Adobe InDesign CS review: Adobe InDesign CS

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.0
  • Setup and interface: 9.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Service and support: 7.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Nested styles and XML support; new Story Editor; better separation and new flattening previews; improved performance; new tools and palettes.

The Bad InDesign CS files incompatible with InDesign 2.0; breaks plug-ins for previous versions.

The Bottom Line Even as QuarkXPress implodes, InDesign CS gains features and capabilities that make it the layout application of choice.

CNET Editors' Choice Jan '04

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Review summary

Editors' note: Shortly after this review appeared, Adobe changed its technical support policy, and we have made the appropriate changes to our review. For details, please see our corrections page.

Over the years, Adobe's InDesign grew a small core of avid users among desktop publishers. But it took years for Adobe to build a QuarkXPress killer. Finally, the company has done it with InDesign CS--a member of Adobe's new Creative Suite--which includes new tools and improved performance that make it worth the switch. But InDesign CS isn't without its problems. For one, most publications and presses have decades of legacy files and templates that aren't transparently compatible with InDesign CS (to be fair, QuarkXPress 6.0 doesn't handle old-version documents very well, either). Still, InDesign CS's better work-flow integration and type, layout, and editing features give reason never to touch QuarkXPress again.

The youngest of Adobe's Creative Suite, InDesign CS looks like its Adobe siblings-- Illustrator CS , GoLive CS , and Photoshop CS --but it takes some user interface clues from QuarkXPress and adds a few unique twists. The new interface saves space and reduces onscreen clutter and will be particularly useful for those who use the program day in and day out.

InDesign CS offers a plethora of palettes for everything from type settings to output previews. The interface can get busy when you're working on two-page layouts, but floating palettes are collapsible. Drag a palette to the left or right side of the screen, and it docks. When palettes are combined into a palette group, you can grab the title bar and move the whole group.

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When working with numerous palettes, you can collapse and drag them to the left or right side of your screen to avoid onscreen clutter.

InDesign CS also allows you to save work spaces--collections of window settings and palette arrangements--as individual files to use with future projects. These files can then be copied to other computers for other InDesign CS users.

The new Control palette will look familiar to QuarkXPress users, but Adobe adds a noticeable improvement: the context-sensitive palette displays vital information and settings for selected items. It helps you perform common tasks, such as formatting text, resizing objects, deciding placement, and modifying tables, all from one central location. In fact, the Control palette is all you need for many projects.

And in addition to an option for QuarkXPress-style keyboard shortcuts, InDesign CS offers a Display Performance option, which can be set to Optimized, Typical, or High-Quality Display. Optimized is the quickest, displaying a raster or vector image as a gray box, while High-Quality shows all images in their high-resolution version.

InDesign CS delivers some major new features (but fewer than Photoshop CS), such as nested styles and the Info palette, and many refinements to existing ones to make it a worthy upgrade.

InDesign CS, as well as all of the Creative Suite, comes equipped with Adobe Version Cue file-version manager. The feature allows you to search, track, and share your files by saving all files in a single work space and making them available to everyone assigned to the project. Though Version Cue may not replace custom or entrenched management solutions in professional design companies, it's a competent option that comes only at the cost of extra RAM.

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The Separations Preview palette lets you preview spot and process color separations onscreen to catch any mistakes before going to press.

Nested styles enable designers to set and apply a character style nested within paragraph styles. For example, you can define the first character of a paragraph as a dingbat, the next three lines in bold, and so on. This promises to speed content construction significantly. Plus, in conjunction with InDesign CS's XML support, you can map XML styles to character styles, better preserving style content across media.

In previous versions of InDesign, editing placed text was a pain. Now, simply right-clicking (or control-clicking) the text will call up the Story Editor. The Story Editor isn't a full-featured text editor. There are no spell-checking, outlining, or table capabilities, but it does allow live editing of content and styles.

Also new to InDesign CS are flattening and separation previews; the new Info palette that lets you see text and image data, such as image resolution and word count; support for OpenType, PDF-X, and Layered PDF; in-place image editing via Photoshop; and new Pathfinder, Eyedropper, and Measure tools.

But InDesign CS isn't perfect. This version breaks plug-ins for previous versions and can't save files for use with InDesign 2.0 or earlier. You can open documents built by InDesign CS from QuarkXPress versions 3.3 to 4.x with some text-flow issues, but you can't save InDesign files to QuarkXPress.

We tested InDesign CS on a 700MHz iBook and a dual-2GHz Power Mac G5. On the iBook, InDesign CS was usable, but opening complex pages took time. On the dual-2GHz Power Mac, InDesign CS didn't stutter no matter what we threw at it.

Tech support is sufficient, and information is plentiful. However, when looking at your various options, check the online &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eadobeforums%2Ecom" target="_blank">user-to-user forums before picking up the phone. They are monitored by competent support staff and offer a good track record, but most importantly, they're quick and free. Another free resource is Adobe's &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eadobe%2Ecom%2Fsupport%2Ftechdocs%2F" target="_blank">technical documents, which are, as of this writing, kept well up-to-date.

Beginning in February 2004, Adobe will offer complimentary free tech support for InDesign CS installation and product defect issues over the lifetime of the product. The call isn't toll-free, however, so you will have to pay for any long-distance charges. For all other issues, there's Expert Support available at $39 per call or $159 per year for unlimited support calls. Additional Expert Support programs are also available for various price options.

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Where to Buy

Adobe InDesign CS

Part Number: 27510541 Released: Oct 28, 2003

MSRP: $699.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Oct 28, 2003
  • Category creativity application
  • Compatibility PC