Creative Suite full review

Adobe's restyled Creative Suite of print- and Web-design software is unusual in not being a repackaged collection of existing products. Instead, all but one of the programs is a brand-new upgrade release, dropping the traditional version number for a 'CS' suffix. You can buy the programs individually, but the real value lies in picking up the entire suite - either the five-app Premium Edition or the cheaper three-app Standard Edition - as one bargain buy. Photoshop CS HHHH/8.1
Some upgrades offer new killer features, while others simply improve on core functions. With Photoshop CS, Adobe has tried to do both. The big new killer feature is Layer comps, which are like snapshots of an image's current state as you work on it. When you capture one of these snapshots, Photoshop CS flattens the visible layers and saves the result to the Layer Comps palette, leaving you to carry on working as before. This allows you to produce flattened images at any time without committing yourself, and to go back to a previous stage without interrupting your Undo History. The new Shadow/Highlight image-adjustment dialog window is another valuable addition. This lets you tweak any image intelligently to correct contrast problems but without the usual hit-&-miss fiddling with curves and levels. It's especially good at salvaging backgrounds in flash photography, or brightening dark foregrounds. Other new features include a couple borrowed from Adobe's Photoshop Elements 2: PhotoMerge and Filter Gallery. Photomerge is a panorama builder that automatically arranges multiple shots into a seamless horizontal whole. The Filter Gallery is an effects filter browser that lets you try out different filters, combine them, and re-order them in one place rather than apply them individually. Core Photoshop functions have been improved right across the board. The program now supports 16-bits-per-channel editing in full, and you can group image layers into named hierarchical sets for convenient handling, rather like in Illustrator. Fans of Photoshop's File Browser will definitely appreciate its transformation into a much faster, keyword-searchable media manager. As before, Photoshop is accompanied by ImageReady, Adobe's Web graphics package, now also upgraded to CS status. Upgrade enhancements are less obvious here, but you do get a helpful Web Content palette that works like a cross between Photoshop layers and Illustrator's object list. You can now also export animations directly to Flash SWF format. Photoshop CS isn't a barnstorming upgrade, but it's a desirable one. Illustrator CS HHHH/8.9
Every release of Illustrator comes with a major 'buy me' enhancement, whether it's graphic brushes, symbols, or whatever. This time, it's the introduction of 3D effects, apparently inherited from Adobe's old Dimensions tool (see “Gotta lotta bottle”). These 3D effects aren't as hands-on as we'd like - you must always work within the floating dialog - but the surface and lighting effects are clean, and the on-page preview is fast to update. The other obvious limitation is that you can work only on an object-by-object basis, rather than create an entire 3D scene of multiple objects. Beyond 3D, Illustrator has been treated to a large number of small improvements, especially with regard to type handling. Borrowing the type engine from InDesign, Illustrator CS now offers optical kerning and optical margin alignment (overhanging punctuation in justified columns). There's an equivalent to InDesign's Paragraph Composer, here called the Every-line Composer, for better regulated word spacing in a column of text, plus a bunch of helpful extras such as a text-reflow warning and a friendly OpenType styles palette. Oddly, there are no new tools this time round, although there is a Scribble effect to play with. Designers will also appreciate the support for PDF 1.5 layers and the ability to export directly to Microsoft Office clip-art format. Best of all, though, is the speed boost: Illustrator CS runs considerably faster than before. InDesign CS HHHH/8.5
Despite Quark having released QuarkXPress 6.0, InDesign CS has been worth waiting for and trounces its competitor in nearly every respect. There are fixes and improvements throughout the program for print designers, electronic publishers and beyond, yet it closely maintains the look-&-feel of the popular InDesign 2.0. Perhaps most strikingly, InDesign CS can now be used to create multimedia PDFs, complete with embedded audio, QuickTime movies, and rollovers. PDF creators can prepare a complete set of bookmarks for internal indexing as well as embedding hyperlinks as before, and export document layers in PDF 1.5 format. Surprisingly, it doesn't let you export to HTML any more - but it does come with a new Package For GoLive command that turns your document into XML objects that can be added to GoLive pages using an amazing visual drag-&-drop interface. Editorial staff may be cheered to see an implementation of PageMaker's old Story Editor in InDesign CS, letting you edit text in a word processor-style window instead of in columns on the page. It's a bit basic but is very helpful, especially when you need to edit text on coloured backgrounds, white-out text and so on. Also impressive is the nested styles feature, which assigns a named character style to the first few characters or words in a paragraph style - great for bullet lists and sub-heads. Unfortunately, tables remain as fiddly as before, but they can now sport running headers and footers when your tables flow over multiple pages. If you work in print, note that InDesign CS lets you determine bleed measurements and add custom slug lines. There are heaps of other advancements in the upgrade, from the new Control palette to stroke styles, and the introduction of JavaScripting and scripting support for creating custom dialog windows. InDesign CS is simply outstanding. GoLive CS HHHH/7.5
