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Adobe Creative Suite 5 (CS5) Review

by The Review CrewMay 30, 2010

Often when software gets to be of a certain age—or a certain version number—it starts showing its wrinkles, even if it’s dressed up in snazzy new clothes and sports some shiny new skills. Not so with Adobe’s Creative Suite 5: Comprising over a dozen of the most powerful design and production apps on the market, all of which (except Acrobat) have received some degree of tweaking to improve the way they work alone and together, it looks as bright-eyed and optimistic as a kid on summer vacation. Windows and Mac users across a dizzying array of disciplines—from photo editing to publishing to film editing—will find something to help them, and will probably find something in CS5 they hadn’t previously thought possible. With apps available individually or as part of several expansive collections, there’s something for everyone who wants to do creative work faster, smarter, and better.

Overall, the changes made to the apps this time around eclipse those made in CS4, affecting the apps in ways both large and small. If you just upgraded when that version was released in late 2008, you probably won’t need to do so again now, unless there’s a feature you’re simply dying for. Any way you look at it, that can be an expensive proposition. Check out the pricing table in Adobe Creative Suite 5 Unleashed for details on pricing for new purchases and upgrades.

But because of the dispersion of the apps among those collections, you’re almost certain to find a lot that’s new in each one. Design Standard is the closest to a “basic” package, offering mostly what you need for effectively working in print. (Because one of CS5’s key features is easy Web conversion, however, you’ll be publishing your documents online almost as easily.) If you need slightly more power, go for Design Premium, which adds tools for building Web sites and other Internet applications. If you don’t need the traditional print apps, Web Premium has you covered, and further expands your abilities to produce animation and other interactive content. Production Premium is optimized for use with film, video, and audio, and provides lots of different ways to edit and intercut all three. (There are no Web Standard or Production Standard editions.) Need absolutely everything? Master Collection has it—and the heftiest price tag.

Of course you can reduce the necessary cash outlay by upgrading, and there are plenty of paths to do that. You can get lower prices on each of the “smaller” collections if you own any of the apps included in that suite, and you can get a big discount on the Master Collection if you own any of the other collections. The individual programs have similar upgrade pricing structures, as well, so you won’t necessarily have to empty your bank account just to buy one app. (Even if it’s the $999 Photoshop CS5 Extended, which introduces so many impressive new features that the 20-year-old app is able to maintain all its original spunk.)

You’ll benefit from owning more than one app, too, as CS5 has been significantly reworked to provide additional benefit to users of multiple programs. You can flip easily back and forth between the vector graphics editor, Illustrator, and the new design-oriented animation maker Flash Catalyst, for example. Things you create in the full-fledged app designer Flash Professional can easily incorporate into InDesign projects, thus erasing still more boundaries between print and the Web. Adobe Bridge is still around to help you find what you need for any program, but some of the apps also now sport Mini Bridge, which offers all the same functionality in a panel that will keep you focused on the app you’re using rather than taking you out of the window. Some of the apps have even revamped the workspace concept, giving you more control over your default layouts and any changes you may want to make to them.

Even more connections are established by way of the new CS Live online services (which are available separately). CS Review can integrate documents from Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, and allow colleagues to view and comment non-destructively online. Web designers will probably adore BrowserLab, which lets you preview sites and test local content in a variety of different Web browsers on a wide selection of operating systems. Adobe Story may give users of the Production Premium apps a new way to produce and monetize their videos: It can follow the script process from start to finish, even eventually treating lines of dialogue as metadata in the final product. Then, of course, there’s still Adobe.com (introduced with CS4), for more direct conferencing and collaboration. Adobe promises that more CS Live services are on the way, too.

There have been under-the-hood enhancements as well, from increased support for 64-bit CPUs (Premiere even got a wholly new 64-bit video playback engine) to hardware acceleration with supported video cards in Photoshop, Premiere, and After Effects and InDesign’s use of multithreading when exporting documents so you can do other things while your final product composes itself.

InDesign, in fact, may have had the most work done: It’s received major new interface and usability elements that don’t just make it easier for beginners, but make it easier for veterans of its brother and sister applications as well. It’s now a complete, integral part of Adobe Creative Suite 5, although one not everyone might think about on a daily basis. But it represents the care and attention that have gone into improving even the most everyday aspects of some of these most everyday programs.

It’s the combination of innovation, integration, and attention to detail that makes Creative Suite 5 great. Regardless of your field of expertise, and regardless of whether you use Creative Suite 5’s apps alone or together, you’ll agree that CS5 is an impressive work. Of course, you’ll be a lot happier if you’re paying upgrade prices, but then many designers will be. But even for those who pay the full price are bound to agree that Adobe Creative Suite 5 is well deserving of a PCMag Editors’ Choice award.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.