product line. Thus, it's offering the entire CS6 Master Collection as part of this giant subscription plan, and has thrown in a fairly impressive number of additional products and services, with more promised for the future.

Some, such as Adobe's new visual Web authoring tool Muse, and a preview version of its HTML 5 animation tool, Edge, will are available at launch. Others, such as the Adobe Publishing Suite, Single Edition for the creation of tablet-based apps to be sold in the Apple App store, will be available sometime within the second half of the year. Lightroom 4, Adobe's photo management software, which many Photoshop users prefer to Bridge, will also be offered as part of Creative Cloud in the near future.

Adobe is also looking forward to the day when Apple will approve the entire slate of its Photoshop Touch apps, designed for content creation and cloud integration. Right now, only Adobe Ideas and Adobe Photoshop Touch are now shipping for iOS devices. Adobe is still awaiting the green light for Proto, Kuler, and Collage, which are already available for Android devices.

System requirements and availability

Adobe Creative Suite spans a wide range of products, and depending on what you use, there will be various system requirements. Generally, however, you will need Mac OS X 10.6 or 10.7 to run anything on Adobe CS6. An Intel system with anywhere from 1GB to 8GB of RAM is also ideal. On the Windows side, mostly you'll generally need an Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon 64 processor, Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 3 or Windows 7 with Service Pack 1, and between 1GB and 8GB of RAM.

The Creative Suite and Creative Cloud announcements are just that—announcements. The software and services, while immediately available for pre-order, are not yet available for use just yet. However, within 30 days, customers and all other interested parties will be able to download and use the new software versions to their heart's content.

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