Adobe CS4 Design review: Adobe CS4 Design

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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.

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8.0 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 8
  • Support 8

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.

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.