GoLive is the only program in Creative Suite not to begin life as a home-grown Adobe product. As a result, its interface and command structure have never adhered to Adobe's usual look-&-feel. To be fair, GoLive CS has been cleaned up a good deal since the palette-crazy previous versions, but it still sits uncomfortably alongside its Creative Suite siblings. The key upgrade feature is called Smart Objects. This lets you place native Photoshop, Illustrator and PDF documents into a Web page layout in their original state. You can then crop and scale them as necessary, and need only optimize them for Web use when generating the final page HTML. We also like Smart Guides, a feature borrowed from Illustrator that calls up on-the-fly alignment guides when dragging objects around a page. While GoLive isn't everyone's choice product for pro Web development, Adobe has beefed-up its coding capability with source-code auto-complete, support for mobile devices, and a JavaScript debugger. A Co-author mode lets content contributors update material independently of the page code. Impressively, GoLive CS can produce beautiful PDFs at will, and uses a unique visual PDF interface to import content from InDesign. We doubt the program will win any converts from Dreamweaver or whatever, but it'll certainly win friends coming from print design and electronic publishing. Acrobat 6.0 Professional
This program was released in the spring (reviewed August 2003), but is included in Creative Suite's Premium Edition for completeness. Acrobat is an all-round PDF processor for creating and (to a very limited extent) editing PDFs, but not a creative program in its own right. This latest version in its Professional Edition incorporates a good deal of new functionality aimed at print-production users. It includes an excellent InDesign-like Overprint and Separations Preview and a built-in preflighter, complete with PDF/X presets. Acrobat 6.0 supports PDF version 1.5 - so, for example, it can read document layers created with InDesign and Illustrator. The package includes Distiller, but you'll almost certainly never use it, since you can export directly to PDF from the rest of Creative Suite and from many other design packages, too. Besides, you can now use Acrobat to re-optimize existing PDFs for any purpose without having to re-distill anything. Acrobat 6.0's interface is completely unlike the rest of Creative Suite - but it's so intuitive that we don't care. Version Cue
Available only as part of the complete Creative Suite, Version Cue is a multifunctional virtual-server program. At its basic level, Version Cue can act as a workgroup server running from any Mac. It lets you establish project folders and restrict user access, and it employs WebDAV policies to ensure that one person doesn't inadvertently overwrite documents created by another. It also provides a versioning function by recording work in progress whenever you want, letting you return to a previous iteration of a document at any time. Without having to worry about duplicates or renaming, Version Cue makes it possible to 'undo' a document to any previous version (choosing it from a thumbnail). Thankfully, buyers of individual CS products can still log into other people's Version Cue servers, so it isn't a complete lock-out, and it can be run from any machine on the network. Our only problem with Version Cue is that it's slow. Integration
Adobe likes to play the 'integration' card, but Creative Suite is still a long way off from being truly integrated. Obviously, there are clear advantages to working in a suite: each program supports native file formats, for example, and the interfaces are similar. Yet there are interface and product-feature differences between the products that don't fit into this integration ideal. Most conspicuously, each program's floating palettes seem to dock in their own way, while those in GoLive and Acrobat look different from those in Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. The context-sensitive bars across the top of the Photoshop and InDesign screens provide a near-identical function, but have different names. Illustrator has a fonted typeface menu that none of the other programs have. InDesign's Layers palette is less versatile than Photoshop's or Illustrator's. The full list of differences is quite lengthy. Yet compared with juggling programs from various publishers, this is slickness itself. Adobe has taken advantage of the simultaneous launch to ensure that all the programs share common ground for key features such as colour-management and OpenType support, rather than being at various stages of development.
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