Review: Adobe Creative Suite 4
Every successful freelancer knows their productivity is closely tied to the tools they use and the workflow they implement. So when a company, like Adobe, releases new versions of their suite of applications, we each have to make the decision to purchase, upgrade, or wait for more. With Creative Suite 3 only a couple of years old, the question is: are the gains worth the upgrade price? Is it time to buy, or time to wait? In short, will the money you invest now increase your productivity into the future?
The Highlight Reel
Most obvious, in the realms of change, is the interface (in the majority of the suite). Tabs now indicate multiple files, and the menu bars are flat, uninteresting, but unobtrusive. It’s a clean design which is easy on the eyes, once you get used to it. Assuming you don’t disable it before it has a chance, the impact is noticeable.
There are also speed improvements across the board in CS4. Images render more efficiently, the applications open up faster than ever. The overall result is less wait time and more productivity. This certainly ranks as a major highlight in a world where new versions generally mean more bloat and slower processing (unless you upgrade your hardware as well).
The list of actual enhancements, additions, and changes for CS4 are quite extensive. Some applications, such as Premier Pro, bring a lot to the table. In comparison, not much was changed in Fireworks. Photoshop, at first glance, doesn’t seem to bring much new functionality to the table, but lists can be deceiving. The addition of fluid canvas rotation (shown above) will bring productivity increases to tablet users. The new Mask and Adjustment panel in Photoshop also make for smoother image manipulation.
In fact, combining Bridge and Photoshop, you can take advantage of a lot of the tools and capabilities mentioned in our Lightroom 2 review (minus some of the workflow advantages).
Adobe Flash changes and enhancements will be a contentious list for some, as it dynamically changes the application, making it more accessible to the masses. Inverse kinematics with the Bones tool, for example, will bring a new level of Flash presentations.
As Adobe’s recent Executive Summary (produced by Pfeiffer Consulting) suggests, Creative Suite 4 presents the strongest integration with the former Macromedia products to date. Dreamweaver, a prime example, can finally work with Adobe Photoshop Smart Objects, thus enhancing workflow for faster build time. Most of these integrations are behind the scenes, but it does present a more universal solution. The applications are finally starting to feel like they belong together, versus a mismatched set of tools which you find a way to combine for your tasks.
Room for Improvement
As mentioned previously, the majority of the applications in Creative Suite 4 have a universal look and feel. Some love it, some hate it, and thankfully, Adobe gives you the ability to disable some of it if you choose. It’s not quite universal, but obviously, Adobe is making headway. Again, if you have (or plan to purchase) CS4, be sure to give the new look a chance.
Again, while Pfeiffer’s report is accurate, it isn’t saying much, as the integration was sorely lacking compared to the related counterparts (GoLive versus Dreamweaver, for example). And even with the changes, the integration could still be more fluid, more intuitive, and less cumbersome, in some cases. This could go a long way in solidifying the usefulness of the entire suite.
It is the nature of software to have bugs here and there, and Creative Suite 4 is no exception. A couple of examples: Fireworks still doesn’t display .psd files correctly (as noted in our review of CS3 here. If you have Illustrator maximized and open a new file from your file system, Illustrator resizes the application. Dreamweaver, even with a new feature, has issues with WYSIWYG (as shown above in the before and after example). Head scratching issues, to be sure, but none leading to a complete breakdown of functionality.
Adobe has also been polling its user base for future releases. Asking what features they would like to see, and notifying removal of functionality where they can. While not everyone likes the changes that come with each version, it is nice to know Adobe is listening.
A Personal Fit
We took a little time to check with other freelancers on this review as to their thoughts on Creative Suite 4. Each expressed they felt one particular application provided great improvements to their workflow, but others were lacking. Interestingly enough, they generally weren’t talking about the same program within CS4.
For example, one CS4 user mentioned the feature requests they had put in (after seeing a screencast of a rival application) were put into Photoshop by Adobe. He purchased the upgrade, stating:
“There were also features across the Design Premium suite that enticed me to upgrade, but for Photoshop in particular these pretty much sold me on the upgrade. I use these new tools all the time, and they have sped up my workflow considerably as I knew they would.”
Obviously, this would not be the case for every freelancer. Each of us has our own needs, key features, and workflow that is important to us.
Adobe Creative Suite 4 is quite the powerhouse of applications. Depending on your usage scenario, you may find a couple of key features to improve your productivity. If those enhancements can offset the cost for upgrading, then the answer is obvious: buy. Adobe improved upon Creative Suite 3 in many ways, but perhaps not enough for every existing user to get really excited about. If, however, you are still using applications from the Creative Suite 2 world or below, then the offering is well worth the price.
- Stronger integration
- Significant discount vs individual purchase
- Increased functionality
- Speed increases across all applications
- Still some head-scratching bugs
- For the money, most users won’t see a significant increase from CS3
- Integration still could be better
- Interface still lacks consistency
Adobe Creative Suite 4 is available here ranging from $999-$2,499.00 US (retail) or upgrade from $499-$799 (Design Web to Master Collection) US. Student editions are even further discounted.