Adobe used to keep schtumm about new versions of its creative tools, not letting out a peep to the public until grandiose announcements shortly before boxed copies it shelves. Over the past year or two though, the company has opened up a little, offering sneak peaks and public betas -- discussing future features and offering public betas of software through its Adobe Labs site.
This is unusual as many companies have been more close-mouthed about future releases recently, often blaming American anti-fraud legislation. But since acquiring Macromedia, Adobe has become a linchpin of the Web design and development market, where continual and open(ish) product development are the norm - and has changed to fit this approach. The company is careful in its wording -- the real effect of Sarbenes-Oxley -- so instead of saying that new features will definitely appear in the next release of particular tools, the company gives "technology previews" and public betas. Semantics aside though, it's pre-announcing new features in way that would have been rather surprising a few years ago.
So what we learned so far?
You can read about the new features in the Creative Suite 4 versions of Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Soundbooth in our news story on their release as public betas – but what's more interesting are the underlying changes that Adobe have been working on.
According to the senior product manager for Photoshop John Nack, all of the applications are going to have the same extensible architecture based on Flash and the Flex development platform (which is like Flash's nerdy brother). This means that more developers can write add-ons for everything from Photoshop to After Effects to Dreamweaver -- but it should also allow those add-ons to work across many -- if not all -- of Adobe apps. So if you're unhappy with AE's dated colour choose system -- and we are -- you can easily add the Kuler colour scheme-creation system.
This approach should also allow Adobe to quickly add features across multiple applications, so don't end up being annoyed that certain features -- such as Illustrator's Live Color system -- are only available in one version.
Now this could mean than you end up installing too much extra crap -- because someone's bound to create frivolous kitten-infected extensions and you'll end up overloading your system like when you first discovered Applications on Facebook, installed any your 'friends' sent you and ended up with a profile page that took 10 minutes to scroll down. But as long as they're as easy to remove as add, it'll work out fine in the end.
Nack's also been dropping hints that CS4 will include Thermo, the still-in-private-development tool so non-geeky designers can create attractive front-ends for Web applications (and kinda like Adobe's answer to Microsoft Expression Blend).
Creative Suite 4 will also see 64-bit support added across the line of applications. Nack -- who seems to be Adobe's approved provider of teaser info about CS4 -- has been playing this down to us, saying that it's not going to make a huge difference to most users. And he's right for most current Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator users - but for anyone dealing with lots of images (or frames) at once in a non-real-time environment, it can make a huge performance difference. Creatives would love to see 64-bit version of After Effects and Bridge, and the reaction to the public beta of a 64-bit version of Lightroom was very positively received.
There's still six months to go until we expect Creative Suite to be released -- Adobe generally works to an 18-month release schedule -- so expect more news over the coming months.