Adobe overhaul brings tools together

The software company announces a slew of upgrades to Photoshop and other key products--but the real changes go beyond the applications.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
covers games and gadgets.
David Becker
4 min read
Adobe Systems announced Monday new versions of Photoshop and other key publishing and graphics products, but some of the biggest changes won't be in the applications.

The software maker's new product combines Photoshop, the InDesign page layout application and the Illustrator graphics application into the Adobe Creative Suite, a package that includes integrated tools intended to help make it easier to move work from one application or person to another. Chief among the new tools is Version Cue, a basic content management tool intended to improve the way workers share files for collaboration and review.

"The big difference here is that not only are all of the applications in the suite...being significantly upgraded, but the way in which they work together is unsurpassed and something we've never done before," Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen said.

"The problems our customers are facing, in terms of managing content, are enormous," said Mark Hilton, Adobe's director of product management. "The vast majority of our customers are using multiple Adobe applications, so there are significant workflow issues we can address."

Version Cue collects and disseminates information on Adobe-related files stored on networked PCs. The head of a graphics department, for example, could use Version Cue to locate and call up the current version of an Illustrator-created ad that a designer is working on. All changes would be saved in the file stored on the designer's PC.

The result is that several people can work from the same file instead of having to integrate changes submitted through e-mail attachments, saving time and frustration with juggling multiple versions.

Such collaboration needs are tackled in many large organizations through the use of server-based content management software, but Adobe's "creative professional" customers typically work in small groups without access to server resources.

"The vast majority of creative professional people are working in workgroups of less than 10," Hilton said. "Those people don't have an IS (information systems) infrastructure."

Scott Kelby, the president of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, said Version Cue deftly handles version control and collaboration issues that have been a sticking point for years with Adobe customers.

"It's very seamless; I thought it was going to be clunky," he said. "As long as there's more than one person using files, they'll benefit from having this. This is huge for ad agencies, newspapers, magazines--they're going to lose their minds over this."

Baiting the hook
By making Version Cue available only as part of a suite, Adobe also stands to gain some ground against one of its toughest competitors, Quark. The QuarkXpress page layout tool continues to dominate the market over InDesign.

Kelby said the majority of Photoshop customers also use Illustrator and are likely to purchase the Creative Suite to get those applications and Version Cue. But they'll also have InDesign, and many are likely to at least experiment with it.

"That's the brilliance of this--they're basically going to end up putting InDesign on every graphics designer's desktop," Kelby said. "If you've got InDesign there essentially for free, offering features Quark probably won't have for two years, that's going to encourage people to think about switching."

Mark Walter, an analyst for research and publishing firm Seybold Publications and Consulting, said the suite will help Adobe in convincing creative professionals to adopt an all-Adobe workflow.

"For anybody doing print, Quark is still the dominant layout tool," he said. "Version Cue certainly helps Adobe make the case for switching to InDesign...With the suite, for the first time, they're really addressing the process for this creative market, as opposed to individual tasks."

Walter said Version Cue will help cure some headaches for Adobe's customers, but not all of them. "I think many people will like what it does, but wish it did more," he said. "One weakness of the initial implementation of Version Cue is that it doesn't work with other products. To have some staying power, at minimum they're going to need an SDK (software development kit) that makes it possible to accommodate third-party stuff."

Besides the suite, Adobe will pack a lot of new features into the individual applications. Kelby said the new Photoshop includes features that graphics designers and video professionals have been asking for, but that the biggest improvements are for photographers. These include a revamped file management system to organize a library of images--most photographers are building these up rapidly--plus dramatically streamlined tools for doing color correction, and built-in handling of images saved in a camera's RAW format.

"The photographers really hit it big time," Kelby said. "There's some great new features, and they've fixed so many little things that used to annoy you every day."

Photoshop CS (the releases inaugurate a new naming convention that replaces numerical upgrades) will sell for $649 for the full version, or $169 for those upgrading from a previous version.

Other new products from the San Jose, Calif.-based software maker, all expected to go on sale this fall, are:

• Illustrator CS, which includes enhanced support for creating 3D images. Priced at $499 for the full version, or $169 for the upgrade.

• InDesign CS, which includes a new writer/editor interface for making text changes, and automated tools for ensuring pages are ready to print. Priced at $699 for the full version, $169 for the upgrade.

• GoLive CS, the new version of Adobe's Web authoring application, with new tools that allow direct importation of XML-embedded files from InDesign. Priced at $399 for the full version, $169 for the upgrade.

• Creative Suite Standard, a package that includes the new versions of Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, plus Version Cue and other common tools. Priced at $999 for the full version, or $549 for those upgrading from Photoshop, Publishing Collection or Design Collection.

• Creative Suite Premium, which adds GoLive CS and Acrobat 6.0 Professional, Adobe's application for creating portable document format (PDF) files. Priced at $1,229 for the full version, or $749 for the upgrade.