By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting
Tuesday September 4, 2007; 8:30pm EST
When Adobe initially launched the Creative Suite product line, the concept of having all your critical web tools in a single application suite sounded great and was long overdue. Now that Adobe has launched their third and latest installment named CS3, it has gone from a great idea to a necessity for any serious web designer. With the application suite concept taking off and competitors such as Microsoft offering their own application suite, the question is how does the latest CS3 version stack up? Let?s find out?
Adobe Creative Suite 3 comes in a whole new variety of versions catering to the particular needs of different design specialists. The comprehensive range of suite versions essentially add or remove products depending on requirements from the ?Design Standard? edition that gives you the essentials to the ?Master Collection? which includes everything except the kitchen sink (or maybe there is a kitchen sink, there is so much packed in there it?s quite possible!), and everything in-between. The edition we will divert our attention to for the sake of this review is the ?Web Premium? edition which focuses on the needs of advanced web designers and developers wanting to develop rich and dynamic multimedia sites.
The Web Premium edition has an excellent line up of Adobe applications including PhotoShop CS3 Extended, Illustrator CS3, Acrobat 8 Professional, Dreamweaver CS3, Fireworks CS3, Contribute CS3, Bridge CS3 and Version Cue CS3. Additionally the package includes a limited range of fonts and stock photography to get you started. Once you rip open the attractively styled packaging, getting the program from the discs to your computer is a quick and painless process. With minimal effort you will have the entire suite installed and ready to roll in minutes. Product activation is required and is performed the first time any of the included applications are launched. Activation takes seconds and caused no issues or problems whatsoever.
When installed you have a seamless environment containing just about every tool imaginable to take your web ideas from prototype to live on the web ? essentially handling all aspects of the development life cycle. Each application has undergone a number of enhancements since the CS2 version, and appears to have gone through even further seamless integration between each program and the third party applications they connect with. All of the applications share a clean, easy to use interface that is the predictable combination of drop downs menus, tool bars and docks - everything you typically need is relatively accessible with little effort. The interfaces are low on clutter giving you ample work space, but always the ability to customize docks to show exactly what you want. While these applications offer plenty of work space, like most new generation applications and suites a widescreen display goes a long way to making your work a whole lot easier.
The PhotoShop CS3 Extended image editing tool, takes the standard PhotoShop concept and drops in additional tools suitable for not only image work but 3D objects as well. New to CS3 is nondestructive editing, which retains the original image data of objects you edit. This is great for when you filter, scale and rotate objects and later on need to change the object again. With many editing tools, once you have edited an object, a lot of the image data has been lost making further modifications a nightmare later down the road. Design professionals know you're only as good as your selection tools, and PhotoShop has added it's new Quick Selection tool. Simply draw around the perimeter of the area to select and Quick Selection will attempt to automatically cut right to the edge of the object within the area you chose. It works quite well when cutting objects from images with limited backgrounds or simple gradients, requiring only minor cleanup afterwards. Trying to extract objects from complicated background was a different story, and the tool often became confused when even vaguely similar colored objects were present and required extensive clean up or retracing in areas. The previewing system allows you to further refine the selected area with a host of variables, but in many cases cleanup was still needed afterwards. Despite all of this, since selecting can be tedious and time consuming, Quick Selection does ultimately help to cut down the work involved quite considerably - leaving you only correctional type work to do.
Getting back to the 'Extended' functionality of this version of PhotoShop, you can now load and manipulate 3D models in a wide variety of formats (3DS, OBJ, U3D, KMZ and more) directly inside of PhotoShop and incorporate them into your images. Not only can you do things like rotate the objects, but you can actually edit their texture bitmaps. Finally, your ability to share what you do in PhotoShop has also been improved - allowing you to now easily drop images directly into Dreamweaver projects and import into Flash or After Effects. One thing I had noticed with both PhotoShop and Illustrator is how cleanly it renders text and shapes such as circles or rectangles that are on an angle - the anti-aliasing is excellent, making anything you do crisp and highly legible.
Illustrator CS3, the vector illustration design application, enjoys a number of tweaks this time around. Better integration with Flash means you can drop your Illustrator files directly into Flash - which makes perfect sense being that they are both vector programs. This could certainly reduce development times for Flash animation work - as the Illustrator interface is more inductive for detailed vector design. Designing specifically for web or mobile applications has become easier with HTML, GIF and JPEG exporting built-in, and an ability to preview mobile pages using the included Adobe Device Central software. Other new features include document profiles for web and mobile devices; live color for web and interactive allowing you to create multiple color version of a design while prototyping; and a crop area tool for selecting specific areas as web designs or mobile device screen dimensions.
Flash CS3 Professional is the vector animation and enhanced multimedia application used for producing the incredibly popular Flash multimedia format. While little has changed interface wise, this version has a treat many have been waiting for... The ability to import PhotoShop and Illustrator files while keeping the layers and structure in tact, and even being able to edit them within Flash. You can also now convert animations into ActionScript for easier editing and reuse later on. ActionScript 3 with a new debugging system increases scripting efficiency all-round. And new drawing capabilities let you in design time change shape properties on the stage with a variety of tools inspired by Illustrator. Finally Flash CS3 has enhanced QuickTime format exporting options to allow nested movie clips and runtime effects. While each iteration of Flash works to improve its functionality and ease of use, there should be more to lessen the learning curve for beginner users of the software, such as a more visually based method of ActionScript coding.
