Adobe Creative Suite 4 is fat, and not with a ‘ph’ (though it is that too). You always need decent hardware to run the latest software, but everything from the installation to the application launch times seems a leap ahead of the equivalent jump from CS2 to CS3. We tested CS4 on a Mac G5 (the same installer is for Mac and Windows), and the time it took for fundamental tasks like opening and saving files were much longer than they should be.
In Dreamweaver, for example, the only way to switch between code and design view was to click repeatedly on the relevant button, as if the RAM registered the request but ran out of resources to carry it out. Using Bridge to create a web photo gallery was also near-interminable. The click on a button didn’t even register until long seconds after the event.
So the first question to ask yourself is whether the box price is all you’re up for. Unless you’ve upgraded to new hardware in the last 12 months it may not be for you.
Some of the included applications are a little bit of a mystery. Anyone with the money to spend on a software family such as Creative Suite 4 would surely be a pro-level designer and use Dreamweaver instead of Contribute, but the latter’s still there. The inclusion of Soundbooth, the audio creation and editing tool is also a strange move for print and online designers, seeming to belong more with the filmmaking and video tools of the Master Collection or Production Premium.
Many of the changes among the usual tools are incremental, and if you’re on CS3 few are essential to the average designer. But part of testing any new version is to break constantly into delighted smiles and exclaim how cool many of the changes are. We’ve picked out just a few to give you a taste.
InDesign now has a live preflight warning at the bottom of the screen that changes from green to red as soon as it sees a problem with your specs, a very handy addition to very large documents where an ounce of prevention can save a ton of cure at pre-press.
One area where InDesign has always been behind Quark Xpress is links management. The links panel is now customisable, and one feature of it is that where a document has several instances of the same picture, the image is listed once and accompanied by a collapsible tree view of everywhere it appears throughout the document. That means updating every instance of the link is a one-click process, whereas before it was a long-winded exercise in clicking ‘Update’ and ‘Next’ over and over again.
The cross-media workflow has been strengthened across the Suite, and part of that is an easy to understand method to create a Flash file from right within InDesign. You need a little understanding of online behaviours and properties terminology, but it’s fairly intuitive. One thing it prompted us to wonder was why after all this time there still isn’t a comparable plug-in for exporting InDesign files as slideshows. Letting marketing staff loose with drop shadows and Comic Sans in PowerPoint is still a design crime against humanity, and an easy slideshow export function would seem a no brainer…
You can also rotate an entire spread, meaning the end of neck-craning acrobatics to see your design in another orientation, and smart text reflow automatically adds or removes pages or boxes to contain whatever text flows over.
A huge and exciting change to Photoshop is the adjustments panel. Instead of drilling down into menus to change the brightness/contrast, levels, hue/saturation and more, it’s now all in its own panel, and after making changes you simply click the little ‘back’ button to bring back the icons that lead to each adjustment toolset.
All documents now appear in one window, saving countless windows open all over your workspace, but if you prefer the old way where you can drag content between them you can simply grab the tab and drag the relevant document outside the main window. There aren’t as many additions to Photoshop as there are improvements to existing features, with Photomerge, masks and motion graphics all more streamlined.
We weren’t very excited about the new multiple artboards feature in Illustrator, but it’s a matter of personal preference. A lot of designers use Illustrator for rather than dedicated layout applications like InDesign or Xpress, and if you’re one of them the ability to have up to 100 artboards of different sizes in a single file might be great news, with guides appearing to help you align artboards as you draw them.
You simply use the artboard tool to drag as many as you like in whatever configuration you want them, and prior to press you can apply crop, bleed and registration marks to them for output.
The edit appearance panel is a new way to isolate and edit common properties of different objects. You can use it to edit properties of a single curve if you like but it does the same job as tools like the stroke and swatch panels. But select more than one and the edit appearance panel lists the properties common to each and you can edit them all with a single click.
Dreamweaver’s been bought even more into line with other elements of Creative Suite, with cosmetic changes like the collapsing panels at the right hand side of your screen and the application bar making it feel more a part of the family.
One change that might really grab you is the ability to split the screen into your code and design vertically rather than just horizontally. In a world where not all pages are flat and wide, the horizontal split just didn’t show enough sometimes.
Most changes in Dreamweaver address the continuing trend towards dynamic page behaviour. Until now it was somewhat behind the times, unable to display real-time behaviours like rollovers. Instead you’d have to preview the result in a browser and hunt through the source code to find your error.
Further buttons and tools like Live View and Live Code dynamically change the code in code view to reflect the current state of a rollover or other behaviour.
Fancy creating an animation without animating? That’s more or less what Adobe promises in Flash Pro by including an object-based animation model, rather than one based on keyframes. Tweens are the interpolation of steps between keyframes, and in Creative Suite 4 they’re applied to the object itself rather than the keyframe. You simply right click on an object, select ‘Create Motion Tween’, move the object and Flash works out the interpolating steps between the two states entirely behind the scenes.
When designing a motion animation, a motion path is now automatically added as a Bezier curve, and changing your animation is as easy as drawing and editing a curve in Illustrator.
Flash also opens 3D up to the average user. You no longer have to employ a technology like ActionScript to create 3D motion, but specify x, y and x axis-based values in the 2D environment, or spin or twirl your object in 3D space.
Like the best creative tools, Flash now comes with a library of motion presets to get you kicked off and it can now read file metadata to help you find the assets you need for your project quicker.
The most interesting news out of the CS4 world is the re-introduction of Fireworks. Back when Adobe was print and Macromedia was online, Fireworks was the latter’s alternative to Photoshop, doing many of the same things in a 72 dpi-only environment.
With seemingly the entire slate of design products in the known universe bought under Adobe’s roof, there didn’t seem any point to keeping Fireworks around, an argument the vendor seemed to support by dropping it in Creative Suite 3.
So why bring it back? Adobe says it can ‘rapidly prototype’ for the web. If it’s been awhile since you used Fireworks, you may not know it’s now geared as much to application design as it is to websites. There’s still some inevitable overlaps with Photoshop and if you’re a comfortable Photoshop user Fireworks will be unlikely to woo you away.
But there’s a completely new interface more in line with the rest of the suite, and you can now generate an entire web page from a design, complete with style sheets and HTML. Otherwise you can export a whole website or interface design comp to an interactive PDF to send to clients.