Adobe Unleashes Creative Suite 5

Adobe has launched the fifth incarnation of its Creative Suite collection of professional applications for print and Web designers and videographers. This set of coordinated programs, popularly called Adobe CS5, includes new versions of 14 products and their associated apps, four new online services, and a brand new interactive Web design product.

"As a technology that generates more than half of the company's revenue, this is an incredibly important release for us," John Loiacono, Adobe's senior vice president and general manager of Creative Solutions, told Macworld. "We've hit our stride not just with a speed bump in functionality and performance...this is a big leap ahead in some of the capabilities we have built in to CS5. We have enormous expectations on how this will perform in the market."

* More on Photoshop CS5

* More on InDesign CS5

* More on Illustrator CS5

* More on Premiere Pro CS5

* More on Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and Contribute CS5

* More on Flash Catalyst and Flash Professional CS5, and Flash Builder 4

* More on After Effects and Soundbooth CS5

Since 2003, when Adobe first gathered its print and Web tools into a suite (later adding its video package), the company has offered a steady parade of updates for its creative professional user base. The new CS5 veers in a somewhat different direction than earlier versions with a specific concentration on online services and Web analytics. Creative Suite 5 products, for the first time, include access to Omniture technologies--Web utilities that capture, store, and analyze information generated by Web sites and other sources.

The suite now hosts three discreet versions of Flash--the familiar Flash Professional, Flash Builder (previously called Flex Builder), and a brand new interactive design app called Flash Catalyst. There is now a greater emphasis on online services that Adobe is relying on bridge the gap between its 18- to 24-month upgrade cycle.

"One of the challenges that we have with product cycles that tend to be 18 to 24 months in length, is that they're long in development. So we're trying to update services much more rapidly...and decouple some of these features that we're adding and manifest them as services, which allows us to move a lot quicker to modify and test them...I see the services as an extension of the applications," Loiacono said.

The updates in CS5--more that 250 new features have been integrated throughout the Master Collection of all programs--address not only technical changes in hardware capabilities to make them faster and more efficient, but also strive to solve workflow problems. "Our beta testers are giving us high marks in hitting the mark on not just key functionality that they need but actually understanding their workflow," Loiacono said. "At the end of the day, building the next generation of really cool features is a requirement and it's expected, but it's not sufficient anymore. We can't just be pixel polishers. We have to look at the next generation of the workflow challenges that people are facing."

Technology advancements

Several CS5 apps have advanced technologically to keep pace with advances in Apple hardware. Photoshop, Premiere Pro, and After Effects are now 64-bit native to take better advantage of the increased memory built into the Mac's new hardware, and Premiere Pro is now better optimized for multi-core Intel Macs. Improvements in Photoshop's OpenGL engine will make the new version faster and more responsive, as well.

As Adobe announced last year, CS5 will run only on Intel Macs and with only the most recent operating systems, such as 10.5.7 (Leopard) or Snow Leopard (10.6). In addition to native 64-bit support, Adobe has introduced the Mercury Playback Engine to Premiere Pro, its flagship video editing app.

The Mercury Playback Engine speeds up processing and rendering so editors can work on large, complex projects without delays. The key to this improvement is GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) acceleration and the full use of all processing cores. While traditionally apps use the computer's CPU (Central Processing Unit) for performance, the Mercury Playback Engine directly accesses Nvidia graphics cards for performance boosts. Premiere Pro and the Production Premium apps require either OS X 10.5.7 or OS X 10.6.3 for GPU-accelerated performance.

Adobe CS Live services

Adobe CS5 products integrate with Adobe's new CS Live, a set of five online services that augment key aspects of the creative workflow. CS Live online services are complimentary for now and include: Adobe BrowserLab, Adobe CS Review, Acrobat.com, Adobe Story, and SiteCatalyst NetAverages from Omniture.

Adobe CS Review enables online design reviews from within various CS5 applications, while Adobe BrowserLab is a tool for testing Website content across different browsers and operating systems. NetAverages provides Web usage data on browsers, operating systems, and more, to assist in the creative process when designing for the Web and mobile devices. Adobe Story is a collaborative scriptwriting tool that improves production and post-production workflows in the CS5 Production Premium video package. The older Acrobat.com services, such as Adobe ConnectNow Web conferencing, enhance discussion and information exchange with far-flung colleagues and clients.

While the CS Live apps are free for now (Story is still in beta), Adobe is planning a subscription-based model for them eventually, and will add more services to the list in the future, Loiacono said.