Dreamweaver CS3 is the web site production tool of the suite, and is definitely a stand out winner. It is an absolute pleasure to design pages with Dreamweaver. Whether you?re producing web pages in design, code view or a combination of both as most do, it has handfuls of features and attention to detail niceties that make your job infinitely easier. Any web designer knows that time crunches come with the job, and it ends up being the small detail types of features that make or break a timeline commitment. The interface has a fantastic combination of a traditional drop down menu, tab based Insert menus, docks for things such as CSS styles, and a great work area.
The 'Design View' is fantastic and definitely the best we've encountered. Effortless creation of tables with pixel perfect precision assisted by highly intuitive sizing tools that give you exact measurements with immediate pixel width feedback. Thank you Adobe! When Dreamweaver detects server-side include tags, it automatically attempts to emulate as if the page were running on the server and displays the includes on page during design, fantastic! When selecting or creating an object, there are tons of variables associated with them that are easily editable in the properties dock. And the 'Split View' accurately remembers your split point on the screen for future sessions. I cannot stress enough what a joy it is to work with Dreamweaver CS3.
Acrobat 8 Professional and the PDF format have enjoyed wild success over the past several years at least. The newest version of Acrobat, the program used to compile and view PDF files has benefited from a faster rendering engine and better integration. Gone are the cumbersome Office plug-ins that we found less than stable in the prior version, replaced by Print output from your favorite applications. While rendering times for converting documents such as Microsoft Word are still not stellar, they have certainly improved. It is strange that Microsoft's Office 2007 export option for PDF is in fact faster than Adobe's but that margin has lessened in the latest version. Render quality, while again has improved, still shows imperfections, particularly when handling document tables where some bordered cells are adjacent to borderless cells (typically found in invoices and other table based documents).
Fireworks, Contribute, Bridge, Version Cue have also all enjoyed improvements. Most notably Fireworks CS3 now has multipage support for having multiple pages within a document that share layers; Contribute now has extensive authoring permissions for controlling content updating at a granular level as well as support for publishing directly from Microsoft Office applications.
Are there any downsides to the CS3 Web Premium suite? Applications could stand to use a bit more pep at load time. While some like Dreamweaver and Flash have improved load times, PhotoShop and Illustrator were less than enthusiastic in loading. Also, many of the variables fields such as where you enter zoom, widths, heights, and other numbers require manual entry with the keyboard - editable drop down menus with commonly used values (example, zoom measurements of 25%, 50%, 100%, 200%, 300%) would expedite modifying these numbers. As you can see, this is a pretty minor list of problems... we really didn't encounter any other notable turn-offs or problems with the suite.
Overall I was excited to see that most of our issues with CS3?s predecessor were resolved, and that what we have now is a clean cut, incredibly feature filled all-in-one solution that allows any webmaster with $1,500 to have a complete design studio on their workstation. If in the market should you consider Adobe Creative Suite 3 or arguably it's main competitor Microsoft Expression Studio? The simple fact of the matter is that Adobe has the market cornered when it comes to standards? Flash and PDF are the industry standards we all work with daily. Whether Microsoft?s competing formats such as Silverlight or XPS will ever enjoy similar saturation or even become competitive is debatable at this point. The install rate and use of these new formats will ultimately dictate the outcome. If you have CS2 is it worth the upgrade? It depends on your usage of the suite... in many instances it would most likely be worth the somewhat affordable upgrade costs. Just the improved ability to share between the core applications would make it worth it for many designers. It's all a matter of determining whether the new features will deliver productivity gains that justify the cost - for hardcore designers, probably yes.
Creative Suite 3 Web Premium is available for both Windows and Mac platforms. Windows system requirements include all Windows Vista editions excluding basic or Windows XP SP2; Pentium 4, Centrino, Xeon or Core Due processor; 1GB memory; 5GB of drive space; modern video card and monitor specifications. Mac requirements include OS X 10.4.8; JRE 1.5 for Version Cue; Power PC G4 or G5 or multi-core Intel processor; 1GB memory and modern video equipment. Retail pricing comes in at $1,599.00 USD for the full version and $499.00 USD for an upgrade (prices may vary store to store). Creative Suite 3 Web Premium is available immediately from all major computer and electronics providers. The product can be purchased as a shrink wrap product at retail stores or as a 3.2GB downloadable file from Adobe.
PROS - Dreamweaver is a dream to work with... slick interface and attention to detail, clean and intelligently produced code, standards compliance, CSS to the max, browser compatibility checking, great include handling during design time. The seamless integration of applications and the ability to share between programs. Reasonable price when considering the amount of pro tools you get. More reliable PDF exporting from third party applications. Quick Selection tool in PhotoShop reduces selection times.
CONS - Some slow application load times; limited fonts included compared to some competitors; applications may have challenging learning curve for beginners; no drop downs for commonly used settings where variables are entered; slow and sometimes inaccurate rendering of PDF documents.
About The Author
Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.
http://www. viscaconsulting. com/