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Adobe debuts CS4 Flash in the pan(el) tool, kills upgrade from PS7

CS4 Configurator lets you create customized panels for Photoshop.

Adobe's trotting out the carrot-and-stick approach to convince people to upgrade to Photoshop CS4. The carrot is CS4 Configurator, a free utility that currently allows you to create custom panels for Photoshop CS4 and eventually for the entire suite. The stick? This year's iteration of its three-generations-back-only upgrade pricing (only users of the previous three versions qualify for upgrade pricing), which will cut off eligibility for Photoshop 7 users on October 15.

CS4 configurator, which should be freely available for public download from Adobe Labs at the end of the month when Creative Suite 4 ships, is the first stab at allowing users to create Flash-based custom panels for the applications. The tool, an Adobe AIR application, is made possible by the software's interface re-architecture to support Flash.

According to John Nack, senior product manager for Photoshop, Configurator is intended to "let anyone with ideas and experience extend and remix the interface," not just to remix the elements but to "contextualize them in meaningful ways." He expects "only about 2 percent of Photoshop users to create panels, but 98 percent to use them."

I've played with Configurator a bit--well, as much as possible given how unstable the the Photoshop CS4 beta has been on my system--and while I love the idea, Adobe has a bit further to go before the beta even becomes useful to seriously try out, much less create distributable panels.

On one hand, almost every aspect of the application can be empaneled: menu commands; tools from the tool palette; and Actions, scripts, and Javascript. There are also widgets for adding text display (to the panel), Flash animations, Flash videos, and a cool search box to find tools within the application. You then simply export the panel to the appropriate folder and it appears under the Extensions menu; enable it and the panel pops up and can be docked along with the others.

Photoshop has been getting so bloated crammed with features that something like this was inevitable. Corporate shops will eventually be able to supply production drones with quick access to just the tools they need and authors and trainers will be able to supply custom panels that match up with specific tutorials.

It's still so newborn that I can't really criticize it for what it lacks, so instead, here are a few enhancements I think Adobe needs to add to make it truly useful (OK, perhaps splitting hairs here):

  • Need to be able to supply parameters and/or add tool presets to panels. Right now, for instance, you can only add the crop tool--not the crop tool set--to 120x90 pixels.
  • Need to support embedded video (for custom players with parameters), not just provide a path to the FLV or SWF file.
  • Need a way to drag and drop existing Actions and scripts.

Also, I don't think Adobe intends this to ultimately be the real development tool for creating panels for the entire suite--just a proof of concept to whet your appetite and allow the company to do some research to figure out who's using Configurator for what before the company commits to a particular strategy.

Of course, to take advantage of this flexibility as a consumer, you'll have to upgrade to Photoshop CS4. And if you've thus far resisted since Photoshop 7, you'd better do it NOW. Though it's not new, Adobe's three-versions-back policy will be excluding a huge chunk of users. Photoshop 7 was the last version before Adobe went all Creative Suite on us, and started incorporating serious DRM to its applications. I even keep a copy around in case of emergencies.

What's annoying, though, is the deadline: October 15. That means Photoshop 7 users have to preorder Photoshop CS4 to qualify for the upgrade. C'mon Adobe, can't you at least give them a grace period until after the product ships, so they can make a decision that doesn't have to be based on previews of wonky beta code?