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Review: InDesign CS4

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Nice enhancements throughout

The rest of what’s new in InDesign CS4 involves enhancements to existing features. Among the most significant of these is the revised Links panel, which tracks the graphics placed in your layout and can, if you choose, also track imported text and spreadsheet files. Adobe has prettied the panel, so it can now display previews of graphics, making it easier to see what image a filename refers to. And it shows more attributes and metadata information about linked files and reduces the work needed to display that information. Moreover, you can customize the Links panel to have the most useful metadata and attributes appear inline with the link in the panel. For example, details such as the scaling applied to an image, its ICC profile, its folder path (or just the folder and one or more levels up), its inline notes (if any and how many), and so on. A lot of the information now easily viewed at a glance was quite difficult to find in previous versions of InDesign.

But what I like best about the new Links panel is the ability to batch update graphics’ filename extensions. For example, say your layout uses JPEG files but you want to replace them with higher-resolution TIFF versions for print. With InDesign CS4, you can tell the Links panel to replace all the JPEGs with the same-named TIFFs. Before, you would have to manually update each image and confirm each filename extension change—or write a script to do so. Now, it’s a single step that anyone can do.

Adobe has also made InDesign smarter about updating links, so if you’ve moved images to a new folder, it notes that new location and updates all the files that were moved. Before, you had to update each changed image one at a time. Rival QuarkXPress has for many years had a smart update capability, so I’m glad InDesign has finally caught up.

I’m also pleased that Adobe has enhanced the nested styles feature so that nested character styles can be applied to entire lines, and InDesign maintains that rule even as you edit the text and alter the line breaks. A common design technique is to apply small caps to the first line of a paragraph that follows a heading. But InDesign had no way to let you specify that you wanted small caps on the first line. The nested styles feature that allows such conditional formatting could apply small caps to the first two sentences or the first six words after the second period or to all the text that preceded the first colon. But it couldn’t apply small caps to the first line. Now it can. You can specify how many lines of text you want a character style to be applied to.

One enhanced feature that is easily dismissed is the Grep (General Regular Expression Parsing) style. Grep is a Unix pattern-matching language that InDesign CS3 adopted in its Find/Replace dialog box to let you do sophisticated search and replace. InDesign CS4 adds Grep capabilities to its paragraph styles, so you can have character styles applied to text, based on patterns. It does so this when you place text, when you type text, when you replace text, and for any text already in the document that uses that paragraph style. You both save time and get automatic consistency. For example, you could specify a single Grep expression that finds any price (or any phone number, or any fraction). By including that expression in a Grep style and then applying the style, InDesign will automatically apply the character style you chose to text that matches the pattern.

InDesign CS4’s new conditional text feature lets you set up documents such as catalogs and lets you specify text changes for various editions, such as pricing in different countries. Using the Conditional Text panel, you apply a condition to the text and then turn conditions off and on to display each separate edition. Changes to the document are reflected in all editions.

A subtle but useful change is the ability to add new styles in the various places you can choose them. Say you are deleting a character style named Test. Before, InDesign would let you select a character style to use in its place, or you could just remove the style and keep the formatting. But what if you wanted to use a new character style you forgot to create before deleting this one? You’d have to cancel the operation, create that style, and then delete the unwanted one. Now, you can create the new style on the fly when asked to replace the existing one.

Another example of a simple but powerful enhancement is the new All Languages dictionary. If you publish in multiple languages, this will save you real time. If you have words, such as proper names, used in your various documents, you previously had to add such words to each language dictionary you used. Now, you can add such terms just once to the All Languages dictionary, and no matter what language you are publishing in, InDesign will consult this dictionary as well as the local language one.

A third is the ability to draw a frame in which to place a graphic during import, so InDesign then automatically sizes the image to fit in that frame. InDesign CS4 also adds more controls on how multiple files can be placed at once time into a grid of frames.

In the “fixing an obvious omission” department: the Story Editor can now show table text. And if you use the companion InCopy program, you will now see changes to text in tables tracked, not just changes to text outside of tables. Other such “fixing omissions” enhancements include the ability to join paths, a way to compare style groups’ settings across documents in a book, the ability to choose how many recently opened files appear in the “recent files” list, and the ability to choose what program to edit a placed graphic or text file with. Various controls now have nudge buttons to make it easier to increase or decrease settings like size. Plus, when you move pages in your document, InDesign now moves objects that were on the pages’ pasteboards along with the pages. And you can now right-click or control-click tools in the Tools panel to see related tools in the pop-out menus; that makes InDesign conform better to the contextual menu model. An easy-to-miss addition involves InDesign's new Smart Text Reflow feature, which lets you specify whether and where InDesign automatically adds or removes pages as you add or remove text. This extends the basic functionality of InDesign's existing autoflow option; the autoflow feature remains available.

Adobe has beefed up the Hyperlinks panel, making previous capabilities more visible. And it now lets you rename hyperlinks you create from text selections, which can clarify your hyperlink choices later on. Adobe has also altered the panel for working with buttons and states—the actions that occur when you press buttons—to better expose its capabilities. (What was previously the States panel is now the Buttons panel, and the old Button tool is gone.) This is useful housecleaning, but I believe the Hyperlinks panel remains too complicated and could stand a more thorough redesign.

