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Adobe Accelerates Release Cycle With CS 5.5

HTML 5 tools, subscription pricing, and an interim "point release" strategy are among the vendors attempts to remain relevant in an era of rapid software iteration.

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Adobe on Monday plans to announce the imminent arrival of its Creative Suite 5.5 product line, a mere year after the release of Creative Suite 5.0.

The updated suites of content creation tools for developers, designers, and media professionals herald a new release strategy for the company. Previously Adobe aimed to deliver "milestone" releases of its Creative Suite line at 18-month intervals. Now the company is extending that waiting period to 24 months for milestone releases while committing to "point releases" -- from version 5.0 to 5.5, for example -- during the interim.

The change reflects an attempt to remain relevant in an era of rapid software iteration, which is exemplified by Google's release schedule. Google makes a point of releasing improved versions of its Web software early and often, sometimes on a weekly or daily basis. Adobe realizes it has to move faster, or at least appear to do so.

As Adobe VP and general manager of the Creative Suite line Dave Burkett put it at a press preview event last week, "We can't afford, on behalf of our customers or their challenges, to stay out of the market for two years," he said.

The idea is that point releases will allow Adobe to remain current with evolving technology trends.

As it is shortening the silence between product drops, Adobe is also experimenting with a new mode of payment. The company is introducing a subscription pricing plan.

"This opens up the Creative Suite to a much broader audience," said Burkett. In other words, Adobe is trying to address complaints about how much its software costs.

Instead of paying $699 for Photoshop CS5, for example, customers will have the option to pay $49 per month, a bargain if you don't see your relationship with Photoshop lasting more than seven months. The Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 Master Collection, which consists of 15 core applications, will be offered for $195 per month.

CS 5.5 represents Adobe attempt to provide its customers with a better way to create content for multiple mobile devices, to author content in both Flash and HTML5, and to utilize tablets as input devices.

Though Apple's disdain for Flash and the growing capabilities of HTML5 have led to speculation that the days of Flash content are numbered, Adobe maintains that Flash-enabled devices are on the rise. The company says it expects 131 million smartphones will support Flash Player by the end of the year, 200 million if you include tablets. Apple's iOS does not support Flash Player but CS 5.5 applications like Flash Builder and Flash Professional now incorporate Adobe's Flash Packager technology to convert Flash content so that it runs on iOS devices.

Better still, Adobe is making good on its commitment to provide HTML5 tools with products like Dreamweaver CS 5.5. The Web page layout and coding tool now supports the JQuery and PhoneGap mobile frameworks, making it easier for programmers to create mobile Web apps.

If there's a single best feature among the myriad improvements in the CS 5.5 applications, it's the Warp Stabilizer in After Effects 5.5. The Warp Stabilizer does a credible job of turning shaky, handheld video into smooth camera movement. It won't replace Steadicams or dolly shots but it will eliminate the need for nausea medicine when viewing poorly shot video. It will help amateurs look more professional and will help professionals finish their post-production work faster.

Adobe is also releasing the Photoshop Touch SDK, a set of developer APIs for creating applications that interact with Photoshop. Developers will be able to create applications on Android, BlackBerry, or iOS devices that allow those devices to control Photoshop functions.

One example shown at the press event was Adobe Color Lava, an iPad app that turns the iPad's touchscreen into a surface for mixing colors. The app allows the user to transfer custom colors to Photoshop. Adobe Color Lava, along with two other iOS apps made with the Photoshop Touch SDK, Adobe Eazel and Adobe Nav, will be available from Apple's iTunes app store for prices ranging from $1.99 to $4.99.

Adobe says its Creative Suite 5.5 products will ship within 30 days. List prices are as follows: $2599 for CS5.5 Master Collection, $1899 for CS5.5 Design Premium, $1799 for CS5.5 Web Premium, US$1699 for CS5.5 Production Premium and US$1299 for CS5.5 Design Standard. Upgrade pricing is also available.

Update: Corrected pricing information.

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