After sneak peeks, rumours, speculation, outright trash talking, and the announcement of an announcement, Adobe's Creative Suite 4 is finally here. We've taken an in-depth look at beta versions of the individual applications, but what do we make of it overall?
Well, after CS3's emphasis on turning InDesign layouts into flashy interactive Web sites with animated controls like something out of Minority Report, adding Hollywood-level visual effects to your PDF documents, and sending presentations to mobile phones where people can ignore them as easily on the move as they can in the office, CS4 sets its sights on something more appealing to the majority of creatives -- making your life easier by allowing you to work faster and do tasks in less steps.
These range for the multiple artboards in Illustrator so you can design different versions of an ad (say A3, A4 and a Web banners to boot) and Smart Guides in InDesign for quickly lining up images and text boxes, to the new tabbed interface across the design tools -- which is second nature to use now that all of the major Web browsers use tabs.
CS4 does include new features for working across media -- but they're accessible to more users. Being able to move whole projects from one application to another is great for large design studios and/or projects, but smaller teams -- which includes most of the UK design industry -- and less grand-scale work requires less far-reaching tools. So we're pleased to see simplified Flash output in InDesign for creating SWF-based interactive mock-ups of brochures, magazines or whatever that will impress clients -- though whoever thought allowing transitions such as blinds and clock wipes as you progress from one page to the next was a good idea should be forced to watch all of the terrible corporate presentations that will use these until they claw their own eyes out.
There are few features that will wow you -- Premiere Pro's Speech Search automatic audio transcription tool is the only one that springs to mind, and that's again designed to help you work quicker, rather than make you more creative -- and it's the long awaited underlying additions that will grab the most attention. These include the overall interface tune-up with tabs and tiles, multiple artboards in Illustrator, the search tools in the video apps, the timeline overhaul in Flash. It's all about getting it done and getting it out the door (and you out the door home or to the pub).
CS4 doesn't include everything we'd hoped for -- for example, After Effects desperately needs a proper colour swatch system, background rendering, a proper nodal system and a 64-bit version -- but in total, this seems to be as collection of products worth investing it to save yourself time and avoid production hassles. Watch out for our final reviews when the products ship next month.