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    Adobe ups the graphics ante yet again

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver August 2-8, 2005; issue 823

    High Tech Office column

    A little more than a year ago, this column looked at Adobe's then-new Creative Suite, a bundle of that company's powerful tools for graphics, print, and Web publishing, including industry standards such as Photoshop and Acrobat ("Adobe hoping to establish its latest software bundle," March 2-8, 2004). A year later finds a new edition, Creative Suite 2 for Windows and Mac users.

    Like the first edition, it bundles a lot of first-rate applications at a bonus price, at least compared to buying or upgrading two or more of the applications. This time around, there's a modest price drop (about $1,500 full purchase price, or $725 for those upgrading from the earlier version), and better integration between the various components.

    A new application, Bridge, runs on its own or can be called from within the Creative Suite 2 applications. It offers thumbnail views of the various supported graphics and publishing formats, along with lots of other features such as keyword search, drag-and-drop file import, batch processing, and more to let users manage large collections of documents.

    The downside is that Bridge, like Creative Suite 2 in general, can be sluggish unless you're prepared to feed it lots of computer memory. Think a gigabyte or more RAM to comfortably use this suite.

    Creative Suite 2's Web development program, GoLive (not included in the lower-cost Standard Edition) adds the ability to repackage standard-sized Web pages for better display on small-screen portable devices, such as PDAs and smart phones. Designers working full-time within Adobe's product line will find it easier to bring layouts from Adobe's InDesign into GoLive.

    The new version of Illustrator, Adobe's line-art program, is perhaps the most improved component of Creative Suite 2. Live Trace builds on Adobe's old Streamline application, taking bitmap art such as photos and converting them into Illustrator-style outlines. It's fast, easy to configure and experiment with, and fun to use. It makes it easy to move sketches originally created on paper into digital equivalents.

    The new Live Paint feature intelligently colours those tracings. A new interface makes Illustrator feel more familiar to Photoshop jockeys.

    InDesign is Adobe's page layout application, still trying to unseat industry-leader Quark XPress. This new version also sees significant enhancements, including the ability to export pieces of pages: text blocks, tables, graphics as separate, easily reusable files. A new Object Styles palette makes it easier to keep appearance consistent throughout a document. Imported Photoshop graphics now keep their layer comps, letting you view a variety of choices within a single imported graphic.

    By bundling InDesign with Photoshop, Adobe smartly makes it more likely that current Quark-users will give it a try.

    Photoshop Creative Suite 2 gains perhaps the most dramatic new feature in the suite: Vanishing Point. Once a perspective grid is defined, text or images pasted in are automatically warped to fit, a neat way to, say, realistically add a sign or new windows to a photo of a building. New Smart Objects can be scaled while keeping the original information, so they can be restored to the original size with no loss of quality. Additions from Adobe's consumer-oriented Photoshop Elements include that program's red eye tool, spot healing brush, and noise reduction feature.

    Also included in Creative Suite 2's Professional version: Adobe Acrobat. As in the Suite's first incarnation, this powerful program for creating PDF files remains poorly integrated with the rest of the suite.

    While the new features in Creative Suite 2's components, the lower price, and the improved integration are all worthwhile, some customers may want to wait for the next edition; shortly after releasing Creative Suite 2, Adobe announced that it was purchasing long-time rival Macromedia. That company's product line includes best-of-breed Web creation program Dreamweaver and the Flash Web animation standard. A future Creative Suite featuring the best of the combined Adobe and Macromedia product lines would be many graphic and design professionals' must-have package.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan