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Adobe CS4 Design review: Adobe CS4 Design

Adobe CS4 Design

Lori Grunin and Elsa Wenzel
5 min read

The $1,799 Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium package (between $599 to $799 to upgrade) is built for print and Web page designers, animators, and graphics pros. Key components include the updated InDesign for print, Dreamweaver and Fireworks for dynamic Web design, Flash for animation, plus Photoshop and Illustrator for pixel and vector graphics. Acrobat Professional 9, which now integrates Flash content, is also here. This is a terrific toolbox for those who don't need video tools enabled by Premiere, AfferEffects, and Soundbooth in the $2,500 Master Collection. The charts below detail the contents of and pricing for this and other CS4 suites; please click on the images of individual applications to learn what's new inside each of them.


Adobe CS4 Design

The Good

Adobe CS4 Design Premium bundles a great Flash update, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat 9, at a relative discount; features improved integration among similar interfaces.

The Bad

Updates to Photoshop and InDesign don't justify the upgrade for most users; excludes audio editing; heavy-duty applications take long to install, are hard to learn, and hog resources; costly personal tech support.

The Bottom Line

Adobe CS4 Design Premium contains nearly every tool for editing digital images and layouts for print and the Web, as well as for crafting interactive animation and desktop apps. If you don't need video editing, pick this over the Master Collection and save $700.

With Creative Suite 4, Adobe has unified the interfaces of all the applications for a more seamless experience. Work-space adjustments to CS4 include panels that are more nimble than its predecessor's, and handy pull-down menus with preset styles that enable you to shift among work space layouts quickly. A corporate ad department, for instance, could use this software to create a campaign that repurposes the same images and layouts for formats as varied as magazines, posters, t-shirts, Web sites, online games, desktop apps, and mobile devices.

Setup and interface
The Web abounds with complaints about Adobe's installer and updater, and most are justified. Every Windows application installer suggests you close any running applications, but you can usually ignore it and 99 percent of the time everything works out fine. Adobe forces you to close your browser and all Microsoft Office applications, because many of the programs in the suite--primarily Acrobat--spread octopuslike tentacles throughout your working environment. That's pretty appalling in and of itself, but in addition to wasting a large chunk of time installing, you can't do anything else but play Solitaire while it's happening. And as before with the updater, you'll get to relive this delightful close-your-apps-or-else experience on a regular basis. Plus, the installation "progress" bar bears no relation to reality whatsoever, with its two steps forward and one step back movement.

Unfortunately, it took us nearly two hours to install the Adobe Master Collection CS4 on Windows Vista and XP machines (We didn't test CS4 thoroughly on a Mac). That's still less time than with CS3, and installing the smaller Design Premium will likely take less time. Adobe's custom installation still lets you pick and choose which components to embrace or reject, but there's no mechanism for migrating your settings and all your custom tools from CS3 and earlier.

To install Creative Suite 4 Web Premium, Windows users need at least Windows XP SP2 or Vista, with a 2GHz-or-faster processor. The necessary available disk space is 9.1GB (and will be perhaps more during installation). Mac users will need a PowerPC G5 or Intel-based machine with at least OS X v10.4.11, as well as 1GB of RAM and 11.2GB of available disk space. For both Windows and Macs, installation comes via a DVD. The display must be 1,280x900, with 32-bit video card and 16MB of VRAM. Shader Model 3.0 and OpenGL 2.0 compatibility may also be necessary. These system requirements are less stringent than for those suites involving video, such as Production Premium and the Master Collection.

With Creative Suite 4, Adobe has unified the interfaces of all the applications for a more seamless experience. Work space adjustments throughout CS4 include panels that are more nimble than its predecessors, and handy pull-down menus with preset styles that enable you to shift among work space layouts quickly. Enhanced integration speeds up the workflow if you're using several applications for the same or related projects.

If you rely on Adobe software for print layout work alone, we'd recommend the less expensive Design Standard package, or not upgrading from CS3 or earlier at all. On the other hand, if you need to make round trips among software for print and interactive designs, CS4 is worthwhile, especially for the new animation model in Flash. Dreamweaver beefs up tools for CSS sites and feels more stable than its predecessors. Integration among the applications includes the capability to export Fireworks designs as CSS, then bringing them into Dreamweaver.

At the same time, there's not much to wow users of Photoshop who don't work with 3D content. At least Illustrator finally manages multipage documents. InDesign offers many enhancements for interactive designs, such as for managing Web-ready links and JavaScript rollovers without coding by hand. And it can export SWF files for the Flash Player as well as content in the new XLF format for Flash.

Service and support
We almost hate to rate Adobe's tech support as excellent due to the extreme expense of live, personalized help from the company. However, the software industry has been moving away from free customized assistance for years. At least Getting Started help for installation issues and other speed bumps lasts for 90 days. Adobe's comprehensive, self-serve options include embedded and online look-ups, tutorials, and excellent videos. Also, the company has expanded its help-yourself and peer support online. The new Adobe Support Portal requires an Adobe log-in and password. Newbies would be wise to get up to speed with the interactive tutorials and maybe even third-party books and Web sites. Web-based forums with other users, as well as the Community Support in beta testing, may be the best bargain for getting hands-on advice.

Don't bother trying to seek extra help without a registered serial number; the days of "borrowing" copies of heavy-duty Adobe software from friends are long gone. Help with a live Adobe representative continues to be expensive. Each year we find the pricing options (https://www.adobe.com/support/programs/?tag=txt) harder to find on Adobe's Web pages. The Bronze level of support, for five prepurchased incidents, is $175. Unlimited Silver support costs $1,200, three times the price of some individual applications. Such pricing is clearly set for corporations rather than freelancers.

  Price if bought separately

Adobe Acrobat 9 Professional
$449/$159 upgrade
Bridge CS4 n/a

Dreamweaver CS4
$399/$199 upgrade

Flash CS4 Professional
$699/$199 upgrade

Fireworks CS4
$299/$149 upgrade

Illustrator CS4
$599/$199 upgrade from CS, FreeHand 9+, or CorelDRAW

InDesign CS4
$699/$199 upgrade

Photoshop CS4 Extended
$999/$349 upgrade from CS3/$899 upgrade from 5 or 6

Adobe Creative Suite 4 packages
  Price: Full Price: Upgrade

Creative Suite 4 Master Collection
$2,499 $899 (from CS3); $1,599 from other CS3 suites; $1,199 from two older suites

Creative Suite 4 Design Premium
$1,799 $599 (from CS3); $599-$799 (from Studios or CS 1-2)

Creative Suite 4 Design Standard
$1,399 Special upgrade pricing available

Creative Suite 4 Web Premium
$1,699 $599 (from CS3); $599-$799 (from Studios or CS 1-2)

Creative Suite 4 Web Standard
$999 Special upgrade pricing available

Creative Suite 4 Production Premium
$1,699 $599 (from CS3); $599-$799 (from Studios or CS 1-2)

Adobe CS4 Design

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 8Performance 0Support 8
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