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Adobe Announces Vast Creative Suite 4

When Adobe announced Creative Suite 3 in April 2007, the biggest new feature for Mac users was support for Apple’s Intel-based Macs; CS3 was among the last major Mac applications to move to Intel compatibility. After all, the people who shell out a lot of money for the premiere design tools on the market expected performance, and the migration to Intel-native code demanded patience.

The announcement of Adobe Creative Suite 4 brings new features to the forefront, as well as performance improvements that will make pro users happy. The software is scheduled to ship in October 2008, though Adobe hasn’t given a more specific date.

The entire Creative Suite has gone massive – it’s no longer a convenient bundle of three or four applications – so I’m going to hit on just a smattering of new features gleaned from recent briefings with Adobe. The Creative Suite 4 Web site offers a bunch of information for more investigation.

Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop CS4 Extended — It’s good to be king, Photoshop knows, and this CS4 release turns the king into an emperor of speed by tapping the fast processing capabilities of a computer’s GPU (graphics processing unit). GPUs have tons of appropriate and unused processing juice, and Photoshop now hands off some of its most intensive tasks. This happens when working on very large files, for example, or to redraw the display when invoking a new feature to rotate the canvas – helpful for designers and artists who use pressure-sensitive tablets.

(The Windows version of Photoshop CS4 adds 64-bit processing, a feature originally slated for the Mac version until Apple abruptly cancelled 64-bit support in its Carbon programming libraries; see “64-bit Controversy Accompanies Lightroom 2 Beta,” 2008-04-07. Adobe had committed to Carbon, and its Cocoa migration plans are much longer term.)

In terms of snazzy features, Photoshop CS4 adds content-aware scaling, a technology that enables images to be stretched or compressed without obvious distortion. It’s not something most people are likely to use, true, but it can be extremely useful in advertising and more casual work than in serious photography. A new Adjustments panel collects common image adjustments that can be applied non-destructively to an image. The Camera Raw dialog also gains the capability to apply edits to selective areas instead of an entire image.

Photoshop CS4 Extended now has improved 3D capabilities; for example, artists can import 3D objects created in other applications and paint directly onto them and then export the objects.

Adobe’s developers also put a lot of work into fine-tuning the user experience. Holding Option and Control and dragging with the brush tool selected changes the brush size; adding the Command key to that mix changes the brush’s hardness. When moving around a file using the Hand tool, a flick of the mouse “tosses” the canvas in the same way that flicking one’s finger tosses a screen on the iPhone. Oh, and Command-~ (Command-tilde) finally switches between open windows like most Mac applications. John Nack, principal product manager for Photoshop, lists dozens of such improvements on his blog.

InDesign CS4 — Adobe’s page-layout application InDesign CS4 now works harder at making the publishing process easier with several new features. While InDesign has had preflighting for years, checking for problems before you send a file off to be printed or produced, the live preflight feature in CS4 highlights potential problems as documents are in progress.

Cross-references can be set up that update dynamically even when page flow changes. Conditional text enables customization of documents from a single source; in Adobe’s example, a catalog can contain prices for items in U.S. or UK currencies instead of creating two separate catalogs.

As with Photoshop, some of the small details are the best. If you’ve ever created a 1-pica box to use as a spacer measurement, you’ll be happy to use the new smart guides. Smart guides can note how you’ve positioned previous objects and suggest the same amount of spacing for new objects. The spread rotation feature makes it easy to edit text or other elements that are positioned vertically by rotating the entire pasteboard – no more craning your neck at a right angle to make sure you’ve typed something correctly.

Multiple Suites — As you can discover online, there’s much, much more to Creative Suite 4. You’ll also find a bewildering array of purchase and upgrade options.

The entire suite is available in six configurations:

  • The Design Premium includes InDesign CS4, Photoshop CS4 Extended, Illustrator CS4, Flash CS4 Professional, Dreamweaver CS4, Fireworks CS4, and Acrobat 9 Pro for $1,799 new. (Upgrade pricing varies.)
  • The Design Standard includes InDesign CS4, Photoshop CS4, Illustrator CS4, and Acrobat 9 Pro for $1,399 new. (Upgrade pricing varies.)
  • The Web Premium includes Dreamweaver CS4, Flash CS4 Professional, Photoshop CS4 Extended, Illustrator CS4, Fireworks CS4, Acrobat 9 Pro, Soundbooth CS4, and Contribute CS4 for $1,699 new. (Upgrade pricing varies.)
  • The Web Standard includes Dreamweaver CS4, Flash CS4 Professional, Fireworks CS4, and Contribute CS4 for $999 new. (Upgrade pricing varies.)
  • The Production Premium includes Photoshop CS4 Extended, Illustrator CS4, Flash CS4 Professional, After Effects CS4, Premiere Pro CS4, Soundbooth CS4, OnLocation CS4, and Encore CS4 for $1,699 new. (Upgrade pricing varies.)
  • The Master Collection includes everything (except Photoshop CS4, since Photoshop CS4 Extended is part of the lineup) for $2,499 new. (Upgrade pricing varies.)

Each suite also includes Bridge CS4, Device Central CS4, and Version Cue CS4; the Production Premium and Master Collection also include Dynamic Link.

Additionally, each major application is available for purchase without buying a suite.

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