Adobe Puts It Together

Artists and other creative professionals who rely on multiple applications from Adobe (800/833-6687, www.adobe.com) should be interested in the software giant's latest release. Adobe Creative Suite brings most of the company's principal applications--Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, GoLive, and Acrobat--under one roof. Just don't mistake this massive suite for a simple software bundle.

Traditionally, Adobe's bundles--which Adobe calls Collections--have been a handful of programs combined in one package with a discounted price. With Creative Studio, Adobe is "taking a couple of steps beyond that," says Jim Heeger, the company's senior vice president of creative professional products. The suite still includes multiple Adobe products; however, this time all but one application in the suite have undergone a major upgrade. (The exception, Acrobat 6.0 Professional, hit the market a few months ago.)More important, the revised programs that make up Adobe Creative Suite introduce an unprecedented level of integration for Adobe. Parts of the suite "will work together in a way that you don't get from individual applications," Heeger says.

Adobe Creative Suite comes in two versions. The Premium Edition ($1,299; upgrade from Photoshop or the assorted Adobe Professional Collections, $749) features the updated programs, Acrobat 6.0 Professional, and the new Version Cue application. The Standard Edition ($999; upgrade, $549) ships without GoLive CS and Acrobat. (For a more in-depth look at the individual applications that make up Adobe Creative Suite, see " Adobe Changes Everything.")

A Big Mental Shift

Adobe executives decided to push for greater integration because they concluded that it was the best way to meet the needs of their customers, Heeger says. Because creative pros are responsible for content that appears in more than one medium, the company wanted to make its Web and print design products work together more smoothly. "If you're a creative professional, we want to provide you with a suite of tools that makes you as productive as you can be," Heeger says.

Adobe has other reasons for bringing its applications together. The company's research indicates that 60 percent of its installed base already uses two or more Adobe apps. What's more, rival software makers tout highly integrated suites of their own. Most notably, Macromedia just released Macromedia Studio MX 2004, which brings together Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, FreeHand, and ColdFusion.

Having its programs work together more closely required more than changing the applications; Adobe also had to make changes to the way it develops and releases products. Historically, updates to Photoshop, Illustrator, and other apps came out at different times during the year, allowing Adobe to shift its focus and resources from one project to the next. By integrating features of different programs, however, Adobe had to schedule simultaneous product upgrades. "It was a big mental shift internally," Heeger concedes.

Can Adobe customers expect simultaneous releases for future updates? Heeger won't rule out updates for lone products, but says that Adobe's new suite-based approach to releases is "clearly where we're headed."

Common Cause

So what will greater integration mean for Adobe Creative Suite users? Start with the user interface--each part of the separate apps that make up the suite now shares common commands, tools, palettes, and keyboard shortcuts. "That makes it easier for people who know one of the applications to pick up the rest of them," Heeger says. The suite also boasts native file-format support between Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and GoLive. Users can export vector files from Illustrator CS into Photoshop CS and open them with layers, text, slices, transparency, and image maps intact. Conversely, raster files from Photoshop can be opened or placed in Illustrator files. Users are also able to place native Photoshop files in InDesign CS layouts without having to flatten them first, eliminating the need for DCS- and separation-based workflows. An Edit Original Selection command in InDesign launches Photoshop or Illustrator when users want to make changes to an image or file. Similarly, GoLive CS allows native, layered Photoshop and Illustrator files to be placed right in HTML layouts. Creative Suite supports a number of shared technologies to create a more predictable--and smoother--design process. These technologies include the Adobe Color Engine; the Flattener palette; the Separation Preview palette; OpenType font support; and Extensible Metadata Platform, a standards-based enabling technology that adds intelligence to files to make them easier to find, share, and reuse.

Right on Cue

The most significant integration between the programs comes courtesy of Version Cue, the file-management application introduced with Creative Suite. Adobe bills Version Cue, which tracks changes and iterations of files for individual users and workgroups, as the glue that holds the suite together.

Version Cue saves files in a workspace that can be accessed from within any Creative Suite app. Clicking on the My Projects button in the Open dialog box gives thumbnail previews of all project files, along with version comments, previous authors, and other file information. A Search tab also lets users find files using comment, date, author, or keyword data. The Save A Version command saves a file back to the workspace without users having to jump between applications.

For workgroups, Version Cue lets users share projects from their desktops without any need for databases or file servers. Opening a file puts a working copy on your hard drive until you save a version back to the workspace; if other people try to open the same file, Version Cue warns them, minimizing the risk of conflicting versions. By allowing users to collaborate more efficiently, Heeger says, Version Cue moves Adobe beyond individual desktops and into workgroup settings. "Version Cue is a big step forward," he adds. "But it's the first of many steps." Whether Adobe customers will be eager to take that step will become more apparent after Creative Suite ships later this year. But there's no denying that from this point forward, Adobe's design applications will have plenty in common.

New Suite, New Look

Adobe's updated apps have changed quite a bit under the hood, but they're also radically different on the outside. Old, familiar images such as the Photoshop eye logo and Illustrator's take on Botticelli's The Birth of Venus-- as familiar to some Adobe users as the features of the programs themselves--have been dropped from the packaging for Adobe products. Instead, the company plans to mark the launch of its Adobe Creative Suite with the first major overhaul of its packaging in five years, turning to vibrant, multicolored natural elements to replace the familiar imagery.

Venus's exit comes as Adobe looks to rethink the way it serves its customers, says Jane Willis, senior director of product marketing for creative professional products. The new packaging for the revamped suite of creative products is part of that effort. "We wanted the packaging to reflect that this was a different way of designing the products and a different way of thinking about the products," she says.

MetaDesign, the San Francisco­based design firm that worked with Adobe to create the new look, wanted to get across three points with the redesigned packaging: precision, beauty, and inspiration. "A nature theme satisfied all those attributes," says MetaDesign executive creative director Brett Wickens. "Nature became the lens through which we looked to define the images of each product."That approach led to a finished product that, in some cases, will be a major departure from past designs. Photoshop's eye makes way for brightly colored feathers, while an array of flowers takes Venus's place on the Illustrator box. Other changes are less dramatic--GoLive, which used to sport a planetary design, now features only stars, while InDesign adopts a more abstract version of its butterfly icon.

Adding to the normal pressure of replacing established designs with brand new looks was the fact that Adobe and Meta Design were overhauling the box art for products aimed at illustrators, graphic artists, and other folks who know a thing or two about effective designs. "You're talking about probably one of the most cynical and critical markets on earth," Wickens says. "So it's tough."

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