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Adobe Creative Suite 2 Premium
Comprehensive suite of graphics, web and publishing applications.

By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting
Thursday July 28, 2005; 2:30pm EST

Having an all-in-one web development suite is somewhat of a recent phenomenon. Not long ago, web designers would need to coble together applications from a variety of companies to establish a suitable web production environment. Today, you can pick up a single shrink wrap box, that will handle not only all of your web, but traditional media publishing as well, in an attractive integrated cost effective package.

For quite some time, Adobe has offered a collection of popular tools to design graphics, create web sites, and create internet portable documents - but it is now that they have truly integrated them all into a single seamless environment. The new Adobe Creative Suite 2 Premium includes the latest CS2 versions of PhotoShop, Illustrator, InDesign, GoLive and Version Cue; the new Acrobat Professional version 7 and Adobe Bridge. Something for every stage of the web design and development process excluding the back end application environment. The wildly popular PhotoShop, Illustrator and Acrobat applications used extensively around the globe by design firms, have long been viewed as some of the leading tools for their related categories, it's great to see them all together.

This review covers the Windows platform version; a Mac version is also available. The premium edition we review can also be purchased in a less costly ($300 off the Premium price) standard edition that excludes the Adobe Acrobat Premium 7 and GoLive CS2 applications. Installation of this big boy in its entirety takes a whopping 4 CD's all carefully prepared in a convenient "flip panel" style DVD box. The attractively produced installation process is effortless, allowing you to easily install as much or as little as desired; and your progress throughout the install process is well indicated.

Once installed, you now have access to several distinct tools all available off the Start menu's 'Adobe' folder. Also during the sign-up, registration and product activation process Adobe helps to foster a community like atmosphere by inviting you into their user support community offering product enhancements; discussion forums; tips, tricks and articles for improving your Adobe product skills; and complimentary fonts or trial subscription to your choice of design magazines. All a nice touch to make you feel welcome.

Illustrator, PhotoShop, ImageReady and GoLive load into a clean interface with an abundance of creative tools for composing your masterpiece. Their interface uses a left hand side floating toolbar featuring commonly used tools; a left side collection of floating dockers and tool attribute are configurable along the top fixed bar. Within each docker, tabbed pages of settings hold a bulk of the configurable parameters and object manipulation such as colour selection, layer control and brush styles. Generally the interface is clean, intuitive and for the most part offers quick access to commonly used tools. While changing tool parameters such as rectangle border width was easy in Illustrator; it was more of a challenge in PhotoShop, so not all applications operate identically. Overall you have significant control over customizing your work environment in these applications, a critical feature for designers that are forever looking for more screen real estate while still having the tools they need readily available. Lets have a look at the key applications included in the suite...

Illustrator, as the name suggests, is the illustration package that allows for you to create vector based drawn images. Providing you with a variety of brush, shape and other artistic tools you can compose vector based drawings and layouts that are excellent for print based media. A major new feature to this version of Illustrator is a live tracing format that converts images into vector based drawings you can better manipulate.

PhotoShop the image editing tool is well suited to designing web based graphics and exporting them into your preferred choice of compressed format. In addition to the plethora of creative filters, and tools usually found in PhotoShop, some new goodies have been added. New to this version is a vanishing point tool that attempts to assist you in the process of extending the size of objects such as buildings while retaining perspective. Our attempts at using the vanishing point tool proved challenging, especially aligning the perspective of the vanishing point with the actual object's perspective. We were however impressed with the luminance feature which artificially determined the lighting variance as the object was extended. A Smart Objects feature that retains the quality of objects even after they have been scaled in size was a highly desirable feature we expect all designers to appreciate. An image wrap feature now allows you to better wrap, stretch and bend an image to the shape you desire. We were very impressed with PhotoShop's handling of fonts and text manipulation. Fonts come out highly legible in any size, microscopic to gigantic (even allowing half font point sizes) thanks to its excellent font rendering, and the ability to apply "Sharp", "Crisp", "Strong" and other styles to the fonts. Its ability to do live resizing, rotating and scaling of text works beautifully and still retains the quality of text unexpectedly well. It was strange however that when you highlight text to experiment with fonts, that the highlighting is in black with poor inverting - forcing you to remove the highlight every time you make a change to see if the desired results have been achieved. Adobe Bridge does a great job of showcasing available images, and its live scaling allows you to customize exact thumbnail sizes to your liking. Adobe Bridge is now also an easy access point to stock libraries where you can purchase licenses for use in your designs. PhotoShop is by no means an easy application to master, and you should therefore allow for somewhat of a steep learning curve to master its abilities.

GoLive, is the HTML and web site development tool of the suite. GoLive is the all-in-one site manager that allows page composition, asset management and publishing to FTP or secured FTP servers. While we found it had all the standard and enhanced tools you would find in such an application, its overall intuitiveness was sometimes lacking. Some of the live page composition tools were too fidgety such as the table creation and manipulation tools; and editing individual Cells required tabbing to the correct properties tab to change its properties. When modifying the colour of objects, having to hold down the mouse button to select the colour was awkward and could have been more intuitively designed. Text seemed to require a right mouse click and selection of the Font property from a laundry list of items, when this should be an attribute available as part of the common tool bars. New features for this version include the ability to manipulate PhotoShop and PDF objects at the layer level while in the GoLive environment. A feature that allows developers using Adobe InCopy to dole out different segments of a document to different developers to concurrently work on the same content. GoLive's multi view options let you view your web page in WYSIWYG mode, code mode, split mode, Preview mode and even PDF review mode. The ability to zoom in the WYSIWYG was a nice touch we have not seen on other web page design packages. GoLive is also very much into CSS, with visual editing tools making it easy to produce CSS compliant visual elements for both standard browsers and mobile devices.