Adobe has tweaked the dock interface introduced in InDesign CS3, so you can now float the dock (the side element that holds the current workspace’s panels). But you can no longer close a panel within a panel group; you must now drag it out into its own panel group and then close that single-item panel group. But I’m not sure these tweaks really help that much, and they may cause confusion.

Finally, Adobe has removed the Navigator panel, instead using enhanced zoom controls via the mouse. That’s a small step in simplifying InDesign’s considerably complex set of interface elements.

What Adobe has ignored

Despite the variety of tweaks, Adobe has ignored some flaws in InDesign. Foremost is its approach to transparency and lighting effects on text. You cannot select a string of text and apply such effects, as you can in QuarkXPress. You can apply them only to all the text in selected frames. InDesign introduced transparency to desktop publishing, so it’s odd that this omission from InDesign CS2 remains an omission two editions later.

Another CS2-era omission involves the autocorrect feature, which lets you tell InDesign to replace user-defined text strings with different ones. Like the similar feature in Microsoft Word, it lets InDesign correct common misspellings as you type. It also can be used to replace abbreviations with the full term. But it still can’t use special symbols, such as em dashes or copyrights, either in the search terms or their automatic corrections.

And InDesign CS4 doesn’t provide an option to automatically replace double hyphens with em dashes as you place and enter text. Given that Microsoft Word still gets this wrong (it replaces double hyphens with en dashes), it would be very useful to get this autoreplacement right in InDesign—and save us all from having to remember the keyboard shortcut for dashes.

The revised Links panel displays more information about links, including thumbnails of images. New controls include hyperlinks to the pages each image appears on, and the ability to replace all image files with one filename extension to same-named files using a different extension; this is very handy to replace for-position-only JPEG preview images with production-quality TIFF or PSD images.

In the area of layout, InDesign CS4 still doesn’t handle text wraps correctly with bulleted and numbered lists. When such lists are in a text frame that wraps around another object, you’d expect InDesign to adjust the lists so the bullets and numbers are properly positioned and that the indent after them is adjusted to take the wrap into account—just as InDesign does if you apply a left margin or first-line indent to text. But InDesign doesn’t make such adjustments for bulleted and numbered lists, and the only workaround is to adjust the frame itself so the other object doesn’t intrude into it.

Finally, I don’t understand InDesign’s inconsistent hyperlink export. Hyperlinks applied to text are retained when you export to HTML, but not hyperlinks applied to graphics. Adobe says that’s because InDesign doesn’t export objects such as lines and frames, and a hyperlink applied to a graphic is actually applied to its frame. But that’s not how people see it; you can’t apply a hyperlink to a graphic other than through its frame, so the net effect is that you lose those links when exporting the file for use in the very medium that hyperlinks are designed for. Also puzzling is why InDesign strips out hyperlinks in files exported to Flash, since Flash supports such links. Adobe needs to rethink its hyperlink limitations, both for Flash and HTML output.

As Adobe works to integrate its Creative Suite further, it should consider offering a WYSIWYG HTML export, à la QuarkXPress, so people can use InDesign as a wireframing program for initial Web design. But I don’t recommend that Adobe eliminate its current basic HTML export, which converts styles to CSS and exports the constituent text and graphics to raw HTML-friendly versions so you can construct a Web page from them. I suggest that InDesign offer both approaches, so if you’re mocking up a site, you can retain its core layout parameters for further refinement in Dreamweaver. And if you’re taking print content as raw material for the Web, the layout context is removed so the Web designer isn’t encumbered by it. They’re both valid approaches, so why not offer both?

Macworld’s buying advice

I like InDesign CS4. It enhances many small aspects of the program without dramatic changes to its user interface or operations. And it adds a half dozen or so new or significantly improved features, such as smart guides and improved link management, that will make designers’ lives easier.

Still, compared to the previous version, it’s a middling upgrade—so you get less for your $199 than you did going from InDesign CS2 to InDesign CS3. If you’re upgrading the Creative Suite anyhow, then moving to InDesign CS4 is a no-brainer. But if you’re paying for the InDesign CS4 upgrade separately, I see no must-have features that would make me jump from InDesign CS3 immediately to the new version; I’d consider it instead as a, “hey, if you’ve got $200 to spare, why not?” upgrade. Upgrading from InDesign CS2 or earlier versions is a no-brainer—the combination of changes in CS3 and CS4 is amazing.

Of course, the $199 upgrade is a third less than the $299 Quark is charging for its QuarkXPress 8 upgrade, and that product has very few enhancements. So by that comparison, the InDesign CS4 upgrade is a bargain. If you are an XPress user, InDesign continues to widen the gap between the two programs. Unless you have a large investment in XPress-specific plug-ins and scripts, InDesign CS4’s enhancements should give you even more reason to switch.

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Ability to export files for further work in Flash Pro
    • New smart guides features make precise layouts easy
    • Improved link and preflighting management
    • Flexible cross-references capabilities
    • Several timesaving additions among enhancements


    • Text wrap doesn’t work for numbered and bulleted lists
    • Hyperlink export is uneven
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