Looking at CS3 from the cheap seats

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With all the hype of Adobe’s Creative Suite 3 introduction past us, I thought I would put down my thoughts about the latest and greatest out of the graphics juggernaut. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the pre-release software like some people (I’m not jealous, really!), so I’m just going to lay it out as I see it from the cheap seats.

I have seen many complaints online about the pricing and the applications Adobe include in the various CS3 suite bundles, but I’m not one of them—and believe me, I don’t like spending money any more than the next guy. Yes, the prices have gone up, but with the exception of the “ uber deluxe, grande with supersize fries,” Master Collection, they’re not too far out of line from what we’re used to paying, especially when you consider we’re getting the best of Macromedia’s apps included. Most people who buy the bundled suites make a pretty good living off those apps, and the cost of upgrading should be covered with the first job they’re used on (if not, then you aren’t charging enough!). For those who don’t need all the apps in the bundles, the individual apps still carry reasonable prices for the full versions and upgrades.

As far as the selection of apps included in the suites, I’m fairly impressed and happy with the choice I have to make. I need the Design Standard Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Bridge and Acrobat), but I would really like to get the Design Premium Suite which adds the Extended version of Photoshop along with Dreamweaver and Flash. Even though I have absolutely no use for either of the Web apps at this point in time, I’ll most likely go with the Premium version, if for no other reason than to “future-proof” myself.

There’s been much written about Photoshop CS3 already, since half the graphics world downloaded the beta and wrote reviews about it. I will add that it’s nice to see the new features, like the dedicated black & white conversion function, along with the Universal Binary support for us Intel Mac users. With regard to the rest of the CS3 applications, the features list looks impressive, but it’s generally the “little things” that make all the difference, good or bad. For instance, I’ve heard that Adobe still hasn’t made it easy to create a gradient that goes from a solid color to 100% transparency in Illustrator without using awkward masks. This is a feature that people have been asking for as far back as version 9. On the other hand, the new unified interface looks to be a real pleasure to use and application speed is something everyone has mentioned as being quite impressive.

Regarding the new interface in most of the apps, to my eyes, it looks fantastic. I say “most” because Dreamweaver does not share the same GUI as the rest of the true Adobe apps. Having a common interface across the suite has been something else people have wanted for a long time; I guess Adobe just couldn’t decide on which one to settle.

Many folks loved the dockable palette capability of Photoshop’s CS2’s Control Bar, and virtually everyone I know couldn’t live without InDesign’s ability to have palettes slide in and out from the side of the screen. Of course, Illustrator hasn’t really changed since version 8. With Adobe Creative Suite 3 we can finally have a truly unified GUI across almost the entire suite. The new “panel” scheme looks to be not only cool, but more convenient and space-saving. This is especially important when we tend to get yet another palette with each new feature added.

Finally, there’s the new icon look. When I initially downloaded the Photoshop CS3 beta, I was praying the new icon was just a beta thing that wasn’t going to stick. Once I saw news that the ‘periodic table’ icons were indeed the new look, I decided to live with it. I even made some customized CS3 icons to use with the CS2 suite to try to get used to seeing them.

CS3 icons

I’ll tell you though; it didn’t take long for me to warm-up to them. I haven’t even received my upgrades and yet I can’t wait to see them in my dock. The icons stand out, and I don’t have to really work at finding the right one to click on like I did with the last two CS suites. And, as for the new packaging, I love it. They’ll look just dandy sitting on the top shelf in my office.

Thus far, if you believe most who were lucky enough to get their grubby hands on betas and pre-release versions, Adobe appears to have delivered on the hype of CS3. But for the rest of us, we’ll have to wait and see if CS3 ends up being nothing more than a Universal Binary version of the CS2 suite we already have, or the “knock your socks off” upgrades we’ve been treated to the last few versions of all the apps.

[James Dempsey runs the Creative Guy blog, which offers tips, tricks and opinion on a variety of design topics.]

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