Review: Adobe Creative Suite 3 Combines Two Creative Powerhouses

Adobe's release of Creative Suite 3 offers a look at what the merger of Adobe and Macromedia can bring to the table for image professionals.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 28, 2007

11 Min Read

When Adobe announced at the end of 2005 that it was merging with Macromedia, there was much hand-wringing in the creative community over which products would survive the merger.

For a time, Adobe simply stayed the course, offering both Macromedia Studio 8 and its own Adobe Creative Suite 2, while staffers worked to find ways to combine the best of both companies into a single cohesive group. Over the last year, it offered us glimpses of what was to come: Adobe added a Flash-based meeting tool from Macromedia to Acrobat 8, for example, and added the ability to insert Adobe PDFs directly into Contribute 4, a former Macromedia product. But it wasn’t until now, with the release of Creative Suite 3, that we got to see the full picture of how Adobe merged its products.

Adobe has divided the products into three logical groups aimed at different sets of creative professionals -- print, Web, and video post-production -- offering a premium and standard version of each. It also plans to release a Master Collection later this year with all of the products across all three Creative Suite product lines in a single box.

For this review, I looked at a beta of the Creative Suite 3 Web Premium edition. According to Adobe, Adobe Creative Suite 3 Design Premium and Standard, and Adobe Creative Suite 3 Web Premium and Standard will ship in April. Adobe Creative Suite 3 Production Premium will ship in the third quarter of 2007.

Overall, it seems that Adobe hasn't tried to come up with any major new functionality changes. Instead, it concentrated on providing a common look and feel, and on finding ways to leverage the strengths of both sets of products, creating easy links among the individual products and a smoother workflow. Most of the changes across individual products are incremental, not show-stoppers by any means, but it's certainly a reasonable start, and Adobe has done a good job facilitating integration across the suite.

What's In The Box?
If you're a Web professional, you won't be disappointed with the results. What follows is a brief description of the suite's contents, along with where it came from:

  • Dreamweaver CS3: Design, develop, and maintain Web sites and Web applications (Macromedia)

  • Flash CS3 Professional: Animation and interface development environment (Macromedia)

  • Photoshop CS3: Photo and image enhancement tool (Adobe)

  • Photoshop CS3 Extended : A set of extensions for Photoshop for vertical markets such as architects or medical researchers (Adobe)

  • Illustrator CS3: High-end drawing tool (Adobe)

  • Fireworks CS3: Image editor and vector-based graphics tool (Macromedia)

  • Contribute CS3: Web content editing tool (Macromedia)

  • Acrobat CS3 Professional: Document distribution, editing, and collaboration tool (Adobe)

Additional tools and utilities (all from Adobe) include: Adobe Bridge CS3 (content management), Version Cue CS3 (project management tool), Adobe Acrobat Connect (Flash-based online meeting tool), Adobe Device Central CS3 (online environment for managing a variety of devices), and Adobe Stock Photos (a subscription stock photo service and directory of photographers).

The Standard version includes everything but Acrobat, Illustrator, and the two Photoshop apps (making it more of a pure Macromedia product package). I can't help wondering they didn't at least include Acrobat in the Standard version.

Putting Adobe To Work
As you would expect, this is a lot of software, so anticipate taking at least an hour for installation (or longer depending on the speed of your machine). Adobe requires registration within 30 days, but in the beta at least, there was no activation requirement. If it remains this way, it will be a welcome change for a community that generally dislikes this requirement.

When you open up applications in Creative Suite 3 for the first time, you will see that Adobe has attempted to give them a common look and feel -- at least, to the extent possible when you have programs that perform such different functions. It is by no means a dramatic make-over, but it does let you know that all the components are part of the same family. Each has been assigned a new two-letter icon that makes it very easy to identify the program in the Windows Task Bar or when you are alt-tabbing through open programs in Windows Vista or XP.

Improved Integration
Adobe has built on the integration strengths of previous versions of Creative Suite and assembled ties among the different programs. For instance, you can edit a graphic in Contribute by right-clicking on the image and selecting "Edit in Fireworks." Fireworks opens, you edit and save, return to Contribute and the page updates with the changes you made in Fireworks. Or you can create a project in Photoshop, and then import it seamlessly into Flash.

There are lots of such hooks. In addition, Acrobat provides a means of distributing content for review using the PDF format to distribute content for review, while Acrobat Connect, the online meeting tool, enables a group of people to work together to brainstorm or edit site designs and content (after paying a yearly subscription fee).