Adobe Acrobat enabled conversion of documents in other formats, multiple documents in multiple formats, scanned images and web pages into portable documents that are viewable by an incredibly large install base around the world. The excellent part of PDF files is that they retain their look and feel such as fonts, irrespective of where they go, unlike many other formats. Adobe Acrobat Professional 7 isn't a document composition program, but rather a way of changing other documents into the Acrobat format. In addition to its ability to retain the intended look and feel of a document, there are a vast range of other features that can be applied such as secure documents, managed document distribution, version control, commenting and digital signature capabilities. It even has the ability to create forms that users can fill out, attach digital signatures and submit from the PDF to a centralized email address for collection by a centralized entity. With Acrobat Professional 7, it made converting documents to the format incredibly easy by adding "Convert to Adobe PDF" drop downs in just about every application imaginable. With a couple mouse clicks your documents are converted over without any other input required.

Unfortunately, PDF rendering time was considerably higher than expected. Converting a typical one page invoice with one graphic and a handful of tables took 16 seconds to fully convert into a PDF file. We were hoping for slightly faster if this were to be a tool that is used on a daily basis. Rendering of PDF files are generally very good, but not perfect, with table lines continuing several pixels past there intended stopping point and some images having a "jagged edged" effect. Nothing major, but when being used as a brochure distribution method or for invoicing you want everything to be as close to perfect as possible. We did encounter a number of times where the plug-ins to the applications we used such as Microsoft Word would break causing the Acrobat program to stop producing PDF files for that document format. Although the remedy is not difficult, its continual reoccurrence was bothersome. Adobe has done an excellent job, however, of improving the load times of existing PDF files through the use of an 'Acrobat Speed Launcher' found in the Windows Startup folder.

The help tool provided with the suite did an acceptable job of answering common questions. Our search for "text rotation" came up with a variety of highly applicable results that answered our questions and more.

Performance was not the suite's strong point. While going through the various applications, load times were by no means fast. GoLive for example takes upwards of 10 seconds, PhotoShop a full 15 seconds, and Illustrator a whopping 26 seconds to load on our well specified test box (Dell Dimension XPS Gen3, Pentium 4 3.6GHz with 1GB memory, SATA 160GB drive, and ATI X800SE graphics card). Even Adobe Bridge (several seconds), took longer to load than hoped considering it is just for viewing images.

Overall Adobe offers a solid package for all of your creative endeavors, it really is a creative "suite" in the truest sense of the word. With all the components you need, conveniently wired together to help you expedite your design and document projects. There were some shortcomings in the intuitiveness department and generally slower than average load times. However, each application is absolutely brimming with features and functionality that is frankly rare to find in such concentration -- essentially allowing you to do fully exercise your creativity. If you look at the individual tools and compare them to competition such as PhotoShop to Corel PhotoPaint or GoLive to Macromedia Dreamweaver or Microsoft FrontPage they are in stiff competition, and at this point are more to be decided on a personal preference level than anything else. PhotoShop handles some image and text manipulation better than PhotoPaint, but PhotoPaint has an easier interface and lesser learning curve to deal with. GoLive does well at utilizing the latest CSS and design methods; while FrontPage again offers a more intuitive interface and design tools but suffers from relying on less leading edge technologies. Direct competition to Adobe Creative Suite 2 Premium would be Macromedia's Studio MX 2004. While Dreamweaver MX could arguably be a more attractive HTML design tool, Adobe's suite would crush Macromedia's suite in the graphics design department without exception. However Macromedia's Flash is an essential animated graphics tool that is widely used in web design and viewed by an enormous install base that Adobe's suite could certainly use. Ultimately trying these applications either in a suite or individually by means of trial downloads is the best way to get a feel of what tools work best for your needs and working style.

Creative Suite 2 comes in Windows and Mac varieties. Windows installations require a Pentium III or 4 processor; 512mb to 1gb memory; 3gb of drive space for full installation; 1024x768 24-bit colour display; and Windows 2000 with SP4 or Windows XP with SP1 or SP2 installed. Mac installations require a PowerPC G4 or G5 processor; 512mb to 1gb memory; 4gb of drive space for full installation; 1024x768 24-bit colour display; and Mac OS X v.10.2.8 to v.10.4 and the Java Runtime Environment 1.4.1. Adobe Creative Suite 2 Premium has a recommended retail price of $1,199.00USD with an upgrade version available for $549.00USD for users with qualifying products. Academic pricing is available for qualifying students at $399.00USD. Note that from time to time Adobe may have rebate offers specific to this product. Creative Suite 2 Premium is available immediately at all major computer and electronics retailers; and the Adobe web site online store. Product activation is required for this title.

PROS - All your favorite industry leading design tools in one convenient package; all included applications are incredibly feature rich; some positive new enhancements to the individual applications; great integration between applications and 3rd party applications; help system provides useful responses; package price is affordable when considering the sheer wealth of tools included; little niceties added throughout applications that are not apparent in competing offerings.

CONS - Bugs in relation to Acrobat plug-ins; sluggish application load times even on a well specified machine; steep learning curve to get around interface for some included applications; slow PDF rendering times and slight inconsistencies from the original; design tools sometimes cumbersome or unintuitive.

About The Author
Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.


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