Loiacono says that while Adobe is not abandoning desktop apps, it is examining the feasibility of replacing some desktop features with online functionality. "Down the road, we'll look at some functionality along with the benefits of being able to do (things) remotely with no local software, and figure out how those two cross."

Adobe is phasing out Version Cue with the CS5 release. The versioning system--which some users never embraced--has been a part of the Creative Suite since the collection was first introduced. "The thing we've see with Version Cue is that we were kind of half-in, half-out," said Loiacono. "Version Cue solved some problems for some people, but people kept asking us to either fully enhance it and almost come up with a whole content management system, or strip it way down and make it something very remedial...we didn't have enough demand for it--only in niche areas--which is why we decided to change direction."

Three faces of Flash

For this upgrade, Adobe has taken a close look at Flash and determined that its core interactive multimedia and animation app doesn't address the wide array of needs for would-be Flash users. In an effort to augment Flash to better appeal to non-coder designers, Adobe has launched Flash Catalyst CS5, a brand new product designed to bridge the gap between designers and programmers. Unlike with Flash Professional, Catalyst users do not need to know ActionScript.

Flash Builder (renamed from its previous Flex Builder moniker), targeted to coders, scripters, and database experts, is now also included in the Web Premium package.

"If you're a Flash Pro user today, you are in high demand...But the first step into Flash is a pretty deep step, meaning that it's a pretty challenging app to learn from scratch, and you have to know scripting or some level of coding in order to do Flash fairly well," Loiacono said. "Flash Catalyst is a turnkey tool that says you can build interactivity for your application or service or interaction or user interface without knowing any scripting or coding whatsoever."

Speaking of Flash, a new Packager for iPhone tool would have allowed developers to use Flash to create apps for the iPhone, and then compile them to run on the Apple hardware. Or at least that was the plan until Apple's new iPhone 4.0 Developer Program License Agreement, effectively barred such cross-compiled apps from the App Store. Adobe's official response was measured, but Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch wrote this on his blog: "We intend to still deliver this capability in CS5 and it is up to Apple whether they choose to allow or disallow applications as their rules shift over time."

Editions and pricing

Adobe CS5 comes in four editions plus a Master Collection that contains all the programs. All the editions ship with Illustrator, Bridge, and Device Central. Many integrate with Adobe's CS Live online services.

* The Design Standard edition, targeted to print designers, includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Acrobat 9. It costs $1,299 with an upgrade price of $499.

* The Design Premium, targeted to print and online designers, comes with Photoshop Extended, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat 9 Pro, Flash Catalyst, Flash Professional, Dreamweaver, and Fireworks. The Design Premium costs $1,899 with the upgrade price of $599.

* The Web Premium, targeted to Web designers, ships with almost the same configuration as the Design Premium, but swaps out InDesign in favor of Flash Builder 4 Standard, Flash Catalyst, and Contribute. The Web premium costs $1,799 with an upgrade price of $599.

* The Production Premium, targeted to videographers, features Premiere Pro, After Effects, Soundbooth, OnLocation, and Encore, in addition to Photoshop CS5 Extended, Illustrator, Flash Catalyst, and Flash Professional. The Production Premium costs $1,699, with an upgrade price of $599.

* The Master Collection includes all CS5 programs except Photoshop Standard. It costs $2,599, with an upgrade price of $899.

While Acrobat Pro 9 ships with CS5, it has not been upgraded for the suite release. It is available separately for $449 with upgrades at $159. InCopy CS5 does not ship with the suite either, but it too has been upgraded for use with InDesign CS5. A single InCopy license is $249 with an upgrade price of $89. The Web Standard edition has been discontinued.

Each creative suite app is also available separately: The standard version of Photoshop is $699, with an upgrade price of $199, while the Extended version is $999 with an upgrade price of $349; Illustrator is $599 with an upgrade price of $199; Flash Professional is $699 with an upgrade price of $199; Flash Builder 4 Standard is $249 with an upgrade price of $99; Flash Catalyst CS5 is $399; Dreamweaver is $399 with an upgrade price of $199; After Effects is $999 with an upgrade price of $299; Fireworks is $299 with an upgrade price of $149; Contribute is $199 with an upgrade price of $99 (five-user multi-pack is $799); InDesign is $699 with an upgrade price of $199; Premiere Pro is $799, with an upgrade price of $299; and Soundbooth is $199 with an upgrade price of $99.

Adobe Creative Suite 5 products are scheduled to ship within 30 days.

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