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Adobe CS4 Web review: Adobe CS4 Web

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The Good Adobe CS4 Web Premium includes a game-changing update to Flash; spruced-up shortcuts for dynamic designs in Dreamweaver and Fireworks; decent if unnecessary upgrades of Photoshop and Illustrator, Soundbooth and Acrobat 9, with improved integration among similar interfaces.

The Bad These heavy-duty applications take long to install, are hard to learn, and hog resources; personal tech support can exceed the price of some applications.

The Bottom Line Adobe CS4 Web Premium is a good deal for interactive designers who don't need tools for video editing and sophisticated print layouts.

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8.0 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 8
  • Support 8

The Adobe Creative Suite 4 Web Premium package is built for Web-page designers, animators, and graphics pros. Its key components include the updated Dreamweaver and Fireworks for dynamic Web design, Photoshop and Illustrator for pixel and vector graphics, Flash for animation, and Soundbooth to tweak audio. Acrobat Professional 9, which now integrates Flash content, is also here.

Adobe Creative Suite 4 Web Premium costs $ 1,699 (or between $599 to $799 to upgrade). 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. If you can afford this package, then choose it over the $999 Web Standard collection that offers only Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and Flash, excluding Photoshop and Illustrator. If you need more tools for print design beyond PDFs, then check out the Design Standard or Premium editions that include InDesign.

The release of Adobe Creative Suite 3 in 2007 was the first to incorporate former properties from Macromedia, such as Flash. With Creative Suite 4, Adobe has unified the interfaces of all the applications for a more seamless experience. Workspace 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 workspace layouts quickly.

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 octopus-like 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 2 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 much smaller Web 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.

If you rely on Adobe software for digital animation, then CS4 is worth the plunge, more so than CS3 was. Flash takes a big leap forward by slashing the steps required to build animation. Dreamweaver beefs up tools for CSS sites and feels more stable than its predecessors. It's easier to make round trips among the applications, such as by exporting Fireworks designs as CSS, then bringing them into Dreamweaver. There's not much to wow users of Photoshop who don't work with 3D content, but Illustrator finally manages multipage documents. Soundbooth converts recorded speech into text. There's greater integration from one application to the next, with support for the latest formats for Web sites and mobile phones, as well as PDFs and desktop Adobe AIR applications. See the charts below for reviews of individual applications and the other CS4 suites.

Service and support
We almost hate to rate Adobe's tech support as excellent because of 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.

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