What’s more, Adobe has established a standard check-in/check-out routine across much of the suite so that two employees can’t work on the same document at the same time, and Bridge, the content management tool in CS3, now includes hooks to allow IT to connect to other enterprise content repositories such as Digital Asset Management. .

Improved Apps
However, when all is said and done, Creative Suite 3 lives on the reputation of its individual pieces. Each application still has to prove that it can do the job that its adherents expect it to do.

  • Dreamweaver
    It comes as no surprise that Macromedia's Dreamweaver beat out Adobe's GoLive as the Web development tool of choice in Creative Suite 3, Web Premium Edition. Dreamweaver has long been a favorite of Web developers, garnering the lion's share of the market over the years.

    This latest version doesn't have anything new that made me really stand up and take notice. One feature I liked, however, is the new Spry concept. Spry offers an Ajax programming framework designed to help Web professionals build Ajax functionality into the site more easily. It also helps you create widgets and effects. I'm by no means a coding professional, but I was able to insert a drop-down menu, switch to code view, and edit the contents in fairly short order. Some of the other Spry elements are more complex, however, and require more programming knowledge.

    In addition, there is fine integration with Photoshop, including the ability to copy individual layers and paste them directly into Dreamweaver, or insert Photoshop PSD files as images in a Dreamweaver project (where they are converted to JPG or PNG formats). Of course, there is still integration among the formerly Macromedia products, such as the ability to edit graphics in Fireworks or insert Flash objects seamlessly into a Dreamweaver design.

  • Contribute
    Contribute gives your nontechnical contributors the ability to edit Web page content without affecting the underlying design, freeing up design personnel to do what they do best. The application was upgraded last fall, and there don't appear to be any major new features beyond the CS3 makeover and making it Vista- and Office 2007-compatible.

    The last upgrade included the ability to edit blog content; smoothed integration with Microsoft Office 2003 via tools in the button bar (and now, the ribbon in Office 2007); and offered the ability to add PDF content, videos, and images directly to a Web site or blog, and (as before) review the changes before publishing.

    These features should appeal to enterprise users who want to get into blogging, but might be intimidated by the process. You can generate blog content in Word (a tool most people are comfortable using), and publish to Contribute (or edit content directly in Contribute if you prefer), then send it to your blog (whether it's stored locally or via a blogging service like TypePad, Blogger, or WordPress). What's more, you can force the material through an editorial process if your company wants to have an approval layer, another feature that should appeal to managements who might be skittish about wide-open corporate blogs.

  • Flash
    Flash long ago grew beyond its roots as an animation tool and has recently focused on interface development for both the desktop and for portable devices such as cell phones.

    To that end, Adobe has created a new site called Device Central, where you can test your content on a variety of devices beyond the few that come standard with Flash (although when I went there, I didn't find much beyond some generic cell phone designs).

    Adobe also has increased the power of copy and paste, including the ability to copy and paste filter information from one object to another. There also is increased integration with Photoshop, Bridge, and Version Cue, making it easy to share Flash content across the suite.

  • Photoshop
    The venerable Photoshop image editor is an important tool in any Web professional's arsenal. Like the other programs in the suite, Photoshop has been given a common feel, but if you prefer, you can change to a "Legacy" look (a feature not available across the rest of the suite).

    There are incremental changes, including integration with Photoshop Lightroom and improved printing. Others include the ability to pick and choose layers, and copy and paste them into Dreamweaver and Flash (or to import entire Photoshop files). It's important to note that that the file integration is limited, meaning once you move Photoshop images into other programs, they are transformed into JPG or PNG files, so if you make changes to the image in Photoshop, you must replace it in Dreamweaver or Flash. However, the level of integration is still decent, given this is the first attempt.

    Other Apps, Other Changes
    The two graphics tools, Illustrator and Fireworks, also have been redone with the new CS3 look and feel, with Adobe repositioning the latter as a Web prototyping tool more than a graphics tool (although it's still that, too). Adobe also has included access to a stock photo repository (for a fee) and the Adobe Photographers Directory, a search facility for finding photographers worldwide, but I expect these will have limited appeal.

    Bridge and Version Cue (the project management tool), have been given a substantial redesign. While their basic purposes and functionality remain unchanged, they have a new look to match the rest of the suite and a cleaner, more professional feel.

    Overall, Adobe has done a great job of integrating the products from two very different companies into a single cohesive set of products. The integration could (and probably will) go deeper with subsequent releases, but this is certainly a good start, and Web professionals should be happy with the choices Adobe has made.

    With the merger behind them, I'm sure Adobe's programmers are looking forward to finding new ways to integrate and update these products, but for now at least, they deserve kudos for a job well done

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